Seldon sold on Tyson

Harry Mullan looks at a heavyweight who is facing up to an intimidating defence
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The Independent Online
According to Randall "Tex" Cobb, a former heavyweight contender and the funniest man ever to step into a ring, the fighter's life is simple and unchallenging. "You run for 45 minutes, you train for an hour and a half, and the rest of the time you hang out and talk tough," he said. He left out the bad bits. In his case, that included being pounded for 15 rounds by Larry Holmes so relentlessly that Cobb was moved to ask the referee during a 13th-round clinch. "Hey, you're white. Why don't you do something about this?" For Bruce Seldon, the bad bits could be even more painful: he defends his World Boxing Association title against Mike Tyson in Las Vegas on Saturday, and the only betting is whether or not he will survive five rounds.

But at least Seldon fits Cobb's job description. He trains hard and talks tough, although as Frank Bruno demonstrated against Tyson in March, you need rather more than a good line in pre-fight lustre to unsettle the man who, even at 30, remains the most intimidating figure in boxing. The problem with Bruno was that the dire threats sounded faintly ridiculous coming from someone you knew was a decent family man with a nice home in the upmarket end of Essex, but Seldon at least has the background to ensure that his words carry some authority.

The man who spent four hard years in Annandale Prison, New Jersey, and claims, convincingly, to have been the meanest mother there, is unlikely to shrivel into his shell when the moment of truth arrives. His CV is fairly typical of many American fighters who have graduated from the jailhouse to the ring. He did time as a juvenile armed robber, at the age of 15, and was given 10 years in Annandale, one of the state's toughest prisons, for the gun-wielding mugging of two women outside Caesars in Atlantic City.

It was no more than the fulfilment of his expectations, for the ghastly, crack-infested ghetto a couple of blocks behind the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, where Seldon grew up, is not the kind of environment to encourage ambition. "I just lived day to day," he says. "A black kid from the ghetto." Boxing offered him an escape route. "When I first got to prison I vowed to rehabilitate myself, but I had no idea how to do it", he recalls. "Two years later I found boxing, and it was like a gift from God." He took up the sport to such good effect that he won a New Jersey prisons title, which is probably more competitive than many of the so-called "world" championships at present on offer.

Paroled at 19, he has never been in trouble again. His mother, Joan Graham, was a big influence. She died at 54 of cancer three years ago, but he carries her photograph with him and listens to tapes of her singing with her church choir. Carmen Graziano, the veteran trainer of the youngster when he turned professional in 1988, also had much to do with his reformation although he, too, died before seeing his protege win the vacant WBA title against Tony Tucker last year.

Seldon, billed as the "Atlantic City Express", moved up fast with 18 straight wins, 15 inside schedule, before hitting the buffers as Oliver McCall (nine rounds) and Riddick Bowe (first round) hammered him in consecutive fights. The losses were potentially career-ending, but Seldon put them to good use. "It was too easy for me at first," he says. "I didn't think I could lose, but those losses really woke me up. They made me realise that I'm not the toughest guy in the joint any more, that there are a lot of fighters as tough and hungry as me."

Tyson is certainly as tough, but after grossing around $60m (pounds 38m) from his three comeback fights he is unlikely to be as hungry. It is an astonishing reward for facing three fairly ordinary opponents, and shows why the leading names like Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Seldon are so keen to fight him. He's the pot of gold at the end of everybody's rainbow, and Seldon knows he will earn more from this fight than from three or four mundane defences.

But he insists he will not be there just for the payday. "I've got the style to beat Tyson. If you can outjab him, you can beat him. Buster Douglas proved that, and Buster Mathis gave him plenty of trouble with the jab too." His co-manager Rocco DePersia, a south Jersey lawyer, agrees: "Bruce's strength is phenomenal, almost inhuman," he says. "His jab is not just fast and hard - it breaks bones. Tyson likes to move in like a locomotive, and most guys can't get out of the way quick enough. Bruce is tremendously fast and can punch hard even when he's moving. He'll bust Tyson up with that jab."

That was Frank Bruno's plan, too, of course. Strategic planning is one thing, but its execution is quite another. Tyson attacks like an avalanche, and it will take more than a decent jab to keep him at bay. There is a sense of inevitability about his fights, and for all Seldon's brave words and impressive record (33 wins in 36 fights) it is hard to see him altering the course of history.