Self-doubt is Seldon's greatest enemy

Glyn Leach on the champion with the daunting task of facing Mike Tyson
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The Independent Online
"Bruce Seldon - no one knows him... that's because no one wants to." The implications of Mike Tyson's voice-over to the promotional video for this weekend's heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas is that Seldon, the World Boxing Association champion, is dangerous to know. That may be the case for some, although probably not for one such as Iron Mike. But it would be entirely accurate to state that Seldon is hard to get to know.

The 29-year-old is not blessed with great communication skills. That is not to say he is inarticulate, just that he often chooses not to articulate. Seldon has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous media coverage and wears his wounds like a badge. Interviews are often refused and he has been called "sensitive to the point of paranoia". He is, at least, complex.

Seldon served a four and a half year jail term for an armed robbery committed as a 16-year-old on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, outside a casino where his name would later appear in lights. "I was trying to decide whether crime was what I wanted to get into, but it wasn't," he said. Indeed, imprisonment turned his life around. While incarcerated he learned to box, winning the New Jersey state prison super-heavyweight title in 1986.

But the major spur to his rehabilitation and eventual success was the shame he felt in disappointing his mother. One of three children raised in a one-parent family, Seldon bitterly regrets that Joan Graham died before she could see her son become a world champion.

"As soon as he got back to New Jersey he went to the cemetery and laid the belt across her grave so she would know what he did," his manager, Rocco DePersia, a New Jersey lawyer, said.

Success came late for Seldon, and after several setbacks. He was 28 when he surprisingly stopped Tony Tucker to win the vacant WBA title in April 1995. While his attitude towards the media has softened as his championship reign has unfolded, his distrust is still apparent. Seldon recalls vividly how he was branded a weak-chinned waster after successive stoppages by Oliver McCall and Riddick Bowe in 1991, two of the three losses he has suffered in 36 fights.

"A lot of the print media are locked in a time zone of 1991, when Bruce had those two bad fights," DePersia said. "Because Bruce hasn't been on TV the public haven't seen the way he has put his career back together."

It was a career that was going off the rails. Seldon was 18-0 as a professional before running into McCall, who used the victory as a springboard to the World Boxing Council championship. At the time, the pair were evenly matched - as party animals, if not as fighters. McCall's excesses are legend, but Seldon was once his equal. At 4am on the day he would fight McCall, Seldon could be found in a night club, having escaped through a window at his training camp. Unsurprisingly, he ran out of gas in the ninth round that evening.

Seldon was devastated by the defeat. McCall was nothing more than a sparring partner in those days and Seldon began to question his own worthiness to compete with top heavyweights. "And that played a major part in the Bowe fight," DePersia said.

Bowe destroyed Seldon in one round and the career of the "Atlantic City Express", as Seldon is nicknamed, seemed to have been derailed. Seldon, for all his fabulously muscled physique, lacked the desire and the chin, the media decided.

Where some fighters can shrug off personal problems and self-doubt, Seldon appears unable to follow suit. Seldon's other loss, to Tony Tubbs, was his first fight after the death of his long-time trainer, Carmen Graziano. Seldon argues that he was unable to focus under those circumstances.

Today, there appears to be an added maturity in the father of two sons who now lives in Gloucester township, New Jersey. Seldon has built a nine-fight unbeaten run since the defeat by Tubbs, all wins inside the distance. But now he faces by far his greatest test against Tyson, a 25- 1 on favourite whose menacing aura can destroy all but the strongest psyches before a punch has been thrown.

DePersia says Seldon will not freeze, citing the WBA champion's prison experiences as evidence. "In a place of bad men, Bruce was one of the baddest," he said. But in the early hours of Sunday morning Seldon will come face to face with "The Baddest Man on the Planet", and his new-found self-belief will be put to the acid test.