Time hangs heavy on Tyson's mind

BOXING: The champion believes future contentment may not come easy. Ken Jones reports
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There is an image in Mike Tyson's mind of a heavyweight so powerful, so devastatingly quick, so brutal in application that opponents froze in his presence. "The guy was awesome, unbeatable," he said this week.

That Tyson was describing himself indicates an acute sense of being less than the force who spread terror throughout the heavyweight division 10 years ago when he launched a sensationally successful attempt to unify the championship. "In some ways I am better, but I could not have beaten that Mike Tyson," he added.

Time waits for no fighter, and it is unlikely that Tyson, at 30, can correct imperfections in timing evident in the three quick victories he has achieved since spending three years in prison.

Perhaps this is the source of Tyson's candour; the frustration that comes from flawed technique and, in his case, a conflict between instinct and maturity. "There is no way I can tell you what I used to do the night before a fight," he said. "But it helped to make me what I was. The way I behaved, I should have been dead by now."

However, behind it all is Tyson's unshakeable belief that he still has an edge in strength and savagery over every other heavyweight. Frank Bruno, who was pummelled to defeat in three rounds when defending the World Boxing Council championship six months ago, will testify to a renewal of Tyson's raw power, and no hope can be held out for Bruce Seldon, who is putting up the World Boxing Association version tomorrow night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

So far, the second phase of Tyson's career has involved just 17 minutes of boxing from which he has earned around $66m (pounds 44m), topped up by the $27m he is getting to challenge Seldon. "I'm pretty much satisfied with the way my financial situation is going," he said.

That is as close to positive public relations as Tyson ever gets. That and a commitment to the Muslim faith. Throughout training for his contests against Buster Mathis Jnr and Bruno, the former undisputed champion was grumpy, moody and undependable. He bridled when asked to do those small things that sell a fight. And in those rare moments when he was not being unreasonable, falling out with reporters, he expected a pinch of graciousness to earn him forgiveness.

By all accounts, this week has seen a change in him. Speaking at the Las Vegas home of his promoter, Don King, he said: "I'm not a happy man by nature. I've been through so many ordeals in my life that I'm always suspicious of everyone and everything. Always wary. I can enjoy a funny moment, but even then I have to tell myself to get back on guard. I'm in love with a woman and she has given me a beautiful daughter, but I doubt whether anyone can make me truly happy. I'm still at my best when I have to stand up to an adversary."

Another couple of years in the ring, Tyson says. What we are looking at, of course, is a career in extension against barely plausible opponents. Seldon tomorrow, Evander Holyfield - who should be discouraged from fighting - in November. Riddick Bowe has the size and ability to provide Tyson with a real test, but grows fat on the proceeds of past endeavours. Lennox Lewis took $4m to step aside so Tyson could challenge Seldon.

Seldon, meanwhile is labouring under handicaps imposed in the womb. He does not possess the power to discourage Tyson and goes to the ring with a fragile chin. "I'll destroy him," Tyson said coldly, when it was suggested that Seldon might prove more of an opponent.

Everything right now may be tilted Tyson's way, but contentment remains elusive. "Freedom is in the mind," he said. "I need more independence. Being on parole, having to report all the time, not being able to travel makes you crazy. They must think I'm Al Capone. In a way, people in prison have more freedom than a lot of people out here. They don't have to worry about losing their jobs, where the next meal is coming from. It was a bad experience for me, but at least I became more conscious of the world we live in."

Soon, Tyson said, he will have to plan the rest of his life. "I still love fighting, the thrill of knocking out opponents, but when the time comes to walk away, I won't feel sad." Admitting that he first went to the mosque as a means of getting out of himself, Tyson now claims to have made a genuine commitment.

In one breath Tyson talks of not needing the three homes and 30 cars he possesses. In another, of the 17 acre, $3m estate that was purchased for him in April. Who knows what really goes on in Tyson's mind? The one thing we can be sure of is that he will take the WBA crown from Seldon. Quickly.