If with a slip of the tongue, even Don King admits it. "Mike has trained brilliantly for this one - er two - rounds," the Barnum of boxing said switching to smile mode at yesterday's weigh-in.
King who remains under federal indictment on insurance fraud charges has tried just about every trick including dressing up as Uncle Sam and posing with a Benjamin Franklin look-alike - "Don got the idea for his hair when I flew my kite through a thunderstorm" - to hype the fight on television commercials but the City of Brotherly Love has rejected his sales pitch, citizens taking up fewer than 6,000 of 18,400 tickets. "I've brought them the world's greatest fighter, so what do they want from me?" King laments.
Not to be taken for a ride is more or less the answer. "King thought Philadelphia fans were a bunch of suckers who would pay $300 [pounds 195] to watch Tyson fight a washerwoman," listeners to a local radio sports station were informed this week.
Business is so bad that King is reduced to peddling T-shirts bearing the promotional title "Presumption of Innocence", a dig at the New Jersey gaming commission who put paid to the fight taking place in Atlantic City on account of his indictment. Denying that he sought city and state tax favours in Philadelphia ("I continue to perform in spite of all the shackles put on me") is presently King's favourite theme.
King's claim to being the vendor of equal opportunity blithely ignores the fact that Franz Botha's defeat of Axel Schulz in Germany last week put the International Boxing Federation championship into his pocket along with those of the World Boxing Council (Frank Bruno) and the World Boxing Association (Bruce Seldon).
The grand plan, of course, is to restore Tyson as the undisputed champion starting with Bruno, who will be in attendance tonight, first up at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on 16 March.
The trouble is that the novelty of Tyson's comeback against Peter McNeeley in the Nevada desert last August, when just the prospect of detonation was enough to guarantee a full house, has worn off. It no longer existed by the time Tyson and Mathis were due to meet in Las Vegas six weeks ago. When Tyson's damaged thumb caused a late postponement, MGM with whom he has a six-fight promotional contract worth more than $30m, had unloaded fewer than 2,000 tickets. It was suspected that he withdrew for financial rather than medical reasons.
Similar difficulties have arisen in Philadelphia, once one of the great fight towns and represented historically by such notable heavyweight champions as Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston. Local interest in boxing may have declined considerably since Frazier's great battles with Muhammad Ali but the people of Philadelphia can still identify a mis-match when they see one.
However when Mayor Ed Rendell publicly asked King to consider scaling down ticket prices that range from $25 to $500 ringside, it could be imagined that the great manipulator thought him to be a suitable case for treatment. King's only concession was to include underprivileged inner-city youth on his guest list. "Don't miss this chance of seeing the world's greatest heavyweight," he keeps trumpeting.
Even the weigh-in, normally a King promotional bonanza, fell flat, Mathis refusing to remove the voluminous black sweat shirt that concealed his wide hips and large rump. He did not engage Tyson's intimidatory stare either.
There are no disparate evaluations of Mathis; qualified observers consider him to be of average technique but such a soft-handed puncher that it will come as a great surprise if he manages to keep Tyson at bay for more than a couple of rounds.
It is generally agreed that to go against Tyson without power and an advantage in height is asking for trouble. No wonder Mathis's mother, the widow of a prizefighter, worries about her son. "Don't get hurt," she told him.
An interesting thing is that both men were brought on by the Cus D'Amato method of throwing punches to numbered instructions. "That will make it an interesting fight tactically," said Tyson's chief trainer, Jay Bright, who in truth merely responds to his brooding employer's wishes. A more realistic conclusion is that Mathis could not be fancied even if he was allowed to use a trident and a net.
Weighing in at 219lb to Mathis's 224, Tyson looked in tremendous shape, his torso widening from narrow hips to broad, powerful shoulders. Before the decline brought about by wild living his assets were speed and natural strength. "I sense the speed coming back," he said when interviewed last week. "Every day brings improvement. Even in the short spell I was in with McNeeley I threw too many wild punches. I wasn't happy. Now my timing is better. I'm getting through with the hooks and combinations."
A problem for Tyson is that he is expected to utterly overwhelm a conservative opponent, perhaps scorning the precepts of accuracy, the value of a stiff setting-up jab that D'Amato implanted. "What we've seen from Mike in the gym is tremendously exciting," Bright added. "He's got into a solid pattern of progress and will continue developing. It's usual to think of one fight at a time but that's not how we are looking at things. Mike hasn't trained specifically for Mathis any more than he will for Bruno. The object is to make himself the complete heavyweight, able to batter out anyone he comes up against."
Mathis has responded predictably to the customary questions. He considers himself to be in excellent shape and to have Tyson's measure. "Mike doesn't scare me and you may get a surprise," he said.
Sounded as though he was whistling past a graveyard.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Tyson v Mathis Jnr
29 Age 25
15st 9lb Weight 16st 0lb
5ft 11in Height 6ft 0in
71in Reach 78in
43-45in (normal/expanded) 43-44in
16in Biceps 16in
14in Forearm 12in
19in Neck 16in
8in Wrist 7in
43 Fights 20
42 Wins 20
1 Losses 0
0 No decision 2
36 Stoppages 6
19 First round stoppages 1Reuse content