Tyson hurt by cuts and ruses

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There was an ominous precedent for this week's announcement that Mike Tyson would not be fit to face Evander Holyfield on 3 May, yet it went largely unremarked amidst the millions of words generated by the postponement. Six years ago, Tyson was scheduled to challenge for Holyfield's world title in Las Vegas on 8 November, but two weeks before the fight, for which he was being paid $15m (pounds 10m) - he announced that he had "injured his rib cage doing sit-ups" and would have to call it off. A couple of nights later, Tyson was spotted in a New York disco, having apparently undergone a miracle cure.

Given that history, the scepticism which greeted news of his latest training injury is understandable, especially as the photographic evidence offered showed a cut over the left eye which did not look serious enough to warrant the cancellation of a $50m promotion.

It is not possible to be dogmatic without seeing the damage at first hand and close up but, judging on what we were shown, Henry Cooper used to get worse cuts in the dressing-room.

Tyson was at pains to deny speculation that he had not been training with the level of intensity and application which will be needed to reverse his shocking loss to Holyfield last November, but the mere fact that he felt it necessary to issue such a denial is significant in itself. When an accidental elbow in the eye cut George Foreman and forced the postponement of the Rumble In The Jungle in 1974, no one needed to assure the world that the injury was genuine and the fighter had been training assiduously: it would have been unthinkable to suggest otherwise. But Tyson is a different animal, whose career has been in freefall since he broke away from the disciplined regime of the trainer Kevin Rooney, who developed and honed him into the perfect fighting machine he had become by his early 20s.

Under Rooney, Tyson was irresistible and unbeatable, with the potential to establish himself as a champion greater even than Ali or Louis. There were aspects of his career management which were eyebrow-raising, not least the contract clause which allowed the widow of his co-manager Jim Jacobs to continue to collect Jacobs' share after his death, but preparing the fighter for work was never a problem area. Rooney was the protege and spiritual heir of Cus D'Amato, Tyson's original mentor and guru, and he inherited D'Amato's philosophy and methods. He knew his man inside out, and without his hand on the tiller, Tyson has floundered.

His decision to be "trained" for his comeback by friends from his ghetto days showed commendable personal loyalty, but in professional terms was rather like Martin Edwards sacking Alex Ferguson in order to replace him with an old school pal to whom he owed a favour. When the incompetence of the corner crew was revealed so starkly in the Holyfield fight, Tyson's promoter, Don King, insisted that Richie Giachetti be put in charge of the camp. It was not the first time they had worked together: Giachetti had been part of the team in 1991 and his name came up in a conversation I had that summer with Tyson's estranged co-manager Bill Cayton.

Cayton was scathing about him. "Can you imagine a more stupid choice for King to inflict on Tyson that Giachetti?" he asked. "Giachetti ridiculed Cus's teaching. They had confrontations in the newspapers where they called each other terrible names. Cus said Giachetti should not be allowed to be a trainer, even though he had Larry Holmes at the time.

"Of all the trainers in the world, King picked the one who detested the man who made Mike Tyson. Five years of teaching and training by Cus D'Amato, whom I regard as the finest teacher and trainer of all time, made Mike Tyson such a great fighter. So who do they put in to get him back to being a great fighter? A guy who thought Cus D'Amato was a phoney. Holyfield could actually beat Tyson, but he wouldn't have a chance against Tyson and Rooney."

Despite Tyson's claim that "I'm in great condition and I've never been fitter" the overwhelming consensus in the trade is that he needed the postponement because, for reasons either of discipline or morale, he would not have been ready to face Holyfield on 3 May. Herol Graham, the former world middleweight title challenger who is now in the throes of a comeback himself, spoke for many when he told me: "Everybody has his nightmare opponent, somebody he'll always find difficult to handle even though he is a far better fighter than the other guy. Ali had it with Ken Norton, and I believe Holyfield is Tyson's bogeyman. I think Tyson knows that, and has let it get to him. His confidence has gone. Frankly, I think the guy has lost his bottle."

It is a chilling measure of Tyson's decline that such an allegation, which would once have been laughed out of court, now sounds all too plausible.