Tyson quick to rejoin the farce game

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Boxing

KEN JONES

reports from Las Vegas

After just one minute of intense if flawed activity at the MGM Grand Garden here on Saturday evening it occurred to Vinny Vecchione that it would soon be time to do something about the bad experience that was fast approaching for Peter McNeeley.

Being of the old school, Vecchione is not excessively sentimental in disposition but neither is he oblivious to the fact that professional boxing is a brutal and dangerous business. Bearing this in mind he leaped into the ring 29 seconds later, thus getting McNeeley disqualified as a means of saving him from the fists of Mike Tyson.

With no alternative to the plan of rushing at Tyson from the opening bell, McNeeley by then had been down twice, the second time from an uppercut that remained a mystery in his mind until he saw it replayed on television. "It came so fast I didn't know what sort of a punch it was," he said afterwards.

The referee, Mills Lane, was giving McNeeley the standing eight count that resulted when he became aware of Tyson's failure to stand off in a neutral corner. Pausing in his duties to correct this indiscretion, Lane then saw Vecchione in the ring. Under the rules this left him with no option but to disqualify the limited Irish-American brawler from Boston who was chosen farcically by Don King and his cohorts to re-launch Tyson's career.

Most in a capacity audience of 16,000 that helped to make Tyson's comeback the most lucrative promotion Don King has staged considered the conclusion to be unsatisfactory. Inspired by a general chorus of "Bullshit" some gave solo performances alluding to McNeeley's technical limitations. "Ya bum" was a popular theme.

As not even the most naive customer could have expected an absurd mismatch to last much more than a round, the response was educational. It was more about blood lust than the contest's brevity, the desire to see McNeeley beaten up as proof of Tyson's renewed menace in the heavyweight division. "Go get him, Mike," people yelled when Tyson went to his corner after a four-year absence from the ring, robeless as he was remembered, just a towel slung across the slope of broad shoulders, shorts as black as an executioner's cowl, his feet bare in low-cut black boots.

If the effect raised as much trepidation in McNeeley as it once did in most of Tyson's opponents, freezing them like rabbits caught in the sudden glare of headlights, it did not deter him from carrying out an aggressive policy.

This prevented Tyson from getting quickly into his stride but after sending McNeeley on to one knee - the underdog claimed a slip - he produced something that alarmed Vecchione. Finding perfection in timing elusive, Tyson failed to land cleanly with two left hooks but a right uppercut sent McNeeley over. As the three knock-down rule applied it could not be imagined that McNeeley would survive the round but Vecchione pre-empted the probability.

Although Vecchione's half share of a $700,000 (pounds 454,000) purse was withheld by the Nevada State Athletic Commission pending an investigation, he was unrepentant. "I feel a responsibility to Peter and thought about Jimmy Garcia," he said. Garcia's name was added recently to the sad list of those who have died as the result of injuries received in the ring.

Not much could be learned from Tyson's performance and he was in no mood for discussion. "I felt good in there tonight," he said, "and thank God we both came through it healthy. I've still got a lot to learn, a lot to go through. How do I rate McNeeley? That's not for me to decide but I've beaten people with bigger reputations."

Leaving the ring before the result was confirmed as a disqualification, glad to get the fight over but doubtless angry that Vecchione had prevented him from ending it brutally, Tyson shouldered aside bystanders, sending one man hard into a barrier.

When asked about a contest scheduled for 4 November at the MGM Grand, which is also the date of a third meeting between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield at Caesar's Palace, he was non-committal.

The possibility arising from a ludicrous stand-off between Showtime, the pay-per-view television company that has Tyson to a six-fight contract, and its great rival, Home Box Office, is that Tyson's next fight, probably against another no-hoper, Buster Mathis Jr, will not take place until December. The word is that Showtime and MGM may be prepared to switch if they can overcome the problem of Tyson's ego. The November date is firm in Tyson's mind and he remains determined to go through with it.

A good question is how many mug opponents will the public put up with? "They can get away with McNeeley and Mathis but that's as far as it goes," said Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, who is well practiced in the art of making mischief. "They won't be able to go putting Tyson in with nobodies. They'll have to find someone real for him and pick up one of the titles."

The contest on Saturday's card in which Bruce Seldon successfully defended the World Association heavyweight championship against Joe Hipp confirmed the parlous state of life among the leviathans. Gross in condition, Hipp barely landed a blow and was bleeding profusely by the time Richard Steele indicated an end to the miserable proceedings.

According to Frank Warren, who is co-promoting Oliver McCall's defence of the World Council title against Frank Bruno at Wembley Stadium on 2 September, the winner is guaranteed to fight Tyson. Warren insists that the contest is signed and sealed but allowing for the historical fact that very little in boxing is ever what it seems, will it be delivered? Newman likes to believe that Bowe and Tyson will come together next year, possibly in November.

On the basis that Tyson always found problems with tall heavyweights and was showing evidence of premature decline before his career was interrupted by three-year's imprisonment, a fully-committed Bowe would be fancied to beat him.

Tyson is back but his 42nd victory, only the 11th fastest of his career, showed only that he did not spare himself in preparation. Realising faults in application, the opportunities that came and went even in a contest of such brief duration, his responses hinted at self-criticism. "Still a lot to learn," he repeated before leaving a press conference.

Delaying the inevitable return to obscurity, McNeeley was reluctant to leave the stage. "I told you I was coming to fight and took it to him," he bellowed. "I don't feel bad about anything. Vinny did what he thought best for me, but I could have gone on fighting. I wasn't hurt and Mike knew I was in there with him. You can be sure about that. I was no frigging pushover."

Trouble was that only McNeeley's family and friends appeared remotely interested.

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