Tyson sets out to reconquer the world

BOXING: The return of the former undisputed heavyweight champion could invigorate the sport. Ken Jones reports from Las Vegas
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In the finest traditions of boxing hyperbole, the comeback Mike Tyson is making at the MGM Grand here tonight has been ludicrously described as the greatest event the sports world has ever seen.

It inspires even Don King's unremitting diligence in the market place. "Over two billion people will be watching this fight on television around the world," he trumpeted this week, soaring off on another flight of fantasy. In one thing, though, he is correct. It is not a fight, it is a happening. The billing - "He's Back" - is a masterpiece of interpretation. It is the return of Godzilla...

Of course, when two heavyweights climb into the ring anything can happen, as James "Buster" Douglas confirmed sensationally in Tokyo five years ago when, as a 42-1 outsider, he ended Tyson's violent reign as the undisputed champion. However, as no candidate for instant boxing fame has been so obviously limited as Peter McNeeley - the crude brawler from Boston whose chances would not be much improved if Tyson was required to wear a blindfold and leg irons - nobody believes the contest to be other than an absurd mismatch.

Interest so intense that more than 2,000 reporters world-wide applied for credentials focuses entirely on whether Tyson can again be the devastating force he was in the heavyweight division before hedonism took hold and after the three years of imprisonment he served as the result of being found guilty of raping a beauty queen.

Inevitably, comparisons are drawn with Muhammad Ali, who overcame the debilitating effects of a three-year absence from the ring to twice regain the championship. In truth, although Ali enjoyed an advantage over Tyson in being able to visit the gymnasium for sparring sessions, he left a lot of himself in exile.

"I saw that immediately we got back to serious work," said his famed trainer, Angelo Dundee. "Ali was at a peak when he was forced out of boxing and it's scary to think of how great he would have been. But three years is a long time in a fighter's life and it cost Ali his amazing leg speed. He still had fast hands but began to rely more and more on an immense will and being able to withstand the heaviest punches."

Even before the loss to Douglas there were indications that Tyson had either gone into premature decline, or was no longer connected spiritually to his mentor, the late Cus D'Amato. By the time of a defence against Frank Bruno in February 1989, the tenets D'Amato held sacrosanct, especially disconcerting head movements that made Tyson difficult to hit and the employment of a stiff jab to set up violent combinations, had given way to wild, bullying rushes.

No longer trained by Kevin Rooney, the last real link with D'Amato, and embroiled in a hopeless marriage, Tyson was on course for disaster. Twelve months later, Douglas blew away the aura of invincibility.

In his last fight before incarceration, going in against Donovan "Razor" Ruddock for the second time in three months, Tyson was only briefly the figure who brought terror to the heavyweight division, as though no longer capable of exploiting the principles D'Amato drummed into him. "I don't think the kid peaked," Dundee said. "It's more likely that he got confused and lost his nerve."

As Tyson chose to be secretive in preparation, the extent of his progress is confined to guesswork, but, when weighing in at 15st 10lb on Thursday, he looked in magnificent shape.

Recalling the problem that existed when Ali came back, Dundee considers McNeeley, who was heavier by 4lb, to be an ideal opponent for Tyson. "I chose Jerry Quarry for Muhammad because he met all the criteria," Dundee said. "Quarry had a fairly high profile from fights against the likes of Joe Frazier, Jimmy Ellis and Floyd Patterson but being a little ponderous and prone to cuts made him perfect for Muhammad's slick style. McNeeley is not in the same class but boxing is about styles and I can't think of anyone better for Tyson than a guy who doesn't move much and whose only hope is to take his best shots."

Another notable practitioner, Riddick Bowe's trainer, Eddie Futch, in his 85th year but still as sharp as as sliver of glass, will be interested to see whether Tyson can still be compared personally with Joe Louis as one of the most devastating punchers in heavyweight history. "To my mind, nobody else since Joe has displayed such perfect timing," he said. "It's not something that you can teach easily, perhaps not at all. Power comes right up from the feet, it's largely instinctive. I was aware of it in Tyson from the first moment I saw him. Power and the speed to get it on. Intimidating. Thrilling."

Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, is unequivocally in agreement with the opinion that Tyson can invigorate heavyweight boxing. "A respectable Tyson would have an enormous effect," Newman said.

While respectability appears to be high on Tyson's agenda, he is aware that nothing short of an explosive performance will satisfy a capacity audience of 16,000 at the MGM Grand Garden and the millions watching on television.

Since McNeeley's record of 36 victories, 30 by knock-out with just one defeat, is not quite what it seems, having being compiled mostly against dedicated pacifists, he is not expected to take Tyson beyond the second round.

It is the tradition of a Las Vegas newspaper to carry the predictions of visiting sportswriters. Normally, this involves calling the result and, if by knock-out, the round. This week it is minutes, by general consensus up to a maximum of five.

When Ali and Frazier shared equally a purse of $5m in fighting for the undisputed heavyweight championship at Madison Square Garden in New York 23 years ago it caused a great deal of astonishment. The widespread conclusion was that boxing had gone mad.

Barely an eyebrow was raised this week when Don King announced that Tyson is being paid $25.5m (pounds 16.8m) for a non-title fight that is unlikely to be still in progress by the end of the first round.

Estimates of what a successful come-back will be worth to Tyson vary according to how you do the sums and to whom the former champion is speaking. If Tyson goes on to unify the title as he did in just seven months when only 20 years old, $300m may not be an exaggeration.

By contrast, McNeeley is splitting $700,000 with his manager, Vinnie Vecchione, who is well versed in matters of economic depression. "This is a great opportunity for Pete," Vecchione said. "If he can take Tyson a few rounds there may be more work for us."

Considering the disparity in skill and stature, this must be the most one-sided heavyweight fight since George Foreman took less than a round to knock out Joe Roman in a ludicrous defence of the undisputed title 22 years ago in Tokyo.

It is not simply that McNeeley should not be allowed in the same ring as Tyson. He should not be allowed in the same town.

TALE OF THE TAPE

TYSON McNEELEY

29 AGE 26

Brooklyn, NY BORN Boston, Mass

15st 10lb WEIGHT 16st 0lb

5ft 11in HEIGHT 6ft 2in

71in REACH 77in

43/45in CHEST 46/48in (nor/exp)

16in BICEPS 16in

14in FOREARM 14in

34in WAIST 34in

27in THIGH 27in

18in CALF 21in

19in NECK 19in

8in WRIST 10in

13in FIST 14in

11in ANKLE 12in

42 FIGHTS 37

41-1 WON/LOST 36-1

36 STOPPAGES 26

19 FIRST ROUND KOs 21

157 CAREER ROUNDS 93

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