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  CyberBoxingZone, February 23, 2003

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Tyson Tattoos Etienne!


When the bell sounded for round 1 last night at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee, Clifford "The Black Rhino" Etienne lived up to his handle. He charged towards "Iron" Mike Tyson at center-ring and attempted to gore the former heavyweight champion. This quickly proved to be a foolish strategy, his nickname notwithstanding. Past fights, such as with Fres Oquendo who sent him to the canvas 7 times, revealed Etienne has a soft spot around his left temple. Now we know he has other spots as well, namely his chin.

Or maybe any tomato can would've done the same thing. Tyson ended the fight with a perfect punch, an explosive, compact right that snapped Etienne's head with such force it looked as if it might spin a complete revolution à la Linda Blair. It was the kind of punch legions of Tyson fans will splice into their highlight reel of his most spectacular KO's. (That said, as Etienne lay on the canvas wearing a vacant, curiously peaceful expression, he had the wherewithal to calmly take out his mouthpiece and wait out the count; it was unclear whether he was genuinely unable to continue, or just thinking, Screw it, I'm getting paid.) What's more, it will have Tyson believers deluding themselves that their fallen champ will do the same against a bigger and better foe, say, heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

It ain't likely, folks. Tyson himself allowed in a colorful post-fight interview with Showtime's Jim Gray, in which he was the rather humble, gracious sport we've come to know occasionally, "I need more fights and I'm not interested in getting beat up again."

But before he fights a tune-up, he may want to get his spine looked at. "I broke my back," he told Gray. "I don't even know how I'm standing. It's a miracle.'' It was an injury from an old motorcycle accident, Tyson explained. "The doctor took me to the pain center and I wasn't supposed to fight, but what am I supposed to do. I'm going to take care of my family.''

Fact is, there's no time for any Tyson tune-ups before a rematch with Lewis takes place. And who wants to risk it? Tyson delivered last night; the money is on the table. Lewis knows this to be true. He's left his June dance card free for what he still must view as another easy payday against Tyson (remember, before the two met last year in Memphis, Tyson had destroyed Andrew Golota, Lou Savarese, and crushed Frans Botha in the 5th round with an ungodly short straight right hand, and Lewis wasn't sweating it). The aging champ doesn't plan on sticking around too much longer. Also, every second that Tyson draws a breath, he's this close to derailing. "I've got issues I've got to deal with,'' Tyson shared after the bout. "I'm in pain and I've got some serious demons I am fighting.'' Roger that.

One way of accomplishing this, Tyson suggested, a trickle of blood rolling down his face from a small cut next to his right eyebrow (Etienne did get off a shot or two), is by getting back to training in a week’s time. Indeed, Tyson, along with other emotionally troubled ring warriors such as Johnny Tapia, almost require the cloistered simplicity and discipline of a training camp in order to function properly as a human being. Training and sparring all day has the effect of mellowing the would-be nutcase/pugilist; it exorcises the demons, if only temporarily. One could say "the real world" is no place for guys like these; it's fraught with too many temptations, responsibilities, choices and ambiguities.

And besides, Freddie Roach, Tyson's newest trainer, might be just the man for him, insofar as anyone can keep Tyson on track and possibly get him back to his fighting form of the late '80's and early '90's. From the beginning of their association, Roach said that as soon as Tyson pulls any stunts, he was packing his bags and heading back to his stable of champions in L.A. Well, Roach was in Tyson's corner last night. It's fair to say the fighter's much-discussed war paint and several days of training skipped last week without contacting Roach (flu or no flu), qualify as stunts. But the money in training Tyson is hard to come by, and we have to forgive Roach this. But the question remains, how did Tyson really look his second time fighting in Memphis, before he connected on the right hand everyone was expecting? It's not as if he doesn't bring that puncher's chance against anyone, as long as he's lacing up the gloves.

The answer: Tyson looked considerably better. But he's not there yet, and may never get to a level where a primed and focused Lewis won’t dispatch him in a repeat performance. At 225 1/2, Tyson was 9 pounds lighter than when he fought Lewis. His conditioning appeared vastly improved, though it's hard to be certain of this based on a scant 49 seconds of action. He looked a little wild, and when he and Etienne began to tussle and then tumbled to the canvas in the first few seconds of the fight, everyone watching thought, Oh, no, where's he gonna bite the poor guy this time?! But Tyson got up and remained composed: He clearly wanted to fight and, surprisingly, wasn't looking for a cheap way out.

The negatives: His timing was off, he missed repeated hooks, and he got tagged with a couple innocuous shots that he would have definitely slipped back in the day. On the other hand, he was trying -for the first time in a long while- to do the right things, to fight the way Cus D'Amato tutored him from the beginning: He used his jab to good effect, he moved his head some, his feet weren't static, when he missed a shot he wasn't totally off-balance. Gone were the looping roundhouses, everything he threw was tight, short, crisp. The right hand that folded Etienne was evidence of the one part of Tyson's game that has depreciated the least . . . maybe, just maybe Freddie Roach can help him dust off what remains of his long-neglected skills.

Who can forget the first time they saw Mike Tyson on network T.V., in the summer of '85, when he tore through Marvis Frazier in 30 seconds? Is there a chance Tyson can get his act together and give us one more great fight? When following The Mike Tyson Reality Show, what else can you say except: Stay Tuned!




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