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
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!