- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tomorrow night, if a real-live, actual boxing match takes place at the Pyramid, we will find out something about 911 Mike Tyson that we really haven't known for quite a long time.

Can 911 Mike still fight?

The sales pitch in Memphis on 911 Mike going into his heavyweight title fight against Lennox Lewis has been that he is the old Iron Mike, the baddest man on the planet who walked through opponents on his way to being the youngest heavyweight champion in the world 16 years ago, when he was 20.

"I think Tyson is the best fighter in the world today," said his co-trainer, Ronnie Shields, who has been training 911 Mike for all of eight weeks. "He is at the top of his game, and when you are at the top, you can beat anybody in the world.

"He has over 150 rounds [of sparring]," Shields said. "That's a lot of rounds for any fighter. He needed a lot of boxing. When I first came in, I heard that when he trained, Mike didn't like to box a lot, so I told him we need a lot of boxing."

Of course, his other co-trainer, Stacey McKinley, was perhaps closer to the truth when he said, "Nobody tells Mike Tyson to do anything."

Washington heavyweight Corey Sanders has been one of 911 Mike's sparring partners, and he said 911 Mike is ready for a win. "He's been faster, he's been stronger and he's been sparring a lot, six times a week," Sanders said. "I don't see it going the distance. Lennox will get knocked out. I don't think he can stop the punches that Mike will bring in there."

This is what the people on Tyson's payroll say. For the rest of us, to believe this would require a leap of faith, because no one on the outside has seen any of this sparring.

All we have to go by is yesterday's weigh-in Lewis came in at 249½ pounds, 3½ pounds heavier than his last fight, when he stopped Hasim Rahman in four rounds in their rematch, and 911 Mike came in at 234½, 4½ pounds lighter than his last fight but 12 pounds over his previous typical fighting weight (though the Tyson camp claims that the scales are five pounds too heavy) and what 911 Mike has done in the ring over the past few years. It hasn't been pretty, and it certainly shouldn't inspire faith that Iron Mike is back.

Since he bit Evander Holyfield's ears in their 1997 rematch, 911 Mike has fought six fights for a total of 18 rounds. Over that same period, Lewis has fought in 11 title fights.

When 911 Mike fought Frans Botha in Las Vegas in January 1999 his first fight back after being suspended for the Holyfield biting Botha, a slow, plodding but tough heavyweight, gave 911 Mike a boxing lesson. Botha won the first four rounds on two of the three judges' cards, and three of the four rounds on the card of the third judge.

911 Mike won the fight, nailing Botha with a devastating left hand with 10 seconds left in the fifth round (Lewis knocked Botha out in two rounds later that year). A month later, he was in a Montgomery County jail after pleading guilty to beating up two motorists following a traffic accident.

When 911 Mike was released from jail four months later, he stepped back into the ring in October 1999 in Las Vegas against an opponent of even lesser ability Orlin Norris, a cruiserweight who ate his way into the heavyweight division. Just after the bell rang to end the first round, 911 Mike hit him. Norris couldn't continue, and the fight was called no contest. 911 Mike was told by Nevada boxing officials to take his act elsewhere.

Now 911 Mike's handlers moved even lower down the rung of lousy opponents. They picked Julius Francis, a glorified club fighter, for a bout in Manchester, England, in January 2000, and it took two rounds for 911 Mike to stop this guy. If it were Iron Mike, it would have taken 10 seconds. With this win, Tyson's people decided to up the ante and fight a slightly better opponent, Lou Savarese. 911 Mike took care of business quickly in this one, stopping Savarese in the first round. But he also nearly hit the referee as he refused to stop fighting, and the day before the fight he had to agree to pay British fight promoter Frank Warren $5million after beating up Warren because of an argument about a jewelry bill.

Now, perhaps, a true test awaited. 911 Mike would face Andrew Golota in October 2000 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich. 911 Mike landed some mighty blows in the first round. There were reports later that Golota suffered all sorts of injuries, but the credibility of those reports were questioned. But after two rounds, Golota simply quit, even though in the second round he started to connect with some punches on 911 Mike.

A win for 911 Mike? Not hardly. He tested positive for marijuana before the fight, and refused to take a post-fight drug test. So it went down as a no-contest, and 911 Mike declared he was retiring from boxing.

That retirement didn't last long it took a year before 911 Mike got in the ring again. He fought Brian Nielsen in Denmark in October, and Nielsen had enough of being hit after seven rounds. Nielsen would have to rally to be mediocre. After the fight, 911 Mike declared he needed a few more tune-up fights before he would be ready to face Lewis.

This, then, is all we have on which to base any judgment about 911 Mike's chances tomorrow night. If you are still willing to bet on 911 Mike, you must have more faith than his handlers have had, as Lewis' trainer, Emanuel Steward, has pointed out. When asked about the quality of 911 Mike's opponents, Steward said, "I do not think the people around him thought he was capable of beating a quality fighter."

Steward's belief was confirmed by someone who would know Dan Goossen, 911 Mike's promoter for all of those fights. "I feel Mike was one of the worst-managed fighters in the history of boxing," Goossen said. "I didn't think the fights that were being accepted were in Mike's best interest."

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