- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Mike Tyson giggled. Perhaps he saw the humor in all this talk of yet another title shot, a future after boxing as a missionary — yes, that’s what he said — or the entirety of his wild and crazy life.

Tyson’s mantra is it took him 38 years to grow up. And there he was, closing up training before another $6 million payday in a black Joe Louis T-shirt so sopping wet it looks almost rubberized and giggling when asked how he can afford to buy a $2.1 million home when he is in bankruptcy.

“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head before cracking up.

Jeff Fenech, his latest trainer, laughed, too. They worked for more than eight weeks in Phoenix to get ready, which seemed rather unsporting since the opponent Saturday in the District is only Kevin McBride. But there’s one thing neither is joking about: That Tyson, less than a month before his 39th birthday and a year after an unbecoming fifth-round knockout by unheralded Danny Williams, still can be considered a heavyweight contender.

“The heavyweight champion of the world can’t demand the money I demand,” he said, just citing the obvious. He was more genial and relaxed, even in sparring six rounds with an Australian named Bob Mirovic, who at 6-foot-5 is the same size as McBride.

Fenech, who has known Tyson for 17 years, said the boxer has become “more patient. There’s no rush. It’ll come when it comes.”

Meanwhile, Bob Arum had his most trusted boxing expert, matchmaker Bruce Trampler, at the Central Boxing Club for much of the eight-week camp. Arum is interested in signing Tyson to a long-term deal, matching him perhaps with former cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov.

“If we had two more weeks, I’d let him fight [WBA heavyweight champion] John Ruiz again,” said Fenech. “James Toney, he could fight tomorrow.”

That kind of talk isn’t new. Trainers named Richie Giachetti, Ronnie Shields, Tommy Brooks and Freddie Roach have described “new” Tysons before, as if the 15 years since his startling knockout by Buster Douglas in Tokyo have been erased and Tyson has been restored as the “baddest man on the planet.”

A trainer who once held a gun to Tyson’s head called the boxer “a shooting star” who would burn brightly and fade quickly. Tyson’s career probably has validated Teddy Atlas’ description.

Most short-armed heavyweights — even the Rocky Marcianos and Joe Fraziers —don’t have long careers because they have to take too many punches moving in on their prey. Tyson, however, was trained to be “elusive” by Cus D’Amato, his original mentor and later adoptive father.

When Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history at 20 by knocking out Trevor Berbick, Angelo Dundee, who was in Berbick’s corner, was asked who might stop the young phenom.

“Maybe he’ll meet a woman,” the wise trainer said.

Shooting stars crash to Earth, with or without the help of women. But most don’t bounce back the way Tyson has over and over. Just a year after the humiliating knockout out by Williams, he can envision still another shot at the title.

And a man who found himself bankrupt after earning more than $400million in the ring said his nut is down to a manageable $10 million, adding, “I was never a money person.”

Where did it all go? Lions and tigers have to eat. Tyson loved his exotic pets and jewelry and fine cars and mansions. And he always fancied pigeons. At a recent hearing in Phoenix about zoning that threatened the sanctity of some birds, he showed up unannounced to speak on behalf of pigeons. There are those who are not surprised he became one of the biggest pigeons in boxing history.

All six of his children have trust funds. Tyson said, “I don’t need no money — except every now and then I see an extravagant woman and want to go away for a weekend or a month: ‘Hey, baby, you want a Rolls-Royce?’”

Tyson, however, said he’s “not chasing” anymore. The dearest woman in his life is 71 years old, a psychologist named Marilyn Murray whom he has known for seven years but who has gotten through to him only in the last one, saying, “You have to get it together. You have to take care of yourself, Mike.”

It sounded simple. He remembered once, back in Catskill, N.Y., he was reading a boxing encyclopedia when D’Amato suddenly turned to him and said, “You know, I can tell you’re the type of guy who has to be hurt in order to learn.”

The hurts have gone both ways. Most infamous, of course, was Tyson’s rape conviction in 1992. He did three years in an Indiana prison for a crime he always insisted he never committed. He attacked two middle-aged men who looked like retired jockeys in a Maryland road-rage incident and did four months in a Montgomery County prison. He has committed crimes in the ring, too, chewing off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s right ear, then taking a bite of the left ear in their rematch and arguing he was intentionally butted many times by his opponent.

“If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em,” said Mitch Green, an old antagonist who fought Tyson in the ring at Madison Square Garden and on a Harlem street outside of Dapper Dan’s, an after-hours club.

Ah, the memories. Tyson trying to kiss a woman in a California parking lot. The Albany, N.Y., mall where he ran amok. The crash into a tree at 10 mph that the New York Daily News headlined as a suicide attempt. All the scrapes with Robin Givens, his actress ex-wife, from the Lincoln Tunnel to Moscow to the mansion in Bernardsville, N.J. The teenaged Tyson making a pass at Teddy Atlas’ 11-year-old sister-in-law, the reason for the gun threat. Just a year ago, getting in a fight at the Brooklyn Marriott.

In boxing, there were more: Biting Lennox Lewis on the leg at a press conference. Trying to break Frans Botha’s arm. Hitting Orlin Norris well after the bell and on a break. Knocking down a referee who had just stopped his savage but legal attack of Lou Savarese.

Bartlett’s could publish a special Tyson edition of quotes:

“I’m gonna push his nose bone back through his brain.”

“I’m gonna kiss you on the lips and make you my girlfriend.”

“I’m gonna eat his children.”

This is the same guy who wants to be a missionary when his ring career finally ends.

Tyson, who converted to Islam while in prison in Indiana, said there are no Muslim missionaries, but he contacted a few Christian ones who, he said, “promise not to try and convert me.”

Even in the ring, he was smiling. Asked whether he felt more people were in his corner now that, in boxing terms, he has become an underdog (though not against McBride, of course), he said, “I’m nobody to be sympathetic to — I’m not a tragic story.”

He conceded he was tragic before boxing, before he met D’Amato. Though his mentor died before Tyson first became a champion in 1986, D’Amato seemed much more present now than when the notorious Don King was in charge of Tyson’s career.

Maybe Tyson simply wants to go back in time — but don’t suggest he wants to become the “old” Mike Tyson.”

“People who say that don’t know what they’re asking for,” he said, then, yes, giggled.

He acknowledged that his problem was that he had so little self-respect (“I was too insecure”), so he expected to be treated badly. Now he can joke about it. He said he was at the Phoenix Suns’ playoff finale last week, sitting on the floor with the elite, thinking, “I don’t belong here. I belong in the bleachers. These people [in the top seats] look at me like I’m an alien.”

He talked of leaving prison and winning two title belts “in less than four rounds,” and now, 10 years later, he said he expects to do it again. Tyson said he should get more credit for beating Frank Bruno, who crossed himself maybe 113 times from his dressing room to the ring, and Bruce Seldon, who went down from a punch that no one believed was in the same zip code as his head.

But winning it again, now, after getting humiliated by Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Danny Williams, indeed would return some of the glow to the old shooting star. He said he could be fighting for a title by the end of the year, that maybe three “tuneups” would suffice.

“I’m like a phoenix,” he said, referring not to his latest home town but the mythical bird that rose from the ashes. It was, perhaps, an apt metaphor.

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