- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Mellow Mike Tyson made his way into the ring at Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium yesterday, playfully swatting his trainer, former bantamweight and featherweight champion Jeff Fenech, in the back of the head.

After several rounds of watching Tyson hit the mitts on Fenech’s hand — bobbing and weaving, working on digging what likely will be devastating body shots to the ribs of 6-foot-6 Kevin McBride on Saturday night at MCI Center, Mellow Mike took the microphone, sat down in the ring and answered questions for about 20 minutes as calmly and coherently as he ever has throughout his tumultuous career.

That is one of Mellow Mike’s goals these days — to be calm and coherent. To be normal. This is no easy task for a man who has bitten off body parts in the ring and has blown through more than $400million and is now bankrupt.

“It is easier to be heavyweight champion than to be the world’s best person,” Mellow Mike said.

He is right, of course. Making the right choices can be a daily struggle — one that over a lifetime might be worthy of some kind of title belt — for someone like Mellow Mike. He grew up in a dysfunctional home in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood, then never quite understood how to deal with the riches and glory that came his way.

But he is trying, and so am I — trying not to be cynical about Mellow Mike. He went a long way toward convincing me yesterday. After being asked an inflammatory question by someone in the audience that included profanity, Mellow Mike didn’t become enraged or grab his crotch or curse the guy out or pull off any of his other signature press conference moves from over the years.

Instead, Mellow Mike said, “Don’t curse like that. There are children here.”

I’ve seen a lot of things at Tyson events before. I’ve never seen that one.

What I have seen before, though, is a cut and fit-looking Mellow Mike putting on an impressive show in the ring during a workout like he did yesterday. And usually, it is a mirage. One trainer after another has testified about how hard Mellow Mike has worked to prepare for a fight, and it all turned out to be the vulgarity that disturbed Mellow Mike’s sensibilities yesterday.

Fenech, a legendary fighter in his own right from Australia, is the latest to swear to Mellow Mike’s ring work.

“We have had good training preparation. … There will be no excuses,” Fenech said.

But there always are.

Tyson, 38, who introduced Mellow Mike before his last fight in July 2004 in Louisville, lost that one to a journeyman named Danny Williams, whose claim to fame before stopping Mellow Mike in four rounds was that he sometimes cried before he entered the ring. There are no stories about McBride crying before or during fights, but he might have shed a tear or two about getting knocked out once by a guy who had been knocked out by Butterbean.

That is the caliber of opponent facing Mellow Mike on Saturday night. Yet a smart and insightful fighter, International Boxing Federation heavyweight title holder Chris Byrd — who could have been at Burr Gymnasium yesterday without anyone noticing, which is telling of the kind of star power in the heavyweight division these days — said McBride will beat Tyson if he can withstand the initial Mellow Mike attack. That is what Danny Williams did.

Mellow Mike looks as if he has prepared a game plan that will consist of beating on the big man’s body until the hands fall and then go for the finish. But there have been game plans discussed, studied and repeated by numerous trainers to Mellow Mike over and over again, and when he steps into the ring, those strategies fade from memory at the first instance of something not going his way. All the bobbing and weaving and body shots suddenly fall by the wayside, and desperate headhunting — while getting hit — takes its place.

I asked both Fenech and Mellow Mike whether Mellow Mike will revert to some of his old habits if things don’t go right for him in the ring.

Said Fenech: “Mike Tyson will be fully in control of his emotions.”

Said Tyson: “I’m not going to bite anybody or break anybody’s arm.”

But I wasn’t even asking about the bizarre ring behavior. I was asking whether Mellow Mike will forget everything they went over in training if McBride takes the best he has to offer after a round or two and is still standing.

You see, the excuse for Mellow Mike losing the Williams fight was that he hurt his knee in the first round. But it wasn’t his knee that was broken. It was his spirit at the sight of Williams still standing. If opponents who would cry before they enter the ring aren’t scared of Mellow Mike anymore, what must he be thinking in the ring at the moment he realizes the guy isn’t going down?

Perhaps, at this stage in his career, that he is closer to being the world’s best person than the baddest man on the planet.

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