LAS VEGAS, Nev. — With 25 knockouts in 27 fights, it seems Mike Tyson is close to perfection as he closes in on a title fight with World Boxing Council champion Trevor Berbick.
Trainer Kevin Rooney, though, thinks the 20-year-old hasn't come close to fulfilling his vast potential.
"He's just fighting maybe 30 percent of his capabilities," Rooney said. "What's going to happen when he reaches his potential? What will people say then?"
What people are already saying, including many boxing experts, is that Tyson is very close even now to dominating the heavyweight division. He is an electrifying presence and a fighter who sells tickets as quickly as he knocks out opponents.
In a division that has sorely needed a superstar since the retirement of Muhammad Ali, Tyson could be the saviour. If he beats Berbick on Nov. 22, and he is a heavy favorite to do so, he will be the youngest heavyweight champion in history.
"This is a chance to prove myself as the greatest fighter in the world," Tyson said. "If I break the record for being the youngest champion ever, that's immortality. No one's going to break it."
Tyson's tremendous punching power is well documented. His punches land with such impact that 15 of his opponents were knocked out in the first round and only four have gone past the fifth.
But Rooney said it is not as much Tyson's powerful build as it is his boxing sense and ring smarts that give him the advantage. Starting at age 13, Tyson has intensely studied the game, mostly under Cus D'Amato, the late trainer of several champions.
"I think he's the smartest fighter in the world today," Rooney said. "That's what makes him so good. We're blessed he has such speed and power, but he acquired this other knowledge being around Cus D'Amato and (manager and fight film collector) Jimmy Jacobs."
Rooney predicts Tyson will someday be able to combine his natural ability with boxing instincts to know what his opponent will do a split second before he does it.
It is a pinnacle many boxers dream of but few achieve. Some say Sugar Ray Robinson had it at the peak of his career, others point to Ali.
"He's starting to show it at times in the gym" Rooney said. "He hasn't reached it yet, but it'll happen. Then he'll be a real professional fighter, he'll have that superior inner confidence that only a few have had."
Tyson already appears to have the confidence of a fighter far beyond his tender age. When he steps in the ring, he stalks an opponent relentlessly, seemingly confident he will find the right punch to put the other guy away.
"I'm a serious dude," he said."I just say, 'this is my job, I'm going to fight.' "
Tyson shrugs off the oddsmakers who have installed him as a 5-1 favorite in the scheduled 12-round bout against Berbick.
"I really don't pay any attention to the odds," he said. "I know what I'm capable of doing and what I have to do to win the title."
Against Berbick, Tyson will be fighting an experienced, strong and cagey fighter who is a cut above anyone the young New York fighter has fought in his career.
Berbick was the first fighter to take Larry Holmes 15 rounds in a championship defense and owns a decision win over an aging Ali in Ali's last fight. His combination of awkwardness and strength was too much for former WBC champion Pinklon Thomas, who lost the title and his only fight to Berbick in March.
"He's a very tough, determined fighter, but he's not going to take my punches for 12 rounds," Tyson said. "He says he'll be right there and that's fine with me. He won't be there for long, though."
Tyson's appeal is such that all the $75 tickets for the fight at the Las Vegas Hilton have been sold, and only a few thousand other tickets remain. Hilton officials predict the 8,500-seat arena will easily sell out before fight time.
Although he's no Ali in the promotion department, Tyson is affable and willing to talk about the upcoming fight to reporters. His answers are brief, but polite, given in a soft, high-pitched voice that might fit better in another body.
"The attention doesn't bother me," he said. "I always knew I'd be a media star or something like that."
Rooney said the closest thing to an entourage in the Tyson camp is his two managers, trainer and a cut man. His sudden fame has drawn many would-be friends toward the camp, but Rooney says Tyson has remained relatively unaffected by it all.
"He's just like any other 20-year-old outside of the ring," he said. "He has all the normal interests. That's girls and more girls."