LAS VEGAS — Mike Tyson, the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, doesn't have a lot of patience with boxing reporters. He can't figure out how guys who write about boxing for a living can ask such dumb questions.
To Tyson, boxing is a simple activity, easy to understand. Boxing reporters, he figures, think too much.
For example, the other day, a reporter asked Tyson if James (Bonecrusher) Smith's 11-inch reach advantage will concern him in their title bout tonight at the Las Vegas Hilton.
The expression on Tyson's face told you what he was thinking: "Geez, where do they get these guys?"
Grinning, Tyson responded: "Reach advantage? Look, if a guy walks up to you in the street and says, 'Do you want to fight?' you don't stand there thinking about his reach advantage. You just hit him, that's all."
Does everyone understand that? This could be the breakthrough we've all looked for into understanding how multimillion-dollar fights are won. The oddsmakers are pretty sure they've figured this one out. Tyson is a 7-1 favorite to stop Smith, the World Boxing Assn. heavyweight champion. In other words, most people figure, Tyson will "just hit him," and Smith will fall down and stay down.
There is little reason to expect another outcome, since the undefeated Tyson, 20, has done this in 26 of his 28 professional fights, most convincingly here 3 1/2 months ago, when he won the title by destroying Trevor Berbick in two rounds.
This one figures to be as close to a televised street fight as you can get. The Hilton has built a 14,600-seat stadium on its parking lot.
Smith, 33, comes into this one as a late bloomer. He has won three of his last four fights by first-round knockouts. Last Dec. 12, he took out Tim Witherspoon in one round, winning the WBA championship in a fight he took on six days' notice. Also in 1986, he knocked out David Bey and Mike Weaver in one-rounders.
But Smith has a somewhat checkered record of 19-5. He has lost to Marvis Frazier, for example. Tyson knocked Frazier unconscious in 33 seconds. Smith also lost a decision to Tony Tubbs in 1985 and was badly beaten by Witherspoon in their first meeting.
And there's an even more incriminating item in the Bonecrusher dossier. He's a college graduate--Shaw College, Raleigh, N.C., B.A. in business administration, class of '75. As Tyson would point out, this is not a sport requiring thought.
Smith is strong, though, at 6 feet 4 inches and 233 pounds, and a genuine heavy hitter. So when he says, "If I hit Mike with one of my best shots, he'll go," he could be right. Problem is, no one so far has been able to figure out how to slip through the fury of Tyson's assaults and deliver a solid blow.
Smith, painfully slow afoot when compared to the lightning-quick Tyson, would seem to be particularly vulnerable to the 219-pound Tyson's charges and powerful combinations.
Tyson agrees that Smith is the hardest hitter he has yet faced.
"But remember," he says, "the objective in boxing is not to take punches."
If Tyson beats Smith, his next two opponents will be, in uncertain order, Tyrell Biggs and Pinklon Thomas, according to Tyson's co-manager, Jimmy Jacobs.
"Don King (tonight's promoter) has options on Mike's next two fights," Jacobs said. "It looks like it'll be Biggs and Thomas, but I don't know which one will be first. We also want Mike to clean up the (International Boxing Federation) title in the next 8 to 12 weeks, too."
Biggs and Thomas are both on tonight's card. Biggs (13-0) will fight Bey (15-4), and Thomas, (28-1-1) will box Danny Sutton (24-10) of Spartanburg, S.C.
The supporting card also includes a WBC title fight between featherweight champion Azumah Nelson of Ghana and Mexican champion Mauro Gutierrez.
The Tyson-Smith bout presumably will conclude King's short-circuited heavyweight unification tournament, as originally conceived. Promoter-manager Butch Lewis, who handles IBF champion Michael Spinks, bolted the tournament to attempt to put together a Spinks-Gerry Cooney bout. A New York court injunction temporarily stopped that, and Lewis could be in court for years, fending off lawsuits by a couple of corporate heavyweights, Time, Inc., the parent company of HBO, and Hilton Nevada Corp.
Meanwhile, the IBF on Feb. 26 stripped Spinks of his championship for not making a mandatory defense, which Jacobs says frees Tyson to fight either Biggs or Thomas next.
"The IBF has no champion, it's as simple as that," Jacobs said. "Apparently, there'll be an elimination bout between Buster Douglas and Tony Tucker, and Mike will meet that winner and become the undisputed champion."
In the meantime, Lewis is a man in everyone's doghouse this week.
"If I had my way, Butch Lewis will be (tied up) with lawsuits for a long, long time," said John V. Giovenco, president of Hilton Nevada Corp.
"What Butch Lewis has done to the reputation of Michael Spinks is a tragedy," said King, Lewis' former co-promoter. "I've never seen thinking like this. This is a TV sitcom."
Meanwhile, if tonight's bout turns out as expected, Mike Tyson, one-time Brooklyn street ruffian, will be well on his way to becoming an industry. He will pick up a check for $1.5 million--Smith will get $1 million--a sum Tyson may giggle at a decade from now.
"Mike will, if he continues as he has, make more money than any athlete in the history of this country," Jacobs said.
Endorsement offers are "pouring in," Jacobs said, adding that they're referred to Ohlmeyer Communications, Tyson's marketing representative.
"The Ohlmeyer people separate the good offers from the great offers, and after Mike gets the IBF title--which could be as soon as 12 weeks--we'll look seriously at some deals. There's no hurry. Mike's making millions in the ring now. But down the road, his outside income will exceed his boxing income."