Angelo Dundee, who was training fighters before Tony Tubbs was born, was talking about Mike Tyson's next opponent the other day.
"Tony Tubbs has always been a good fighter, he's always had as much ability as anyone around," Dundee said. "But he's also been his own worst enemy."
Tubbs meets Tyson in Tokyo March 21. He's training at Big Oaks Lodge, in Angeles National Forest, near Saugus.
Dundee, who once hired Tubbs as a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali in the last years of Ali's career, said in a telephone interview what most boxing people say about Tubbs--that so far, his will has never matched his ability.
"Tony can fight, but I don't think he's ever fully understood how good he really is," Dundee said. "He's never given boxing the 100% effort. Look at him--he moves well, he's got good hand speed, he knows how to use the ring, he takes a good shot . . . he should be really lickin' guys, but he doesn't.
"If he makes up his mind he wants to be a fighter, he'll give Tyson some real problems."
At Big Oaks Lodge the other day, Tubbs nodded his head in agreement when told of Dundee's analysis. But he added: "This is going to be the fight of my career, believe me," he said. "This is it. Mentally, I'm 99% ready and I'll be 100% ready on fight day. See, one thing I got goin' for me is that Tyson will be playin' me cheap. I got some things planned for Tyson that'll give him some problems."
Tubbs, 29, is 25-1. His only defeat was a close, 15-round decision in 1986 to Tim Witherspoon, in his only defense of the World Boxing Assn. heavyweight championship he'd won by beating Greg Page in 1985. He also has a decision win over James (Bonecrusher) Smith, in 1985.
Tubbs stands today on the verge of earning $1.1 million for a Tyson fight after missing out on a possible 1987 Tyson appointment.
Tubbs, citing a shoulder injury, pulled out of a scheduled heavyweight tournament bout with Witherspoon in December, 1986. Promoter Don King first accused Tubbs of trying to extort more money from him, dumped Tubbs from the tournament and tapped Smith as a late substitute. Tubbs sued King. In an upset, Smith knocked out Witherspoon in the first round and earned a shot at Tyson, which he lost.
A year later, Tubbs dropped the action against King when Tyson's management wanted Tubbs as a 1988 Tokyo opponent.
Tubbs learned to fight in Cincinnati parking lots, as a teen-ager. He learned to box at a gym in St. Mark's Church in Cincinnati. He turned pro in 1980, shortly after President Jimmy Carter announced a U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Tubbs' many troubles in a problem-plagued pro career began in the early 1980s, when he boxed for the Santa Monica-based Muhammad Ali Professional Sports group. The organization's promoter, Harold Smith, was convicted in 1982 of conspiring to embezzle $21.3 million from Wells Fargo Bank. Smith drew a 10-year prison sentence and a $30,000 fine.
Tubbs, sent adrift, looked for new management.
For three years, his career was dead in the water. There was a succession of lawyers, managers and trainers. Finally, he obtained the Page title fight in 1985 and established himself as one of the best heavyweights of the 1980s.
He'd won his first 20 fights when he beat Page on a unanimous decision and won the WBA title.
Tubbs is not a slugger. He's stopped only 16 of 26 opponents. But he has, most boxing people agree, considerable boxing skills. He has fast hands and is a fast-moving heavyweight. And he's big (too big, some say), over 6 feet 2 inches and generally fights at 228 to 230 pounds.
Nevertheless, he's up against a formidable opponent this time, and few give him much of a chance. Of Tyson, Tubbs acknowledges respect, but talks bravely of a new, determined Tubbs.
"Right now, Tyson's the man. He's good, real good--he's strong and he's a hard hitter. But a lot of guys who've lost to him have made the mistake of getting caught up in his kind of fight, and I won't let him suck me up into his kind of fight."
"His kind of fight," Tubbs explained, is a slugfest at long or medium range.
"You might as well stand there and let him take swings at you with a baseball bat," he said. "I won't let him do that. I'm going to make him box. He's never faced a guy with my hand speed.
"I've got a good plan for Tyson, and when I get in there against him, I'm going to stick with it. See, (Larry) Holmes did what he wanted to do for two rounds. He got Mike inside, and Mike couldn't hurt him there. Then something came over Holmes. He looked to me like he thought he could knock Tyson out."
Odelle Hadley, Tubbs' longtime trainer, said an in-shape Tubbs is a problem for Tyson.
"If Tony gets himself in good shape, better shape than Mike Tyson, he's got a chance," he said. "I'll say this now--if it goes past five rounds, Tony will beat Tyson. I've been with Tony seven years. I know Tony. And believe me, he has pride. Tony won't lay down for nobody."