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Jim Murray

They've Groomed and Trained Him for This Very Moment

June 26, 1988|Jim Murray

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Sometime along about 8 p.m. PDT Monday in the Atlantic City Convention Center when the trainer, Kevin Rooney, pushes the prizefighter, Mike Tyson, into center ring, why will it remind me of taking a blindfold off a falcon or the choke collar off a Doberman pinscher, springing a brave bull into the sunlight of the corrida or a lion at the Christians?

Look at it this way: Jack Dempsey just happened to become heavyweight champion of the world. He didn't set out to be. He jumped off a freight train one day and there was some guy offering him money to stay a few rounds in a saloon fight.

Joe Louis didn't grow up to be champ. He fell into it. So did Jack Johnson, Gene Tunney. They all had other agendas.

Not Mike Tyson. Mike had no other choice in the matter. He was bred to be heavyweight champion of the world. He was programmed for it. No one really consulted him in the matter.

"I was groomed for it," he explained somewhat ruefully at a press conference the other day. "From the age of 12 or 13, I was pointed for this. I didn't go to school. I had tutors. Everything was brought to me. I was targeted."

That was it. He was a one-purpose human being. Harvard or Yale had no shot at him. The bond market, the State Department, Madison Avenue were not in his future.

Literature will have to wait for one of those inevitable "as told to" books from him to find out what he thinks of the world. Rocket science and medicine were not on his program. Left hooks were.

He might otherwise have drifted into the electric chair. Tyson's earliest fights were impromptu affairs on the streets of Brooklyn, where not only did the Marquess of Queensberry rules not apply, neither did the three-knockdown rule.

They were a good deal more one-sided than even his early ring matches. In the ring matches, at least the other guy sees him coming. And they play "The Star Spangled Banner" before they turn him loose.

Mike was going to Sing Sing by stages when he came under the tutelage of one of the brooding characters in the history of fistiana. Constantine D'Amato, boxing's Svengali, the swami of the old 1-2, came into his life. Cus D'Amato knew a heavyweight champion when he saw one. After all, he had Floyd Patterson, whom he took out of a school for wayward boys, too, and put him in the title.

You look at Mike Tyson and you know he couldn't be anything but a heavyweight champion. He's too little to be a football player, too short to be a basketball player, too poor to be a tennis player and too slow to be a baseball player. And too mean to be a butler. His options were two: Be a thug--or be a pug.

Cus D'Amato knew what it took. He couldn't believe his good luck. Patterson was an introverted type who lacked the homicidal hubris the great ones brought to their task.

Tyson didn't lack anything. He liked to hurt people. If he did it for hubcaps, he'd do it for purses. He made his fight with the gusto of a young Dempsey at Toledo. There was anger in every move. Watching him fight was like watching a lion eat.

You get the idea Mike Tyson is doing precisely what he wants to be doing. Sugar Ray Robinson might rather have been a dancer, Gene Tunney a Shakespearean actor, Joe Louis a baseball player. But Iron Mike would rather hit somebody. He admits it in his every utterance.

When his opponent, Michael Spinks, talks of fear as a motivating force, Tyson gets resentful. "We're in a hurtin' business," he frowns. "If you can't give pain, don't complain."

Tyson gives pain. It's his stock-in-trade. He has no illusions about his activity in the ring being a kind of figure skating with gloves.

"This is about hurt," he insists. "It doesn't matter whether you be a Kennedy, a Rockefeller, a Donald Trump--a blueblood or distinguished citizen--you come to see someone get hurt."

Mike Tyson tries to oblige.

He has been programmed well. To date, he has put the hurt on 34 straight opponents. Only a few survived on their feet. Sixteen did not make it to the second round.

When Pinklon Thomas climbed in the ring with Tyson, his trainer looked across at the glowering Tyson and said to the other second, "You take the head and I'll take the feet."

When Trevor Berbick was knocked out, he lay on the floor trying to work his mouth. "I think my jaw's broke," he said.

"Naw, it ain't," soothed his trainer, Angelo Dundee. "It's just a little sideways."

Sometimes, Tyson knocks his opponents so sideways they need a photo to reconstruct them. He has only one gear in the ring--forward. He has only one style--demolition. He pays his sparring partners double the going rate, not so they'll make him look good but so that they'll make war. He pays them a bonus if they can knock him down.

Tyson knows he's the most ferocious thing on the planet that doesn't bite. He admits he's a throwback. But it's not his fault. He was trained for it. When other kids were learning to ride bikes or drive cars or fish or ice skate, he was learning to hurt people. It's what Mike Tyson is all about. It's not a hobby, a diversion, a pastime.

In a way, he's an artist. He paints canvases. With broken prizefighters. A Tyson canvas sometimes looks like one of Picasso's. There's usually a disfigured guy on it. A guy with a lopsided jaw or what looks like three eyes.

You get the feeling they'll have to scrape what's left of Michael Spinks off it Monday. You only hope that when they turn Cus' creation loose Monday night and say, "Kill, Bubba, Kill!" that they point to Spinks first.

Otherwise, the referee may be in trouble. Or the people in the front row. When you're trained to kill, you kill. Who doesn't matter.

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