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The Gospel According to Mike : Tyson Says He'll Be Better Than Ever in Comeback, Because Fighting Is What God Wants Him to Do

August 05, 1995|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — Twenty-nine floors above the lights and crowds, with the sun setting on another free day, Mike Tyson, who once described himself as "the baddest man on the planet," is wearing glasses and speaking like a philosophy student.

"I don't know what I'm going to do, you don't know what you're doing in life," Tyson says. "I hope I don't get hit by a car, this building doesn't fall on me . . . I've become very morbid in my thinking."

Throughout a free-flowing hourlong interview with a handful of reporters Thursday evening in a penthouse suite at the MGM Grand, Tyson is tense and slightly testy at first. But by the end, he is loose, amiable and joking about how eagerly the words are tumbling from his mouth.

"Aww, I don't even know what I'm talking about, don't listen to me," he says with a giggle late in the interview.

Shooting through discussions of, among other topics, Napoleon--"That guy was a butt-kicker, wasn't he?"--the death penalty, Arthur Ashe, Bosnia, and the evolution of Las Vegas, Tyson eventually winds down to his multimillion-dollar Aug. 19 comeback bout after three years in prison for raping a beauty pageant contestant.

"They're going to get their money's worth out of me, you can be sure of that," Tyson says when asked if he can be as good a fighter as he once was. "I'm sure they'll be satisfied.

"I'm a butt-kicker by nature, you know. It's my nature to do that."

But as a maturing 28-year-old who embraced the Muslim religion while in prison and who has a tattoo of Ashe and the title of his book, "Days of Grace," on his left arm and one of Mao on his right, will his enforced layoff prevent him from being the same ferocious fighter he once was?

"If anything, it will enhance it," says Tyson, who admits he was very discouraged for the first few weeks of training. "This is a job, this is the job I do. And I do it well only because God blessed me to be able to do this. He gave me the skill to do this.

"And I don't think He's going to take it away from me, now, say, 'You shouldn't be that good any more, Mike. You go and get your brains bashed out, you can't pray to me any more because you aren't in the right business.' "

If there is one major theme of the night's discourse, it is that Tyson, for now, has decided that he is a boxer and will dedicate his life strictly to boxing for as long as he can.

In his first public workout Wednesday, Tyson did not spar but looked chiseled and trim, and he appeared to be utilizing the combination of quickness, head movement, aggressiveness and power that eluded him in the last few fights before his prison time. His lead trainer, Jay Bright, says Tyson has left the glamour and distractions of his past life behind and has never looked better in the gym.

Tyson will fight the unheralded Peter McNeeley two weeks from today at the MGM Grand, then is scheduled to fight again on Nov. 4, against an opponent not yet named, and apparently four more times in 1996.

For his part, Tyson says he doesn't want to go anywhere, see anything, do anything . . . except fight, in a ring, as he was destined to do.

"I can't tell you anything outrageous or philosophical," Tyson says. "It's all I ever did, man. I don't care how much money I made, it's all I ever did. I never wanted to be anything else.

"I used to like having fun . . . and we had a lot of bad things happen to us. Good things and bad things. I'm not in a position to complain; I've had too many good things happen to me to cry.

"At first, I was bitter, but too many good things have happened to me. It overrides the bad. I choose to be happy. I make that choice. I will be happy. I'm cool. I'm just uncomfortable with you guys, but I'm pretty much a happy cat."

That's why, he says, while in prison, he never considered retiring from the sport.

"Who would I be hurting?" Tyson says. "I would only be hurting myself. I'd be doing a lot of people a favor."

This evokes a laugh from his co-manager, John Horne, who says: "You'd hurt me, brother, you'd hurt me bad."

Wouldn't he be able to get out of the fishbowl if he quit boxing, and avoid having to deal with the media attention?

"I'm going to always have to deal with you guys," Tyson says. "You guys would call me a coward for not coming back."

Tyson is equally fatalistic when he talks about his three years in prison--he got out in March--and the national emotions stoked by his trial, conviction and release.

Without saying the words, Tyson seems to acknowledge that he is a symbol of heroic and evil things to different groups of people, and that there is nothing he can do about either.

"Me being in prison, some people think it's justice, some people believe it's injustice," Tyson says. "I'm alive, I'm surviving, I'm functioning. That's all that matters.

"I dealt with it, it's dead. It's none of you guys' concern. I'm surviving. It was just another life in another world."

Wasn't he tested in prison; weren't there other inmates who wanted to prove themselves by fighting the former heavyweight champion of the world?

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