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BOXING / TIM KAWAKAMI : Bright Is Tyson's Confidence Man

August 18, 1995|Tim Kawakami

LAS VEGAS — Cus D'Amato died almost a decade ago, Teddy Atlas walked away before that, Kevin Rooney was fired in 1988, which means that the inheritor of the D'Amato legacy (and the rights and responsibilities of training Mike Tyson) is . . . Jay Bright?

Though others point out that Bright hardly has the background to even call himself a professional trainer, much less the heir to D'Amato, the 37-year-old Bright is dutifully employed as the man who will guide Tyson back into boxing after a four-year absence because of his conviction for rape.

Bright, along with Rooney and Atlas, lived with D'Amato at his Catskill, N.Y., residence and gym, and was there when a rough-and-tumble teen-ager named Mike Tyson came under D'Amato's roof and wing.

Bright, who apparently was never a major part of the D'Amato fight scene while D'Amato was alive and who concedes that his interests were often elsewhere, popped up as an assistant in Tyson's corner for the first time in 1989, after Rooney was fired, and has been in it ever since, including the shocking 1990 knockout loss to Buster Douglas.

Earlier this month, Tyson's co-managers made official what had become obvious: Tyson trusted Bright, and, though the co-managers had said they wanted a more experienced hand involved, that meant Bright would be Tyson's lead trainer heading into Saturday's comeback bout against Peter McNeeley.

"I've been with Mike since the first day he came to Cus' house, when he was 13 years old," Bright said. "I've been with him; he trusts me. And he knows that what I'm saying is just going to be a reflection of the things Cus would say if he was available to be here today."

The voluble Atlas, for one, says the idea of Bright being a lifelong boxing man capable of stepping in to train Tyson is laughable. According to Atlas, Bright and D'Amato were never that close, and Bright, who lost both his parents as a teen-ager, was much closer to D'Amato's companion, Camille Ewald, than anyone who was training or fighting during that time.

"When me and Rooney and the main guys were in the house, way before Tyson came, Jay was just this 350-pound guy," said Atlas, who currently trains former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer.

"He thinks he can make things up and nobody will call him to account. That's wrong. I'm surprised Tyson is allowing this to happen. It's like an insult to Tyson's intelligence that Jay Bright can say he ever trained a fighter in that house. I mean, Jay made quiche. He made blueberry pies."

Bright, who speaks in a calm, quiet voice, and whose most common gesture seems to be a casual shrug, says he realizes he's now under a microscope.

"I realize they're going to sit and take potshots at me, but that's OK," Bright said of Atlas and Rooney. "There wasn't anything until I started working with Mike, then all of a sudden, it's like sour grapes or something."

Even if he wasn't one of D'Amato's main assistants, Bright says he was around enough to absorb the philosophy.

"I used to go to the gym and work every day," Bright said. "Cus had a gym and the fighters used to work with other fighters.

"I wanted to be a fighter when I first went up there. I boxed and trained, and then, eventually, I wanted to go to college. And Cus had made a promise to my father not to pressure me to be a fighter if I wanted to go to college, because my mother always wanted me to go to college.

"I still lived at the house, I still went to the gym, but my goals at that point were more toward college than toward boxing. But I still was getting an education in boxing."

*

Co-manager Rory Holloway dismisses questions about Bright's fight experience by pointing out that veteran Dave Jacobs will be on hand as an assistant, and that the most important thing is Tyson's obvious chemistry and comfort level with Bright.

"Jay's only problem is he just doesn't have the exposure," Holloway said. "Because he hasn't trained a corral of fighters, he hasn't had a lot of fighters under his tutelage.

"But Jay is an incredible trainer; Jay's a great trainer. Jay was taught under Cus D'Amato too. He doesn't get the credit for it because he hasn't had Mike Tyson. Anybody who gets Mike Tyson, you're going to say he's a great trainer.

"The fact of the matter is all these guys who had the opportunity to train Mike, now and before, those guys, you don't hear anything about them. They didn't make any more great champions. Mike Tyson made them, they didn't make Mike Tyson."

Toward the end of his pre-jail career, Tyson looked slower, absorbed harder hits, and threw fewer and duller combinations, specifically in his last two fights, sluggish victories over Razor Ruddock.

Judging by the one, quick glance the media has gotten at Tyson's work since he left jail last March, Tyson appears to be trying to fight the way he did when he dominated the sport--bobbing his head, and attacking with quick combinations.

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