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JIM MURRAY

Tyson's Still One Tough Cat

September 05, 1996|JIM MURRAY

LAS VEGAS — Most people when they want a cute little family pet, they get a poodle, a kitten, maybe a duck or a hamster.

Not Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson gets a tiger.

Not one of those cuddly, adorable stuffed kind with glass eyes and whiskers, but the real thing--a potential man-eater, a white striped Bengal with teeth and claws and a bad attitude. A 200-pound predator, the kind used to terrify villages in the jungles of Asia.

Tyson doesn't play golf or tennis or bowl for recreation, he plays with his tiger. Sometimes he gets knocked down when the tiger gets exuberant. Part of the fun.

Tyson thinks he might add another lion or two to his menagerie. Who knows? Perhaps a few Siberian wolves.

Tyson doesn't like anything you could put a collar on. He keeps his wild animals in cages only because the law requires it. Tyson doesn't like cages, either. He spent three years in one himself--unjustly, he feels. He would like his animals to be free to forage and roam--probably because Tyson feels he himself is not free to. "I'm a convicted felon," he notes grimly. "I have no real freedom. I'm on probation. I can't go where I want to. They think I'm Al Capone."

So, he turns his attention to his animals, dotes on them, empathizes with them. And when I tell you that, I tell you maybe all you need to know about the wild animal that is Mike Tyson.

The public perception of Tyson is that of a renegade human as wild as anything he keeps in a cage at home.

Tyson admits he once answered to that description. "It was never any big secret, was it?" he hoots. "You could pick up any paper. I was a wild man. I was drinkin', hanging out with women the night before a fight. I was totally out of control."

None of the available escape hatches were possible for him. Alcoholics Anonymous? He hoots at the notion. "I'm not one of those people to stand up there and say, 'Hi! I'm Mike Tyson, and I'm an alcoholic.' I never felt the need. Only weak people who can't find themselves need that. I want to stop, I stop. Cold turkey. Suffer."

His conversion to Islam made him stop his destructive ways, Tyson tells you. "We are in a society where things are not wrong any more. Freedom is a dangerous thing. A good thing but also a dangerous thing. It is the Islamic perspective that things that are wrong are just that--wrong. This, we don't do. We don't excuse it, we just stop it."

He adds: "I've got a temper. But once it flares, boom! I'm back in the penitentiary. I have to keep control.

"I never had any family upbringing. I had to find out as I went along. I didn't have a choice whether to be a bum or a nice person. I had to be a bum. It was all that was open to me, growing up. I didn't think I'd ever make it to 20. Now, I'm 30. I look at my pets. All of a sudden, they get this burst of energy from nowhere. They act on their instincts. All animals' instincts are different. You take a young lion. He shows affection because he wants affection. A tiger doesn't care."

The World Boxing Council heavyweight champ sat in promoter Don King's house the other afternoon here, fielding questions from the flower of world boxing journalists. A player piano in the other room tinkled Mozart and Beethoven concertos. Only glimpses of the traditional post-training, pre-fight irritability showed in Tyson's manner.

Did he ever hate an opponent? "It's just a job," Tyson said. "It's what I do to make a living. Some people drive cabs. I hit people."

What about Bruce Seldon, his opponent at the MGM Grand Saturday night? Tyson shrugs. "I don't know anything about him. He's just an opponent."

So, he has no fight plan? "I plan to win. Apart from that, I never have plans. What happens, happens. I just come here to win."

Tunney used to read Shakespeare. Dempsey played cards and gave out hot foots. Louis played golf. Ali gave speeches. Tyson just goes down and hangs out with his animals.

If I were Seldon, the minute I heard him growl, I'd make them call off the fight.

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