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'Baddest Man' Back by Popular Demand

Boxing: Tyson's fight against Seldon will be watched by many, but probably not for long.

September 07, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — He postpones fights, bristles when he's bored, and has been to jail.

He has hurt people, in and out of the ring. He has lived wildly, and dared people to hate him.

So, why does boxer Mike Tyson remain one of the most popular attractions in the history of sports?

"If I could answer that question, I could change the world," said Tyson's opponent tonight at the MGM Grand Garden, World Boxing Assn. heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon.

Barring that, things don't look good for the good-natured, hard-jabbing Seldon, an anonymous champion facing the most notorious fighter in the world.

Tony Tubbs, Riddick Bowe and Oliver McCall all have registered victories over the 29-year-old Seldon, Bowe with a first-round knockout. Seldon won his title in April 1995, by defeating Tony Tucker for the belt that George Foreman discarded, then, in his last fight, in August of '95, successfully defended it against Joe Hipp.

Before a pay-per-view audience that will probably once again dwarf that drawn by any other fighter, or entertainer, Tyson is a heavy favorite to thump Seldon, a man with undisputed athletic talents but a questionable chin.

Tyson's last two pay-per-view fights, his comeback debut against Peter McNeeley and his last bout, a knockout over Frank Bruno last March in which he won the World Boxing Council belt, rank as the top two grossing pay-per-view events.

"The message is that people want to see the baddest man on the planet," Showtime executive Jay Larkin said. "They want to see the car wreck in action. And there will always be a large part of the population who will be anxious to see Tyson, regardless of who he fights."

Though Tyson is the WBC champion, that title is not at stake because a New Jersey judge ordered that Tyson must first defend against Lennox Lewis. If Tyson loses tonight, however, the WBC title will be declared vacant. If he wins, he must make a deal with Lewis or, more likely, force the WBC to strip him of it, with Lewis fighting somebody else for the vacant title.

Tyson's camp and the TV executives acknowledge that Tyson must move on to bigger names soon--and have booked Nov. 9 for Evander Holyfield. They are looking to fight International Boxing Federation champion Michael Moorer after that.

The Seldon bout was originally scheduled for July 13, but became the third Tyson scratch in his last five fights when he came down with bronchitis and postponed the bout.

But the delay has done little to increase Seldon's chances.

The pre-prison Tyson was infamous for his ferocious verbal put-downs of his opponents. In his fourth fight since he was released from jail in March 1995, Tyson, who is earning $15 million for this fight, has toned it down.

"I'm a Muslim," Tyson said this week. "We don't brag and we don't boast. But you know the way I felt in the past. And I still feel this way. But I don't say it."

Earlier, Tyson (44-1, 38 knockouts) laughed at talk that Seldon's athleticism would make the WBA champion dangerous, telling a TV interviewer that Seldon, who is getting $5 million, could do push-ups or jump hurdles in the ring if he wanted to.

Seldon, though, believes that his workout regimen gives him an edge.

"If you're an athletic individual and you love your body and you love to perform, athleticism has a lot to do with it," Seldon said.

"The guys he's fought since he's come back have all been stand-still targets, just right there for him to punch. They have no lateral movement, none of them used a good jab, put that jab in his face, kept him honest.

"Mike Tyson is a race horse, keeps coming. But even race horses have to slow down eventually. and that's the way we're looking at it."

Seldon (33-3, 29 KOs), from Atlantic City, N.J., served his own four-year prison term for armed robbery, beginning when he was 16, and says he started his boxing career in prison.

In an echo of Tyson's only defeat, when Buster Douglas dedicated the fight to his recently deceased mother, Seldon has looked for inspiration by talking about his mother, who died in 1993.

"I hope it gives him as much incentive as possible," Tyson said. "He needs every little bit."

Even though he probably isn't the fighter he was seven or eight years ago, Tyson, 30, has given little evidence that he is unsteady enough or bored enough to turn in a Douglas-like performance.

"I just think that Mike is so confident of what he's capable of doing, once he's in shape," said his co-manager, John Horne, who correctly predicted that Tyson would weigh in at about 220. Tyson weighed 219 Friday afternoon, Seldon 229.

"You never see Mike come in the gym with the lack of love for this game that you see some of these guys do," Horne said.

"All these things are coming to him so much more naturally and so much easier than it used to. I think it's that way with anybody. You're just doing it by instinct. It's not as difficult as it used to be."

Boxing Notes

On the undercard, rising superstar and IBF welterweight champion Felix Trinidad (29-0, 25 KOs) fights Ray Lovato (21-1, 11 KOs), and WBC and IBF junior-middleweight champion Terry Norris (43-6, 27 KOs) faces Alex Rios (18-2, 14 KOs). Women Christy Martin and Melinda Robinson will kick off the KingVision/SET pay-per-view show at 6 p.m.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Tale of the Tape

The tale of the tape for the WBA heavyweight title fight between Bruce Seldon and Mike Tyson to be held tonight at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas: *--*

SELDON TYSON 33-3 Record 44-1 29 Knockouts 38 29 Age 30 223 Weight 219 6-1 Height 5-11 1/2 79 Reach 71 44 Chest (normal) 43 46 Chest (expanded) 45 18 Biceps 16 16 Forearm 14 34 Waist 34 27 Thigh 27 18 Calf 19 20 Neck 20 1/2 8 Wrist 8 14 Fist 13 11 Ankle 11

*--*

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