The three heavyweight champions sat ringside at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, trying very hard not to look like ducks in a row. They were dressed splendidly and radiated confidence in their royalty. But, for all that it matters, they might as well have been introduced to last Saturday night's fight crowd of about 8,000 as Huey, Dewey and Louie. With Mike Tyson's sputtering preliminaries now behind him, champs Frank Bruno, Bruce Seldon and Frans Botha suddenly had the look of obvious targets, becoming dates on a calender, victims in waiting. Lined up, all of them, one after the other, quacking in their boots.
Tyson's comeback—his quest to unify the division that he once dominated—now begins in earnest. His third-round knockout of Buster Mathis Jr. announced an end to his ring rehab and, whether he's ready or not, guaranteed that his next fight would be against a world titleholder. Don King, who patiently assembled a makeshift cast of champions under his promotional umbrella while Tyson was inside an Indiana prison serving a three-year sentence for rape, has already said that first up is Bruno, the WBC champion, on March 16 in Las Vegas. Next is Seldon, the WBA champ, on June 22, same place. Finally, on an unspecified day in September, Tyson is expected to fight Botha, possibly in the IBF champion's native South Africa. Then, with the titles presumably consolidated, a Nov. 2 fight back in Las Vegas, perhaps against Riddick Bowe or Lennox Lewis.
So circle those dates, put aside some money for the pay-per-view (forget about this free-TV deal you just enjoyed) and pretty much get your year in order for Tyson's return to glory. This thing is planned. Face it. If there were even one more duck in a row, the fight would have to be sanctioned by the Fish and Game people, not a boxing commission.
This all assumes you are sufficiently encouraged by what amounts to 10 minutes of boxing by Tyson over the last 4� years to size him up as a guy capable of doing what he did eight years ago in picking off the three heavyweight champions. Of course, Tyson was just 21 then, a force of nature, an X-Files kind of creation. He was promoted more as a monster than a boxer in those days, and he did little, in or out of the ring, to dispel that image. But he's 29 now, has known defeat in the ring and humiliation in public. He's altogether more human and perhaps a little less dangerous to all that pugilistic poultry out there.
However, his Mathis fight was somewhat persuasive. In the ring with a proven fighter this time instead of an opportunist, Tyson displayed the kind of power that causes fans to cheer his comeback, to return their faith to a badly damaged sport. Tyson was wild, yes, almost in the same way he was against Peter McNeeley last August, Tyson's first fight after his release from prison. In fact, he may not have connected with a single hard punch in the first round last Saturday. "I was lullabying him," he said afterward. But every missed right hand promised Mathis's eventual demise. Tyson wasn't going to miss every one of them.
Mathis, however badly outgunned in this match, at least knew how to protect himself. From the opening bell he bore in on Tyson, choosing the safety of an inside game where he could alternately clinch and pepper Tyson with quick but light hands. This was his announced strategy, and he kept to it and was effective, bobbing and weaving, for two rounds. "The problem," admitted Mathis's trainer, Joey Fariello, "is Buster fires BBs and Tyson fires bombs."
And in the third round Tyson unloaded one from the right side, an uppercut that landed squarely on Mathis's cheek and did all the damage. Two punches later Mathis was on the seat of his pants, wondering what had happened. "When I looked up," Mathis recollected pleasantly at the postfight press conference, "the referee was at five. I thought, Damn, this man is counting fast." Referee Frank Cappuccino was at 10 before Mathis could properly formulate an action, and the fight ended 2:32 into the round. A half hour later Mathis still seemed a little goofy. Following Tyson into the press conference, where the winner was holding forth under a black homburg, all Mathis could think to say to Tyson was, "You O.K.?" Tyson smothered a smirk and assured him he was fine.
If this was evidence of Tyson's old concussive kinetics, great. He was back. Even Tyson seemed to take pleasure in the event, as if finally satisfied that he still has what it takes. At times he remained suspicious and irritable, as he was when asked about the final combination. He said, "It just manifested itself. I can't articulate the particular science of it." But at other moments he seemed very comfortable with himself. Talking about missed haymakers, during which he was "lullabying" Mathis into a false sense of security, he said, "It was a plot, a setup. Just like society." He was pleased with that remark.
Predictably, not everybody was taken aback by Tyson's dismantling of Mathis. Huey, that is to say, Bruno, thought Tyson was "very, very rusty." Tyson KO'd Bruno in the fifth round in 1989, but Bruno, who won the WBC title from Oliver McCall last September, says the rematch will be different. "He will not live with me for five rounds."
Dewey, or rather Bruce Seldon, thought Tyson lacked timing, but he was too respectful of the millions a Tyson fight would bring him to say anything more. Louie, who is promoted as the White Buffalo (but whom we know as Frans Botha, the Luckiest Man on Earth, since his IBF title, won in a controversial decision over Axel Schulz on Dec. 9, puts him in line for some of the Tyson loot), chose not to lurk during the press conference.