He appears to be afflicted with melancholy, theatrical in its proportions. The rich champion broods and, surrounded by supplicants and sycophants, wonders if anybody really cares about him. It's strange to see such sadness play out. His quest for ring dominance would normally guarantee some measure of affection, but he squares himself instead to face indifference, or worse. "Sometimes I feel like everyone hates me," Mike Tyson told The Ring magazine recently.
It's impossible to plumb his psyche, for his public outings have been infrequent and brief, even though the practice of his craft and the prosperity of his business would seem to demand the opposite. Tyson is frequently a no-show at the very press conferences that are designed to hype his boxing comeback and plump his pay-per-view contract. The workouts that might whet the public's appetite for his fights are usually closed. But when he does show his face and when he does speak, the effect is alarming. Even as crowds were forming in Las Vegas last week to buy tickets to see him fight WBC heavyweight champion Frank Bruno of Britain—to see him begin the battle to regain the unified title he last held six years ago—Tyson was displaying a self-pity that ought to energize armchair shrinks everywhere. "I never dwell on who cares about me," Tyson said last Thursday at the one prefight press conference he did attend. "I think no one cares about me."
This seemed flabbergasting. Two days later, in front of a worldwide audience, he was going to fight for the WBC championship and make $30 million for doing so. He has had a troubled life, sure, a three-year prison stay for rape—his handlers repeatedly refer to the imprisonment as his "misfortune"—being the capper. But was he saying there was no available balm, no possibility of happiness? What if he won against Bruno? It would be the first title on his road to reunifying the WBC, WBA and IBF championships and recapturing his previous glory. What then? Tyson looked up from his place on the dais, on which his head occasionally slumped, and said with a pronounced moroseness that might signal irony coming from anyone else, "I expect a jubilant life afterwards."
Well, he did win the WBC title, and rather handily at that. With a crushing body blow, a series of enormous right hands and an uppercut that lifted the 6'3", 247-pound Bruno off his feet, the 5'11�", 220-pound Tyson needed only 50 seconds more than two rounds to fashion his third comeback victory. The performance was reminiscent of the violent spectacle Tyson used to routinely provide before he became more dangerous out of the ring than in it. He was crisper than he had been in the two nontitle bouts he had fought since coming out of an Indiana prison last March. He was at least as powerful as he had been in 1989, when he met Bruno in defense of the unified championship. In that fight, at the height of his powers, he needed five rounds to dispatch his challenger and was rocked himself early on.
Bruno, chiseled and 27 pounds of muscle heavier than Tyson, ought to have been more formidable on Saturday. He has never been a bad boxer, even though he has been slow and lacking in stamina and had tended to come up short in title shots (three times before last week's bout with Tyson). Now, presumably, he carried the confidence of a champion, having unseated Oliver McCall for the WBC crown last September. Besides that, as the only British-born heavyweight to hold a world title since Bob Fitzsimmons nearly a century ago, the immensely popular Bruno attracted a sprawling army of fans to Las Vegas, a reported 5,000 Mad Dogs and Englishmen who roamed the MGM Grand complex, hoisting beer, singing funny songs and otherwise showing support.
For all that, once the fighting started, Tyson might just as well have been facing Peter McNeeley or Buster Mathis Jr., the two prelim guys he demolished last year in a combined four rounds. Bruno, who had bragged of his "superior confidence" in the days before the fight, seemed to have caved in even before the two anthems were sung. On his walk to the ring he crossed himself perhaps a dozen times and didn't evince an aura of certainty. And if he ever knew how to fight Tyson—bore straight in on the shorter man—he forgot in a panic. He failed to use his jab, could not or would not keep Tyson from lunging at him with overhand rights and allowed the kind of walk-through that not even the comically inept McNeeley would have permitted.
Tyson connected at will, sometimes out of the low-crouched stance that distinguished his evasive abilities in his prime. He staggered Bruno early in the first round and cut his left eyelid toward the end of that round. He staggered him again in the second, and in the third Tyson unleashed a 13-punch sequence that started with a right hand to Bruno's body and ended with a left hook that sent Bruno crashing into the ropes, where referee Mills Lane interceded, stopping the fight. Bruno had offered absolutely nothing, and Tyson had rekindled memories of his quick and vicious stoppages of the past. Suddenly, after less than seven minutes of action, you couldn't find a single Union Jack in the crowd.
And was Tyson finally happy? Actually, he appeared to behave spontaneously for the first time in recent memory. After the knockout, Tyson, a Muslim, sank to the canvas and bowed (West, as it happened) toward Mecca. He then rushed to Bruno's corner, where he said a few consoling words and kissed the dethroned champ on the head. Then, wearing the ridiculously gaudy WBC belt, Tyson stood on the edge of the ring and presented himself anew to the public, thumping the belt in exaggerated pride. Jubilant? It was hard to say. He was smiling, at least, when he ducked into a black sports utility vehicle parked outside the MGM Grand and sailed off into the night without saying a word.
So he remains mysterious even as questions about his eroded boxing skills are being answered. Perhaps at 29, with four years of inactivity having interrupted his career, he can never be the fighter he was. But it's now clear that he still has quickness and power enough to get through the three extremely limited champions promoter Don King has lined up for him ( Bruno being the most respected of them, if you can imagine). Still, if we know that Tyson is indeed on track to unify the division, we do not know if he's particularly driven to do so or if he's simply this pliable orphan who drifts from one enterprise to the next, doing whatever King's instinct for commerce compels him to do.
Tyson has reportedly earned $65 million for the three bouts he has fought since getting out of prison. Yet he appears to take little satisfaction in the income and doesn't seem to believe that to earn it he need do anything more than box. His failure to help promote his fights may be hurting the bouts' pay-per-view sales. Amazingly, Showtime Event Television, which broadcast the Tyson-Bruno bout on pay-per-view, expected the fight to draw no more households than Tyson-McNeeley.