Jimmy Jacobs, who lived for a long time under the same roof as the legend and now shares the management of Tyson with Bill Cayton (Jacobs's business partner), is always eager to take up that theme. "It is no coincidence that Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres both became world champions with Cus and each, in turn, became commissioner of boxing in New York," Jacobs said in Manhattan before joining Tyson and trainer Kevin Rooney at their training camp in Las Vegas. "This incredible man, this great scholar and definitive teacher, did far more than educate those he worked with in how to box and how to manage. He prepared his people for life. They became champions out in the world as well as in that 20-foot-square ring."
Jacobs is an articulate man whose soft voice, slightly pedantic mode of delivery and fondness for employing the word "dear" in references to those he warmly approves of do nothing to blunt the cutting edge he always keeps handy for commentators who have tried to tell him how to manage. He is particularly scathing of the experts who have condemned as dangerous folly the policy of sending Tyson in to fight no fewer than 27 times in the 21 months since he turned professional on March 6, 1985. "We have had some vitriolic press," he says with a sigh that is wearily contemptuous. "We were going to burn him out by fighting every two or three weeks. None of these 'geniuses' bothered to look up the records of the great fighters of the '40s and '50s, the Gavilans, LaMottas, Robinsons and Basilios, who fought more frequently than Tyson. Nor did those critics think of how exhilarating that sort of schedule is for a superbly conditioned and talented man like Tyson."
Commissioner Torres agrees about the fighter's need for regular crescendos. He adds that, in any case, most fighters are at greater risk of injury in the gym than they are when they fight, which is why he is pressing New York to give him jurisdiction over gymnasiums and to make it law that they be licensed.
Whether or not it would qualify automatically for the kind of license Torres has in mind, Johnny Tocco's gym in Las Vegas suits Tyson's taste for training quarters that are sweat-soiled and as shabbily traditional as the tattered promoters' posters on its walls. After two rounds of working with James Broad, Tyson's second sparring partner of the day is Mike Jameson. Having been the victim of Tyson's 17th straight knockout back on Jan. 24, Jameson was probably to be commended for now suffering six more minutes of punishment. Somehow the tall, technically unimpressive Jameson lasted into the fifth round of that January fight. That the new rage of the heavyweight division had not flattened Jameson in the first round—as he had 12 of his previous opponents—was enough to stir murmurs of doubt, which grew to a minor clamor when bouts 20 and 21 saw Tyson forced to box through 10 rounds for decisions over James (Quick) Tillis and Mitch (Blood) Green. The fact that the Tillis fight had been postponed while Tyson spent a week in Mount Sinai hospital in Manhattan with an ear problem did little to ease the doubt. "The truth is," says Jacobs, "that by finishing strong after 10 rounds, Mike simply eliminated another anxiety for us."
Some inconvenient residue of the ear trouble has caused a precautionary deviation from the D'Amato principle that headguards give the wearer a false sense of security. But, predictably, the specially designed, snugly fitting guard worn by Tyson late in his preparation for Berbick has not diminished the combative urgency of his work.
He advances in a bobbing, weaving crouch (a habit that helps to explain why so many ask for repeated assurances that he is truly 5'11½") and demonstrates the too often neglected truism that genuine boxing skills mean most when the dangers and the opportunities are greatest. Tyson's aim is to slip punches at a range that enables him to exploit his opponent's misses viciously. He patterns much of his attacking around a hurtful jab, and when he erupts out of his crouch with blurring sequences of hooks and uppercuts to those especially vulnerable target areas D'Amato taught his fighters to ravage, the recipient of his attentions is likely to feel that he is donating liver, hanging rib or jaw to medical science. Tyson's upper body and arms are so huge as to make his hand speed nearly miraculous, and his legs, with their thick thighs, have so far provided him with balance and leverage.
Quite a number of perceptive judges consider that the Trevor Berbick who reached a new level of tough and awkward effectiveness in taking the WBC heavyweight title from Pinklon Thomas on March 22 could be the first to unbalance Tyson. Berbick, who has a 31-4-1 record, including a defeat of Muhammad Ali and a tough loss to Larry Holmes interspersed with uninspired showings against the likes of Renaldo Snipes and S.T. Gordon, was trained for the Thomas fight by 75-year-old Eddie Futch, the former tutor of Joe Frazier and Holmes and possibly the shrewdest strategist now available to heavyweights. That is not to be the case against Tyson. Berbick would not guarantee the money Futch wanted and although he has brought in Angelo Dundee as a replacement, the fact that Dundee joined the training team less than three weeks before the fight may limit the value of his intervention.
It is not surprising that Futch and Dundee have similar views of what Berbick must do to beat Tyson. Where they differ is in their assessment of how special the young challenger is. "Tyson has wonderful attacking abilities," says Futch. "His hands are tremendously fast for a man with that kind of upper body and he can really punch with either hand. God, he can punch. His right uppercut especially will take your head off. But so far he has had a big psychological edge. He has intimidated his opponents, made them freeze and wait to be slaughtered.
"I think you have to go to him, back him up, never let him take you into the corners or onto the ropes, keep him in the middle of the ring where you can use mobility against him. I believe Berbick has the nerve and the equipment to make a good attempt at all that, to have a real chance of pulling it off. But Trevor is never sure to be the same fighter twice in a row. You never know how he will be."
Dundee briefly salutes Tyson as the hottest property in boxing but then enumerates the weaknesses he believes his new client can exploit. "This is a helluva commodity but he's only a kid and fighting the biggest fight of his life against the first heavyweight of substance he has met," Dundee says. "Berbick has the style to do a number on him—call it awkward with good balance. He hasn't been licked since September '83, so talk of him being an in-and-out, unpredictable performer won't wash now.