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Tyson Is Back, What About The Buzz?

March 18, 1996

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ News that Mike Tyson is back does not automatically put the buzz back in boxing. If only because being a great fighter does not guarantee great fights.

Just minutes after demolishing Frank Bruno to regain a share of the heavyweight crown Saturday night, Tyson said, ``I’ll fight whoever Don King puts in front of me.″

That was his first mistake. Left to his own devices, King would just as soon pay his son, Carl, to run around the ring carrying life-sized cardboard cutouts of the greats from the past. In King’s mind, that meets Tyson’s demand for a chance to secure his place in boxing history while meeting his own desire for a stable of opponents that won’t cost a dime more for training and promotional expenses than absolutely necessary.

Preposterous? Sure. But considering the pay-per-view crowds’ appetite for these spectacles so far, the only thing standing between a matchup of Iron Mike and Cardboard Carl are the boxing commissions that regulate them. And that may not be the comforting thought it once seemed. After all, Nevada’s commission, which is one of the best, gave the green light for Peter McNeeley to fight Tyson only last year.

Then again, that may be why the elder King is not eager to press his luck.

``We,″ he announced in royal fashion Sunday, when he meant to say Tyson, ``will fight all the champions, then all the contenders and pretenders.″

The state of the division being what it is, picking Tyson’s opponents in reverse order would almost certainly yield the better fights.

The most formidable by far, Riddick Bowe, has no title to entice Tyson and no leverage to force King’s hand. Lennox Lewis still has to convince a judge why he should be placed at the top of Tyson’s dance card. Evander Holyfield and George Foreman offer credibility and a bigger audience share, but so long as Tyson remains as popular as he is, he can do without either.

That means King can do it his way. And while that may not be Tyson’s way, he’ll almost certainly go along. An ex-con with limited education, job experience and only one marketable skill is not likely to find such profitable work working for anyone else.

Counting Saturday night’s demolition of Frank Bruno less than a minute into the third round, Tyson has now banked $65 million for something like 17 minutes in the ring. And the amazing thing is that it could get even better.

Assuming no further legal entanglements, King’s current itinerary calls for Tyson to fight World Boxing Association champion Bruce Seldon in July and Frans Botha, the International Boxing Federation titleholder, soon after that. The best thing that can be said of Seldon’s chin is that it’s suspect and it’s hardly coincidence that Botha’s nickname, the ``White Buffalo,″ rhymes with ``slow.″

And so, with a minimum of fuss and not much more sweat, Tyson could be wearing all three belts by fall, by which time his ability to dictate terms will make his split with Bruno _ $30 million vs. 6 million _ seem charitable. And the ``contenders and pretenders″ in the meantime, are only likely to be more desperate.

Bowe, who finished unifying the title during Tyson’s stay in prison, has been frozen out by King since he lost it. His manager, Rock Newman, has yet to find a way to break the ice or Bowe’s contract with Home Box Office, rumored to be one more obstacle King has raised to a Bowe-Tyson match.

``Part of the business is knowing how to fight and the other part is knowing how to play the game,″ John Horne, one of Tyson’s co-managers said on the eve of the Bruno fight with barely concealed glee.

``The mere fact that Bowe is not in position to demand a shot at the championship is nobody’s fault but his own. Our first goal is to unify the title. If Bowe is still considered one of the best after we do that,″ he added, ``we’ll consider fighting him then.″

Tyson’s handlers are not much more charitable about any of the other legitimate prospects out there. And considering his worth as a meal ticket, it makes sense to pick his spots.

But remember: It was Tyson himself, dismayed by the public reaction to his first two comeback fights, who ordered the schedule speeded up and a legitimate contender like Bruno be slotted for bout No. 3. If he really is back, and really serious about carving out a place in history, he better start carving up something more demanding that buffalo.

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