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WE now know Mike Tyson can still put bums on seats and vastly inferior heavyweights on their bums.
A sell-out crowd of 21,000 at the MEN Arena witnessed a predictable two-round demolition of British champion Julius Francis.
The exercise, to make Tyson appear devastating, was a success and lasted a mere four minutes three seconds. The Londoner was down five times, twice in the first.
The result reveals little about Tyson’s ability to perform in esteemed company again. We knew he would be too good for Francis.
By his own admission, Tyson is not quite ready for world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who opted to remain in Jamaica rather than partake in some ringside commentary.
His absence was noted and didn’t surprise anyone. But Tyson’s extraordinary two-week stay in Britain generated enough interest with Lewis to ensue the match – if it can be made – will become one of the most expensive in the sport’s history.
Tyson’s modest self-evaluation has more to do with not wanting to rush into another major contest than any lack of confidence.
“I need a few more rounds and fights before I’m ready. But when I do (fight him), I’m sure I’ll be victorious.”
The former world heavyweight champion returned to America the following morning, destined for Phoenix and more training as he gets read for fellow-New Yorker Lou Savarese, a beatable but more creditable opponent than Francis, in New Jersey on March 25.
Tyson said he hoped to have his next two fights in Europe, not America, where he claims he is “treated like a monster”, but the Savarese match is almost sure to be on home soil.
We can be fairly certain he will return, if not to Britain, then perhaps France, Denmark or Germany, where local promoters are lining up to promote him.
French promoter Michel Acaries held talks with Shelly Finkel, Tyson’s manager, in Manchester last weekend and discussed the possibility of a match beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
“There’s an 80 percent chance,” said Acaries. “But there’s a lot to be organized”.
The idea to stage a match beneath the famous structure has been the 26-year dream of former top French middleweight Jean-Claude Bouttier, who now works for cable TV network Canal Plus.
If successful in march, Tyson will fight again in Europe in June and August, thus completing his contractual obligations with Showtime, his paymasters.
From there, negotiations for a match with Lewis, who must overcome unbeaten Michael Grant in New York on April 29 and either David Tua or Frans Botha in England on July 15, can be put into motion.
Waiting in the wings are the Klitschko brothers Vitali and Wladimir, ringside guests in Manchester.
Vitali, the WBO champion, was not impressed by Tyson’s demonstration of power.
The giant Ukrainian has also stopped Francis – in Germany in April 1998 – taking 127 seconds longer.
“He showed no jab, no combinations and has not improved,” said Klitschko. “I don’t want to be too critical, but the opponent [17st 6 1/2lbs and a little fat according to Tyson] was a human punchbag.”
The undefeated Ukrainian’s wish is to fight Tyson this year, a sure sell-out anywhere in Europe. Asked if he would prefer Lewis or Tyson., Klitschko paused before replaying: “It’s hard to say. Lewis has three belts, but Tyson’s the bigger name. Tyson, I suppose.”
But to Francis, who has always been found wanting at the highest level, Tyson appeared back to his best.
“He’s a great fighter,” said Julius, who handed Tyson a piece of paper at the end of the Press conference and asked for an autograph. “He proved it. He’s a great puncher. Boxing’s a tough game. There’s going to be pain involved. I knew it would be tough.”
Someone asked: “What about the body shots?”
Julius replied with one word: “Painful”.
There is a clear-cut way to beat Tyson – for every punch the American throws, land two in return. But there aren’t many fighters, even today, who are durable, strong, fit and crafty enough to implement the plan.
Tyson can still hit hard. His hands are quick. He showed some nice footwork to create space to throw his h9ooks, uppercuts and body shots. There was slightly more head movement.
The signs are Tyson has worked at this craft in the gym, but Julius was a static target. He didn’t try to tuck up the way he did against Pele Reid a year ago; didn’t box and move as he did against Danny Williams last April.
Francis’ strategy – whatever it was – went out the window as soon as Tyson crashed home his first punches.
Like Michael Spinks, wiped out in 91 seconds in 1988, Francis seemed to forget all he had learned during training in Aldershot.
Any genuine belief that he could win faded with each step Tyson took in his direction.
But to those who questioned his bravery, the south Londoner, like Herbie Hide again Riddick Bowe in 1995, picked himself off the floor several times when he could easily have stayed down.
“I was surprised he kept getting up,” said Tyson. “This is what I want to do every time out, but Julius showed a lot of hear,”
The first knockdown cam from a terrific right uppercut, but it was hard to see precisely which punches did the damage on the other four occasions, particularly the final time.
A few disgruntled fans jeered Francis as he left the ring and thanked them for their support. Tyson was cheered loudly.
When Tyson entered the arena, the roar which greeted the American virtually smothered minority voices of derision.
The atmosphere, unlike the show, was magnificent, the turnout of fighters past and present – Marvin Hagler (who received a great welcome), Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Alan Minter, Lloyd Honeyghan, Dennis Andries, Jeff Fenech, Harry Simon, Johnny Nelson (being touted as a future Tyson opponent), Kevin Lueshing and Ryan Rhodes – splendid.
Tyson came to meet the Press in record time after showering. Usually, he keeps us waiting. And when promoter Frank Warren tried to wrap up the proceedings swiftly – “Last question”, he said – Tyson who seemed to be enjoying himself, replied: “No, I’m all right. I haven’t spoken to these guys for some time.”
It was 12.30am and one or two supporters remained in a virtually empty arena. Tyson sat at a table in the ring with Warren and Finkel either side.
As Tyson spoke, one of the spectators shouted: “Would you like to fight in Manchester again?”
“I’d love to”, replied Tyson. “When are you going to beat Lewis?” another hollered. “One day”, was Tyson’s reply. “We had a lot of fun tonight. Thank you Manchester,” he continued.
In an interview with Sky’s Ian Darke earlier in the week, Tyson spoke of his later egos.
Talking afterwards was Mike the happy family man who had completed his work, not Tyson the fighter.
The other side to the 33-year-old had seen him storm through the hotel lobby on the day of the weigh-in with his minders, stopping to pose for photos with former heavyweight Earnie Shavers and Honeyghan, on his way to the airport.
It was reported he wanted to go home and call the fight off. Tyson returned, weighed in, seemed content again, even though Julius still kept him waiting.
The boxer explained: “I went to fetch my wife and children. I was told they weren’t coming. The kids were sick, but I wanted them to come anyway.”
Warren, who would obviously like to remain involved in Tyson’s plans but is keeping his cards close to his chest, said: “All we’ve asked is that he gets treated the same as anyone else. What damage did it do [letting him into the country]?”
Tyson thanked Jack Straw in his post-fight interview and the Krays for sending him flowers.
Staff at the Midland Hotel in Manchester said they had never seen any personality attract similar interest, not even Princess Diana.
Fans had gathered outside his hotel each day until the fight. Julius was at Old Trafford, where Manchester United won again, and made an appearance at half-time.
The last fortnight was a memorable experience for both. No one was seriously hurt and both were well paid. Those spectators who felt cheated were naïve.
Julius, who will presumably continue his career and defend his domestic crown (Michael Holden, his sparing partner, has been mentioned as a possible challenger), can claim he lasted longer than Spinks, Carl Williams and Bruce Seldon.
His sponsors, The Mirror, must be satisfied their logo, printed on the soles of the Londoner’s boots, received ample exposure.
Tyson made the usual no-nonsense entrance which had the crowd bubbling and, following his victory, as his entourage all celebrated and nodded approvingly to him, Iron Mike showed no trace of elation.
“I’m an American. I’m from Brooklyn and Catskill, New York,” he said, declaring his roots when asked if he would fight in the States again.
Tyson’s display was cool and typically ruthless. But better men, like Evander Holyfield, have revealed a different edge to Tyson’s fighting personality.
Finkel, who once managed Holyfield, is not thinking of going down that road again. The objective is for Tyson to have three more fights before Lewis. But within a year Tyson could heat Lennox and Holyfield could perform one more miracle by defeating his great rival a third time.
There is a greater chance of that scenario unfolding than the three belts (four if you include the IBO) remaining unified for the next 12 months.
“I’ve got a way to go yet,” admitted Tyson. “I wish I felt as good as everyone said I looked.”
Tyson was not in quite as good shape physically as when I saw him against Orlin Norris in October. Some of his work in the first was scrappy. Many of his hooks and uppercuts missed or were blocked, but his body shots in the second drilled Julius to the ground.
Francis danced when he got in the ring and referee Roy Francis had to warn trainer mark Roe to cut out the verbal and animated exchange of taunts with Tyson’s corner. Steve “Crocodile” Fitch, Tyson’s cheerleader, wore a waistcoat with the words ‘Loved by few, hated by many, but respected by all’ neatly emblazoned on the back. He mad a throat-slitting gesture with his finger, while Roe pointed to the canvass.
With his shaven head and upper lip curled into a snarl, all Francis had going for him was a slight facial resemblance to Holyfield.
Francis got stuck in almost from the start, which wasn’t smart. At the opening bell the American shuffled his gloves and advanced to the middle of the ring, where Julius, conveniently for Tyson, was waiting.
Tyson, a chunky 15st 13 3/4lbs and only 2 ¾ lbs heavier than when he defeated Trevor Berbick in two rounds to first become WBC champion in 1986, missed a jab, but a hard left hook knocked the British champion to one side.
Francis absorbed it well but, instead of getting his jab working, crouched low, almost to Tyson’s level and threw a small flurry of hooks and uppercuts inside, more than anyone really expected him to do, until he missed with a right and hurtled off balance.
Mike was in no hurry to break free from the first clinch as Julius, who nodded to his corner, held tightly.
Tyson then showed some head movement as he tried to find a way inside again. Once there, Francis connected with a solid right to Tyson’s ear. The American didn’t budge.
But then Tyson started blasting with single body shots from both sides. Julius went back to the ropes and held again until the referee separated them.
By now Julius was tentative to punch. He made no attempt to box. Tyson missed a right, then left hook. Two body shots hit arms and elbows.
Surprisingly, the taller Francis was beaten to the punch and knocked back by a jab as he tried to throw one himself, but the sporadic action continued to be punctuated by clinching.
Tyson wiped something from his nose, but there was no damage. He swung and missed with aleft hook aimed at the head, but had success with a right followed by two hooks to the Englishman’s ribs.
With less than a minute to go and Francis being driven back, Tyson upped the pace. Without giving himself much room to manoeuvre, Tyson missed with a mean right, nut a right uppercut sliced through Francis’ guard and collided with his cheek.
Down went the Londoner on all fours. Francis was up slowly at nine, raised his gloves and the ref was satisfied he could continue. Julius tried to jab, but Tyson came at him with another surging, rolling attack.
Julius held for long enough to allow his head to clear, but soon enough Tyson was on the attack again. A right uppercut grazed the side of Francis’ head and Julius was chased to the ropes from more hooks and uppercuts which, luckily for the underdog, missed.
Seconds before the bell, however, Francis was on the floor again. It seemed to come from nothing more than a jab, similar to the blow Michael Watson planted on Benn to bring their superb 1989 fight to an end.
Julius skidded along the canvas on his shorts, his legs up into the air, and he rose at seven, his eyes clear, before heading back to his corner.
The minute interlude seem to pass in seconds. Julius was off his stool first for the next, as though he was eager to go at Tyson, but the pattern continued.
Inside 20 seconds, with Tyson punching intensely, Julius was down a third time. Again, Tyson had struck with body shots, but it was a short right to the head which followed that made Francis fall to his side by a neutral corner.
The British champion crawled up at eight, nodded determinedly when asked if he wished to carry one, but Tyson met him in ring centre, stuck out a jab, shuffled is feet to one side quickly and ripped a savage right hook to the body.
A flanking left uppercut to the temple followed and Julius dropped, rolling on the canvas before rising gingerly at seven.
Francis tried walking into Tyson with his hand high, but was unable to let his punches go. Tyson dipped under a jab, stepped to his right, threw a left hook and, as Francis connected with a right, delivered a right uppercut which seemed to miss a much as it landed.
Nonetheless, Julius went down on his hands and kneed and the referee spread his arms instantly.
The ring was soon filled with bodies and the crowd rose from their sears, like they would at the end of a film at the cinema. There was a loud cheer when Tyson was pronounced the winner. The American claimed the finishing shot was more from a body punch, but I didn’t see it.
Essentially, the outcome was not important. The event hinged on Tyson’s appearance. This was an exhibition.
Such is this man’s mystique that the referee was handed a camera and took a picture of him as Tyson crossed the ring to speak with Showtime’s Jim Gray.
There was another example of this fascination at the post-fight Press conference when Lewis’ assistant-trainer Harold Knight, hired to help Francis, inched his way to Tyson as one would when posing for a holiday snap and asked a cameraman to take a photo.
Tyson says he doesn’t want to be a superstar that he yearns to “hang out”, go for pizza and ice cream like anyone else. That’s a luxury Tyson, despite his astonishing ability to generate money, cannot buy.
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