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First, Tyson must get past himself!

Feb 18, 2003 7:42 AM

Mike Tyson is up to his old tricks again. Within days of his next fight, Tyson is on the verge of canceling his bout with Clifford Etienne. If he does, his planned challenge of Lennox Lewis in June would be in serious jeopardy.

If he hangs in and goes ahead to fight Etienne, Tyson is minus 700 against a guy who, on paper, shouldn’t last one minute. At press time (Monday), the fight was still on. So, we’ll try to assess both boxers’ chances.

Etienne, the so-called Black Rhino who charges at opponents, has little punch and can’t take a shot. And he’s the only thing standing between Tyson and another eight-figure payday against Lennox Lewis.

On paper, it looks like Tyson should be at least minus 1000. A sure thing.

If the fight comes off, save your money. You can find a 1-7 shot on the racetrack that’s better value than a guy who, less than two weeks before a make-or-break fight, skips out on training twice within four days. Oh, the excuse: his back is bothering him, hardly a ringing endorsement.

Don’t lay 1-7 on a guy who took a horrific beating before getting knocked out in the eighth round last time, who is 36 and, if you judge from the lines in his face, has lived a lot longer, and harder, whose trainer says he has sparred only about 40 rounds.

This is no endorsement of Etienne and his plus 500. It is a cautionary light to save your money for better value — like Tyson plus 500 or whatever against Lennox Lewis in June.

Yeah, after all the negatives, after watching Tyson gave faint imitations in the last 10 years or so of what he used to be, he still has a chance to become heavyweight champion again.

Tyson has a chance, not because we should believe the hype that this is a "new" or "new old" version of the former scourge of the division. Freddie Roach, his latest trainer, said Tyson told him this was the first time he really felt like fighting since he came out of prison in 1995.

I think it’s longer than that, even before James (Buster) Douglas 13 years ago.

No, my belief in Tyson is based on thorough lack of faith in Lewis. In Memphis last June, the champion was, let’s say, "cautious," in the opening round, after which Tyson packed it in. He obviously was on his antidepressant medicine, fighting like a zombie. But even while battering Tyson round after round and taking no shots, Lewis looked spent and old by the fourth. His mouth was agape, his legs rocky. He is an old man at 38. He will have spent the year between Tyson fights partying. A fighter his age needs to stay sharp; not on champagne or ganje. We all know his chin would not have stood up to the barrage that Tyson’s did for so long.

For all intents and purposes, Lewis is already retired — thus no fights with the Klitschkos, just the "easy" payday against Tyson. When Lewis takes an opponent lightly, he is open to disaster (see Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman).

I watched Tyson spar eight rounds, or probably 20 percent of his work, one day last week. He still has quickness of hands and feet. Of course he has power. He threw some jabs and even some combinations, but I’ve seen that before in the gym. As soon as he gets in the ring, he reverts to his home-run swings. But I am told he is not on medication — which could be responsible for his surly behavior as the fight gets closer, and which could be responsible for his decapitating Etienne.

Let us hope he gets by Etienne, who is now trained by the clever Buddy McGirt. I’m sure Buddy will have Etienne moving more than ever, the way Tommy Morrison (never considered a ballet dancer), moved around to upset Foreman. Tyson will eventually get to him. Let’s hope it’s not too soon to spoil the odds against Lewis — for there are many out there who, never mind the evidence, think Tyson is still Iron Mike — but not too late so there won’t be a fight where, I’m thinking, we can all make a worthy investment.