Tyson shapes up but attitude remains a concern


BOXING/News: On the banks of the Mississippi, which Mark Twain once called "the crookedest river in the world", Mike Tyson insists he has turned another corner.

Tyson, who as a ferocious teenager left a series of good men like Trevor Berbick and Michael Spinks reeling drunkenly on the world championship canvas, believes that at 35 he has rediscovered the form which once marked him out as a potential heavyweight legend.

"I feel great, I am as strong as I've ever been and in the best shape of my life," said Tyson, who has secreted himself away in a private gym in Mississippi to put the finishing touches to his preparations for Saturday's title challenge to Lennox Lewis.

"I haven't felt this energised for a fight in 10 years. On Saturday night I am going to do my best, and put a world of hurt on Lennox Lewis in a devastating and spectacular manner. It is my destiny and I will not be denied in reclaiming the world heavyweight title."

Lewis has not been glimpsed since his carnival arrival on the city's main thoroughfare, Beale Street, on Friday night.

Tyson made an unscheduled visit to a city shopping mall on Monday night and spent time chatting and signing autographs for lucky fans.

He has been sparring with Mali heavyweight Cisse Salif, a 6ft 5in Lewis replica. "He is ready," Salif told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "He's getting inside and working the body. He's got good head movement. But it is hard to tell about his mind."

That notorious mindset has been evident to the world during a build-up in which Tyson has frequently threatened to kill or eat Lewis, and in which he has refused to answer questions from women journalists because, "I don't do interviews with women unless I am going to fornicate with them." Tyson's outburst made many glad that yesterday's scheduled press conference did not happen.

His threats of murder have become so frequent that they are no longer back-page news. But he has surpassed himself recently. "I wish you guys had children so I could kick them in the head so you could feel my pain, because it's the pain I wake up with every day," Tyson told a group of American reporters.

He also said: "Flesh will not be enough. I will take Lennox Lewis' title, his soul and smear his brains all over the ring."

Many here believe Lewis cannot possibly win on points because, if the fight is heading that way, Tyson will seek a way out.

That action would cost Tyson just over $2 million. That is the sum stipulated in the contract which one man must pay the other if they are disqualified.

In the Beale Street bars the mood is still one of wonderment that the fight is happening here - but they will still believe it when they see it.

Small wonder the promoters and Tyson' camp are not taking any chances. Not only do they not trust their man to face Lewis head-to-head until approximately 10 p.m. in Memphis on Saturday night, but they do not even trust him with the press. He was due to answer questions at his Fitzgeralds Casino base yesterday, but just worked out instead.

Tyson certainly looks ready, but whether he can turn back time to an era last glimpsed when he blew away Spinks 14 years ago, remains in question.

Certainly Lewis is taking the threat very seriously. It is unlike the champion to keep himself away from his public for so long.

He is expected to make his first appearance at his own press conference in Tunica, Mississippi, today, but nobody is banking on it.

Lewis has derided Tyson as "one sick puppy", but his trainer Emanuel Steward said: "I am keeping Lennox's mind off that (Tyson's unpredictability) because it would be a big detriment to focus on that.

"I am keeping Lennox focused on a solid fight. If Tyson is getting back to the way he used to be, he will be a strong competitive guy. He is a big enough threat right now with his tremendous punching power and the intensity he brings into a fight."