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TYSON THE TIMID, TYSON THE TERRIBLE
Gary Smith
March 21, 1988
WHAT CONSUMES THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, WHAT MAKES MIKE TYSON AS IMPOSING AS ANY FIGHTER IN BOXING HISTORY? HIS OWN FEAR, PERHAPS
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March 21, 1988

Tyson The Timid, Tyson The Terrible

WHAT CONSUMES THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, WHAT MAKES MIKE TYSON AS IMPOSING AS ANY FIGHTER IN BOXING HISTORY? HIS OWN FEAR, PERHAPS

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The room is silent. His wife falls asleep, he stares into the darkness. Please, Cus, just one more question, the one he never had a chance to ask: What becomes of him if the beast ever goes away?

An hour before midnight on June 15, 1976, George Foreman's right foot twitched. Nearby lay Joe Frazier, victim of a fifth-round knockdown. Arms raised, Foreman stood above him, aching to consummate his conquest by planting that foot on Frazier's chest.

At that stage in his life, Foreman often went through two women a day; his need to have flesh beneath him had become desperate. This urge made him the heavyweight champion of the world. It also made him ripe to be dismantled. He who needs to dominate most, most fears being dominated. The two fighters who most graphically illustrated this in recent history were Sonny Liston and Foreman, one the 1960s' most glowering intimidator, the other the 1970s'. Who could picture either of them lying on the floor until they were there—both having been undone by Muhammad Ali.

Six months ago George Benton, Tyrell Biggs's trainer, had a warm afternoon's dream. He thought perhaps his fighter could do that to Mike Tyson. Instead Tyson broke Biggs in seven rounds, made him issue whimpering sounds, as Tyson exulted later, "kind of like a woman." Benton didn't change his mind. "It's Katie-bar-the-door when that kind of mind-set gets frustrated," he says. "It doesn't bend. It just breaks."

But who can break the breaker?

"It won't be easy, Tyson's far more polished than he's given credit for," says Atlas. "There are people talented enough, it just hasn't been urgent enough for them to do what it takes."

Which is...?

"Someone who, when Tyson hits after the bell, hits him back until they have to pull them apart. Someone who, when Tyson hits him with an elbow, hits him back with his elbow, his head, the stool. Someone who makes Tyson think, 'My God, this guy will do things even I wouldn't do.' Someone not just trying to survive. Someone trying to win."

Does that man exist on the heavyweight landscape? Certainly not in Tony Tubbs, who must face Tyson in Tokyo next week. Michael Spinks? Evander Holyfield? "Sixty to seventy percent of what he's done in the ring is because of intimidation," says Holyfield. "His reputation has his opponents halfway down before they get in the ring. I met him once, at the Red Parrot in New York. He grabbed my bicep when we were introduced and tried to crush it. Everywhere I walked, he wouldn't take his eye off me."

That is fear. "Mike is absolutely terrified of everyone he fights," says Lott.

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