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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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Great fear, tightly controlled, is great strength, a cold, hard wrecking ball deep inside a fighter. One flicker of doubt, and the cold ball turns molten, rages through the rib cage, incinerates him.

Perhaps no one can bring about the flicker. Perhaps no one will. Tyson's invulnerability through 33 fights has preempted any true emotion in his audience: He isn't loved, like Ali, or hated, like Ali. He is gaped at.

"One-hundred-and-oh," muses his trainer, Kevin Rooney. "He can do it."

"The thing most difficult to maintain will be his emotional state," says Atlas. "To put yourself into that state of mind that often...."

Men who have fought with violent imperative, constant aggressors in the ring, rarely have endured as champions. Jack Dempsey defended his title only five times before losing it. Rocky Marciano did it six and retired. Joe Frazier lasted for nine title defenses, four if you don't count his New York State Athletic Commission title. The flame that consumes their opponents consumes them, too. "It requires such a tremendous amount of physical and mental and emotional energy to fight that way that very few men can sustain it," says HBO analyst Larry Merchant. "Unlike Ali or Holmes, they must put their whole selves into every moment in the ring. Usually they are people who live fast and die young."

Just now, a dream awoke him. I've lost! These dreams come all the time—I've lost the fight, I've lost! He kicks the sheets away, scrambles to his feet, dodges a jab, rips the darkness with uppercuts and hooks.

The fight draws nearer. Please make it come soon, it's like a scream stuck inside, please let it come out. He drops to the floor—push-ups, sit-ups—lies back in bed huffing and snaps on the TV. Without a human voice in the room, he can't fall asleep.

An hour passes. At 4 a.m., without an alarm clock, he awakes, laces on his sneakers and heads outside. It is darker and colder and earlier than when the other fighter, his opponent, runs—another small fresh kill, a little nibble for the beast.

Please make it come soon, please let it come out. Daylight arrives. Outside again, he dips into a shop, buys a piece of bread and shreds it. The pigeons come to him to feed, his hand snaps out, grabs one, brandishes it, flings it over his shoulder high into the sky.

He let go of the hawk because it was so beautiful, says one friend.

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