Serenity May Be Overrated, but He's Not

The question no longer is, can Mike Tyson beat Frank Bruno? I mean, can the flood beat Johnstown? Did the earthquake flatten San Francisco? Bruno figures to be the biggest British overseas disaster since the Titanic.

Las Vegas will bet you even money Bruno doesn't last the first round. He's 7 1/2-1 to lose, 6-1 to get knocked out. He's probably 7-5 to get killed.

The real question is, could Mike Tyson beat Dempsey? Joe Louis? Jack Johnson? Muhammad Ali? He's fighting ghosts now.

Frank Bruno is just a kind of complicated punching bag, a measuring rod. If Bruno lasts much past the introductions, if he's still upright as the strains of "God Save the Queen" die on the night air--and are not quickly followed by him--Tyson may have to leave town in disgrace and incognito. If he loses a round, he'll never live it down. If the fight even lasts a round, Tyson is embarrassed.

Joe Louis used to punctuate his fights by announcing "another lucky night" when the only thing lucky about them was that no one had died. Dempsey used to fight like a cornered animal. John L. Sullivan fought like a guy clearing out a bar. Ali didn't get in a fight, he gave a recital. He should have fought in a tux. The other guy was just the piano.

Does Mike Tyson belong with these? Is he a fighter for the ages--or just the '80s? Is he just a graceless swarmer? Or a devastating force of nature, a hurricane with arms? Would Louis time his blind rushes and drop him with that blur of a left hand he threw? Would Ali have him wondering where he went all night long? Would he and Rocky Marciano turn each other into blood clots? Would Jack Johnson give him a boxing lesson?

Tyson makes his fight like a runaway train. It's not pretty, just effective. There's very little of the Marquess of Queensberry in his assault. He comes at you like a guy jumping through a skylight. It's exactly the kind of fight a guy would make trying to steal your watch.

He gives away reach, height, weight. He gives away everything a lion spots a zebra. Frank Bruno will be bigger, by four inches; heavier, by 15 pounds, and rangier, with arms 11 inches longer. Tyson almost has to climb him to hit him. Tyson doesn't worry. Height only counts when you're vertical. Or not bent double from a hook to the stomach.

If there's a fly in the champ's soup this week, it's that he's taken down with an unaccustomed malaise--serendipity, serenity. It bugs Champ Tyson. "Las Vegas can be the boringest town in the world," he complains.

Consider what a doldrums his life has run on. He hasn't been on the cover of the National Enquirer in days. He hasn't been in a street fight at 4 o'clock in the morning in weeks. He hasn't been on Barbara Walters' show since Christmas. He hasn't crashed his Cadillac into a tree lately, or picked up a tabloid to see where it was a barely disguised suicide attempt. He has gotten divorced from the woman who told the world her husband was a schizophrenic wife-batterer, and his mother-in-law hasn't publicly charged him in weeks.

He admits his life hasn't been in chaos in months.

It was so bad in Atlantic City last summer that it took him 91 whole seconds to separate Michael Spinks from his senses and leave him quivering like a bowl of Jell-O on a ring floor. Think what he might have done if his life were under control, if he hadn't gone in the ring distracted out of his mind. They might not have been able to find Michael Spinks yet.

In Las Vegas this week, Tyson is as affable as a guy running for office. Usually, a week or less before a fight, a pug is like a starving tiger. He is snarly, impatient, easily put off, antisocial. He can make Jack the Ripper look like a guy who feeds birds.

Look at the champ this week. Two days in a row, he showed up at press conferences. He answered questions patiently, cheerfully. You would have thought he was selling vegetable peelers, oil to grow hair.

Last summer in Atlantic City, he put his head down and pretended to go to sleep in the middle of his press conferences, when he bothered to give them. He gave monosyllabic answers or none at all.

Back in the gym, he put his fist through the wall separating his quarters from Spinks'. He ran through sparring partners like the German Army through the Low Countries, and he walked through Spinks as though he were a turnstile. If Spinks had gotten up again, they might not have needed a stretcher, just a blotter.

This week, the champ is more like a flower girl outside Covent Garden. He jokes, smiles, banters with the press. He pays so little attention to him it's doubtful he'd know Frank Bruno if they met on the street. He might even be tempted to inquire, "And exactly what is it you do for a living, Mr. Bruno?"

Will happiness undo the heavyweight champion of the world? Does he derive energy from the conflict, the controversy, the chaos swirling abut him? Does he secretly revel in starring in a real-life soap opera? Will he be listless, uninterested? Will he come in the ring yawning? Does he have to go on "The Phil Donahue Show" and get asked if he has stopped beating his wife for him to get his heart started again? Doesn't he have to fire his trainer, his manager and cut off his wife's charge accounts to keep his level of aggression up?

Is happiness overrated? Is tranquility good for you if you make your living splitting lips, cutting eyes and loosening brain pans? How do we know the lion isn't king of the jungle just because things are lousy at home? How do we know that Iron Mike Tyson hasn't turned into the tin man and is so taken down with peace and the milk of human kindness that Bruno may last clear into the second round?

You can get 2-1 if you hurry.

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