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Tyson Wins, but Not Very Impressively : Bruno’s Challenge Ends After Five Game Rounds

Times Staff Writer

It ended just as it had 12 other times this century--with a referee pulling a victorious American heavyweight champion off a battered, bleeding British challenger.

Mike Tyson drove Frank Bruno into the ropes with a vicious series of punches late in the fifth round Saturday night, and the courageous but outclassed Bruno was then rescued by referee Richard Steele, who stopped the fight with five seconds left in the round.

Bruno had his moment, though. If only for a few seconds, he brought 2,000 Englishmen in the packed 9,200-seat Las Vegas Hilton Center to their feet in a wild and memorable first round.

More important, by lasting almost five rounds, Bruno proved a couple of things. First, he does not have a glass jaw; he took Tyson’s best shots throughout the fight. Second, Tyson might not be the unbeatable colossus everyone thinks he is.

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Tyson was not sensational Saturday night, merely very good.

He came out, as always, looking for the quick knockout. And for a few seconds it appeared as if he might break the all-time record for the fastest knockout in heavyweight title fight history, the 55-second KO James Jeffries pinned on Jack Finnegan in 1900.

The champion, fighting for the first time since his first-round knockout of Michael Spinks last June 27, had Bruno on the deck almost before the timekeeper had put down his hammer to start the first round.

In Tyson’s corner, Bruno caught a short right hand on the jaw and went down. He took a standing-8 count from Steele and arose clear-headed. He promptly stung Tyson with a left hook.

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Tyson, obviously in quest of a quicker victory than his 91-second knockout of Spinks, tore into Bruno. But after the knockdown, he appeared to revert to his old ways.

He threw leaping left hooks and missed wildly, twice almost losing his feet. With one miss, he spun himself completely around on the ropes and wound up facing the spectators. At that instant, Bruno hit him on the back of the head, and Steele deducted a point for the foul.

Then, late in the round, came Bruno’s moment, a moment they’ll be talking about in London pubs for a generation or so.

He hit Tyson with a workmanlike right hand that for an instant immobilized the champion, then followed it with a left hook that caught Tyson squarely. The champion’s knees buckled and he backed up.

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Although the Englishmen in the audience were roaring him on, Bruno could not follow up, and the round ended soon after. It was his last opportunity.

After the fight, Tyson praised his challenger’s efforts.

“It was harder than the punch (a right uppercut) that (Tony) Tucker got me with,” he said, referring to a punch Tucker landed in 1987, when Tyson unified the heavyweight championship.

Bruno’s punch, and the fact that he took Tyson’s best shots to the head and body for more than four rounds, may have taken at least a little of the glitter off Tyson’s victory.

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“Frank tried hard and it wound up just as we thought it would, but I think Frank gave hope to a lot of heavyweights tonight--that Mike Tyson is not the monster a lot of people think he is,” said one British reporter, Ken Jones.

Indeed, for parts of the second, third and fourth rounds Tyson reverted to the Mike Tyson of the 1984 Olympic team trials, when he was an out-of-control amateur, missing and losing his footing with wild, leaping left hooks.

Unfortunately for the 6-foot 4-inch, 228-pound Bruno (32-3), he wasn’t mobile or quick enough to take advantage of the numerous opportunities Tyson presented.

Bruno was successful, however, at tying up Tyson when he missed with right hands, creating a Greco-Roman wrestling match for much of the time. He was also successful at holding the shorter (5-11) Tyson by the back of the neck in the clinches. One of Tyson’s new cornermen, Aaron Snowell, chased Steele across the ring after the third round to complain.

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In the end, Bruno was overwhelmed.

Early in the fifth, Tyson landed a couple of short, hard uppercuts inside, and Bruno’s nose began to bleed. Bruno landed punches twice to Tyson’s ribs, but seconds later the countdown started.

First came a thumping left hook to the jaw that sent Bruno into the ropes near Tyson’s corner, and the champion was all over his challenger, measuring his helpless opponent and hitting him like a man chopping a tree with an ax.

After Bruno had taken four or five powerful blows to the head, Steele stepped in at 2:55, just as Bruno’s trainer, Terry Lawless, was coming through the ropes.

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At that, Tyson, on the march to Rocky Marciano and 49-0, improved to 36-0.

At the chaotic postfight news conference, he indicated 50-0 could come sooner than anyone expects.

“I want to fight every two months,” he said.

Don King, who is acting as Tyson’s promoter and manager even though he has no legal standing with the champion (Bill Cayton has a contract to be Tyson’s manager until 1992, but he and Tyson are suing each other), said Jose Ribalta of Brazil might be next.

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After his long layoff, the combat gave the champion a rush, he said.

“It felt great, hearing the people scream . . . and when they screamed for him (Bruno), it motivated me more,” Tyson said.

Bruno was given a noisy ovation when he entered the ring, most of it from the British fans. But for the first time, when Tyson came in, he heard scattered boos, and not all of them were from Englishmen.

Of Bruno, Tyson, not meaning to be insulting, also said: “These guys who challenge me with their primitive skills are as good as dead.”

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Was Tyson hurt by the layoff?

“Yeah, I was in good shape, but I should have started training earlier,” he said.

“I don’t want to make excuses, but I did have to take off 40 pounds. Yeah, that had a lot to do with it.

“Bruno was very hot--he came to fight. It’s a hurting business (boxing). He hurt me, I hurt him. From the third round on, I knew I’d break him. I could feel him breaking.”

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Tyson seemed a touch irritated at being asked, yet again, how he liked his new cornermen in the fight. Replacing fired head trainer Kevin Rooney and assistant Matt Baranski were Jay Bright, Snowell and cutman Taylor Smith.

“Let me tell you something, when someone’s throwing punches at you, it doesn’t matter who’s in your corner,” Tyson answered.

Of being rocked by Bruno in the first: “He hit me pretty hard, harder than Tucker.”

Tyson said he began Bruno’s downfall in the fifth round with a left hook.

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“The punch that set it up was a left hook to the body, about 30 seconds before I got him on the ropes,” he said. “He didn’t come back after that punch to the body.”

Bruno, his dignity and popularity wholly intact, will return to England, where he’ll no doubt sign for more television commercials and add to his six-figure endorsement income. He earned a gross of about $3.6 million Saturday night, Tyson about $8 million.

“I tried my best,” Bruno said, “But he beat me fair and square.”

Boxing Notes

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On the undercard, two champions successfully defended their titles: WBC super-featherweight titlist Azumah Nelson of Ghana and WBA junior-middleweight champion Julian Jackson of the Virgin Islands. Nelson (30-1) stopped Mario Martinez (47-5-2) of Guadalajara, Mexico, in the 12th round. Jackson (35-1) put his outclassed opponent, Francisco DeJesus (25-3), on the deck in the second round and knocked him down for a full count in the eighth. Jackson has knocked out 33 of his 36 opponents. . . . James Douglas (28-4-2) of Columbus, Ohio, ran up a unanimous decision over former WBC heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick (35-7-1) in a dreary, 10-round matchup of fat, out-of-shape heavyweights.


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