MIKE TYSON bludgeoned the resistance out of happy-go-lucky Brian Nielsen in six rounds, and, as he usually does, left us with more questions than answers in Copenhagen, Denmark on October 13, 2001.
Does the 35-year-old former world heavyweight champion really want to fight the winner of Hasim Rahman vs Lennox Lewis? Does he really want to fight at all? What on earth was he doing weighing 17st 1lb? How vulnerable was he becoming when Nielsen decided honour was satisfied and a strategic withdrawal was sensible?
By his standards Mike Tyson was positively effusive as he stopped for a string of polite interviews afterwards. In recent years he has tended to bolt out of fight arenas, surrounded by his ridiculous, impregnable posse of goons, as if journalists’ questions pose a terrible threat to his privacy.
This time he even waited so long in a corridor of the Parken Stadium that Sky’s Adam Smith was able to throw in a jocular “round-up” type of question about whether or not this supposed boxing monster would manage a smile or two that night. Tyson said, with wonderful understatement: “I am not a happy, smiley kind of guy,” before wandering on to talk to CNN.
Plainly, Tyson saw Nielsen as no kind of threat, but then that was also true of Lou Savarese, Julius Francis and several others. There were stories of his staying up to carouse with his team in Copenhagen restaurants during the week (which may explain his weight). Of course, Tyson is a great manipulator of the media. If he wants to, he can give a marvellous interview. Or maybe, just maybe, he really is wising up to the fact his time in boxing is almost done. Again, talking to the British newspapermen a few days before the fight, he said: “You get old too soon, smart too late.”
Tyson also spoke about his struggle to stay in shape. “Sometimes when I’m out of condition, I get very discouraged. Sometimes I can’t walk around the block without huffing for air. When you are in condition, you want to box. When you’re not, you just want to throw it all out the window. You’re thinking, ‘Hell, I’m going to get killed’.”
Of course trainer Tony Brooks played the party line. “Tyson is as mean and mad as a hungry bulldog chasing a meat truck,” he said.
In fact, he was more like a top class greyhound with a bellyful of Winalot and water. He bolted out of the trap, but by the third corner was lolloping along uncomfortably, safe in the knowledge the line comes sooner or later.
Some say they heard on the corner microphone that he told Brooks when he sat down at the end of round six he felt very tired.
Nielsen’s retirement was perfectly understandable. Never mind the eye damage he cited as the reason, he had absorbed six rounds of heavy shots from one of the best punchers of recent times. However, it was also frustrating to see the big Dane actually reach the part of the fight where his size and strength might become a positive rather than a negative help, and then opt out.
If Nielsen gritted his teeth, walked out for the seventh and carried on shoving Tyson around in the clinches and biffing away, what would have happened in Mike’s mind?
It was only a 10-round bout and so we must assume that Tyson would have won on points, but would he have been prepared to fight through exhaustion?
However, Nielsen couldn’t go on, and we have to accept that. He spoke well in his halting English. “No, I am not proud because I wanted to go the distance,” he said. “Every time he hit me on the left eye I could not see.”
Of the third round knockdown, only the second of his 63-fight career, the Dane said: “I am not embarrassed. He hit me. But he would never have knocked me out.”
It was defiant, cartoon-character Hagar the Horrible stuff from a man whose appeal in Denmark is substantial. More than 20,000 fans turned out to see if he could do anything at all against the boxing legend from New York, and while few of them probably expected him to last more than a round or two, when he ambled to the ring to Monty Python’s satiric anthem Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life the crowd sang lustily and waved their (plastic) mugs of beer in his honour.
“He was tougher than I appreciated, it surprised me. He was in his home town and he wanted to show his people how tough he was,” he said of the 36-year-old Dane, and pointed out that he felt his lay-off of a year had affected him.
“When I am prepared I will knock anybody out,” said Tyson. “But I need two more fights before I fight these guys.”
On the evidence of what we saw, Tyson is still a very dangerous puncher.
For two or three rounds he looked to have plenty of moves, but just didn’t have the speed or precision of his better years. The excess bulk – he has never weighed 16st in his career, let alone 17st – could have had an effect, and could have tired him mentally as well as physically.
However, the little feints and changes of pace he used to have were absent. Instead of finding holes in Nielsen’s defences and exploiting them, after the third he bludgeoned away the way Rocky Marciano sometimes used to do, not caring particularly where the punches landed, just making sure they hit something. It worked because Nielsen was worn down. But it wasn’t what Tyson did at his best. n