Published: July 16, 2004
Mike Tyson didnt want to work out Wednesday, feeling the slings and arrows of prefight tension and possibly age, but Freddie Roach convinced him otherwise.
“We worked on strategy, we worked the mitts, and he was happy with the workout, and happy with himself,” said Roach on a Thursday media conference call. “Sometimes hes a little hard on himself. Some days in sparring, the timings not there.”
Preparing Tyson for his July 30 showdown with Danny Williams, Roach fielded a battery of questions from national media on everything from Tysons frame of mind (improved since the Etienne fight), his strategy (use the jab to set up combinations) to whether or not Tyson was taking any medication (Roach says hes not).
Congealed into a soggy ball of speculation and anticipation, this is the driving story in the heavyweight division ?? Mike Tyson, 38, gearing himself and his faculties for one last run up the hill.
Back when Nixon was in the White House and succumbing to the squeeze of Watergate, duteous press secretary Ron Ziegler had perhaps the most unenviable job in politics. Todays equivalent, at least in sports, is being the trainer of Mike Tyson, forced to field all sorts of questions no other fighter would elicit from the assembled sporting media. Is he on medication? Does he still party (most are too refined to use the appropriate vernacular for the substances involved)? Is he crazy?.today? Whos balancing his chakras? And so on.
To his credit, Roach could hide behind readily available clichÃ©s that every talking head in boxing seems to have gotten the memo on, but he does not. Theres little talk of “Hes in the best shape of his life,” or “Hell fight anybody.” For Roach, its as much a day-to-day process of pushing the right buttons as Tyson gets to trust him more and more over time, letting osmosis supercede the doubts that creep into every aging pugilists psyche ?? and push him a little further to deliver a better end product.
A scrupulously honest sort, Roachs streak of realism keeps him from stopping short of platitudes and bluster when discussing his charges chance at reclaiming the throne. There are precious few indicators of a fighters remaining skill level outside of rounds fought in recent years, and that commodity is something the ex-champ has precious little of.
Dating back to his one-round no-contest against Orlin Norris in October, 1999, Tyson will have fought 22 rounds in that span, scoring 9 knockdowns, 4 victories, one loss and two no-contests. When hes on, hes still dangerous. When hes not on immediately, the slow creep of defeat kicks in as Tyson looks, suddenly, as his critics have cast him ?? the bully without the stick.
Threadbare activity for a fighter is a bad thing, especially an older one who peaked so young, and Roach hopes that this Tyson will get some rounds in against Williams by doing things the right way.
“The thing is, I want him to go out and box in this fight, not like he did vs. Etienne,” said Roach, who added that Tysons fallback tendency to just slug is too alluring at times, muddling strategy if its necessary over a distance fight. “I want him to go out and box for a little while, break this guy down. Were definitely going to go out and attack him.
The entourage is gone with Tysons declaration of bankruptcy.
“Its a huge change in atittude. I think he hit rock bottom, and it was a wakeup call for him. Hes never going to have an entourage again. Its two people deep instead of 25, hes finding its a lot easier to live a simple life than that other lifestyle,” Roach said. Living in Phoenix for three months, and training with more vigor than in recent camps, Roach says hes warned Tyson that “when the money comes back, the entourage will be knocking on your door.”
Part of Tysons bankruptcy agreement has him fighting seven times over the next three years, something Roach says could be met, even exceeded, if manager Shelley Finkel can keep Tyson busy.
“Shelly Finkels in charge of that. Mike needs to be active. I dont have any say in that. But I think were all on the same page,” said Roach.
Tysonmania redux? Perhaps. It starts with Williams, and could take off considerably from there — or end abruptly. Williams is 31-3 (26 KO), a British heavyweight of whom Roach admits can punch, “but he isnt the bravest guy in the world.”
“Hes a strong guy, but he s dangerous. Hes got a little bit of power,” said Roach. “I want Mike to go in a little more scientific, in behind his power.”
In lieu of in-ring action, much speculation exists over what Tyson currently has left. Such estimates have all the solidity and applicability of a presidential poll months before the election, but thats why they invented barstools and happy hour. Williams himself said earlier this week that he feels Tyson is 40% of his old self.
Roach, when asked for his own estimation, replies that Tyson is currently 50 percent.
“When we get old, we get a little slower. Hopefully hell be 60 or 70 percent in two weeks,” he said. “At his peak he can be 75 percent of what he used to be.”
But numerical speculations aside, the big question is how will Tyson adjust if Williams ?? or a future opponent ?? doesnt falter when hit hard, and gives him some of that punishment in return.
Tyson is fond of watching old timers on tape, but wont watch his own fights. Roach opines that its a good thing ?? “we cant be 20 years old again. Were not going to live in the past. Theres not a big advantage in watching what he used to be, but just trying to improve upon what he is now.”
One overlooked fact of Tysons loss to Lennox Lewis was that Tyson probably threw more jabs in the opening round of that fight then any fight in his career. Unable to dial in the taller Lewis, he decelerated as the champion slowly dissected him, forcing him to abandon his attack to survive. Ideally, Williams will present some of those problems on a smaller scale, giving Tyson the confidence in himself that could be a boost to him in tougher bouts that lay ahead.
The difference in preparation is there, says Roach.
“After three rounds Mikes not going to fold in this one,” he said. “He was in better shape when I arrived here than he was at the Etienne fight.” Tyson weighed 230 Wednesday and Roach says hes be happy with anything between 225-230 lbs. at fight time.
“Weve been working 18 rounds a day, 10-12 rounds a day on the mitts, and hes doing his roadwork. Hes in much better shape now then hes been in a long time,” he said.
If Tyson gets past Williams in good form, Vassiliy Jirov would be an ideal opponent for Tyson, said Roach. Future foes like Antonio Tarver and James Toney could be courted as well, but because Roach trains Toney, he may emulate mentor Eddie Futch, who stepped aside when Michael Spinks and Larry Holmes fought.
Whatever happens, Roach says hes getting along better with Tyson and that the ex-champ is trusting him to push the bar a little higher, and extract the best of whats left. Jabs. Combinations. And most importantly, keeping a busy schedule of fights to keep the edge that is dulled by too many factors, exacerbated by age and lifestyle temptations. Like a blackjack player thats been at the table a long time, its hard to tell how many high cards could come out of the shoot, and wholl get them first ?? player or dealer. With the right timing and panache, conceivably, Tyson could re-emerge as a player if he can make the right calls in a division with decidedly few stumbling blocks.
At the end of the day, Tyson sees Vitali Klitschko as the prime challenge.
“Thats his ultimate goal,” Roach said. “The end result is were working on it, right now hes ready to fight. (Sometimes) he doesnt want to spar, he doesnt wasnt to do the mitts no more. But he trusts me enough, if I say it, hell do it.”
In his day Roach was a fair talent, who got 110% out of his ability, the quintessential hustling little guy ?? his best years were at feather and 130 lbs ?? who was an overachiever. He may be the exact type of motivator to push the buttons in Tyson for the final run. Whether or not Tyson responds ?? quick blowouts mean increasingly little at this point ?? could write the epilogue for one of boxings longest running and avidly read chapters.
By Jason Probst