Tyson Sports Tattoo, Readies for Rumble
Thu Feb 20, 3:40 AM ET
By TIM DAHLBERG, AP Boxing Writer
TUNICA, Miss. - Mike Tyson gave the world a glimpse of the new tattoo on his face. What he didn't show was what kind of shape he was in or the shape of his often troubled mind.
Tyson's handlers said that made little difference, considering he was fighting Clifford Etienne on Saturday night in a comeback fight. They figure even a mediocre Tyson was enough to take care of a mediocre opponent.
The circuslike atmosphere surrounding Tyson moved Wednesday to the string of casinos along the Mississippi River, where the former heavyweight champion worked out behind closed doors before emerging to give the world a peek at his new tattoo.
On Thursday he's supposed to attend a press conference with Etienne to promote the fight. Of course, with Tyson that doesn't mean anything.
"Mike is Mike," manager Shelly Finkel said. "He's no different now than what he usually is."
Tyson had a bewildered look to go with the new tattoo on his face Wednesday as he headed quickly toward an elevator and the sanctuary of his hotel room.
His trainer said later that Tyson was discouraged about his return to training after a week out of the gym, and still feeling the effects of flu-like symptoms.
"His mind seemed to be in the right place," trainer Freddie Roach said. "I'm just worried about his body."
A day after Tyson woke up and decided to fight, it was Etienne's turn to wake up and change his mind about getting into the ring. Etienne decided nearly $1 million was too much to pass up.
"I'm a fighter, not a coward," Etienne said. "I thought about it all night. I didn't work all these months to get in shape without going out and being able to do my thing."
Etienne's manager, Les Bonano, said he doubted Tyson was ever sick and said he believed the former heavyweight champion had been working out all along. The claims of illness, he said, may have been just a ploy to make Etienne let his guard down.
"I don't ever believe Tyson was sick," Bonano said. "I don't believe the training rumors."
Tyson didn't arrive in Tunica until shortly before 3 a.m., after one of two jets chartered by his manager arrived from Las Vegas. Newspapers and television showed a man believed to be Tyson hiding his face with towels, but it wasn't him.
Tyson actually flew in later, part of a plan to keep him from the expected media barrage.
"He had the worse plane," trainer Freddie Roach said. "He told me his plane didn't even have any food on it."
Tyson might do well without eating much, with Roach expecting him to come in heavier than he wants for the fight because he hadn't trained in a week before Wednesday's session. After getting his tattoo Feb. 11, Tyson blew off training sessions for the next three days and then said he had the flu.
Heavyweights usually stop sparring a week before a fight and then taper off, but Tyson sparred four rounds in a ballroom at the Grand hotel-casino and then went six rounds on the speed bag.
"He didn't feel that good, but his attitude was positive," Roach said. "He wasn't as satisfied with the workout as I was."
Roach said Tyson would spar another six rounds Thursday, something unheard of so close to a fight. But it's the only chance Tyson has to regain his timing before Saturday's scheduled 10-round fight.
"He said, 'It's going to get better,'" Roach said. "I said, 'Mike, it has to.'"
As if to prove Tyson was actually in the area, promoters stationed a cluster of about 40 reporters and photographers in a tiny hotel lobby to watch Tyson walk to the elevator. He did it without speaking, but gave a glimpse of the large tattoo partially hidden under a ski hat.
Tyson was a 7-1 favorite a week ago to beat Etienne, who began boxing while serving 10 years in prison. He was hand-picked to be Tyson's comeback opponent because of his straight-ahead style and his tendency to get knocked down.
Those odds dropped in half, though, as word of Tyson's illness, back trouble and general unpredictability left bettors wondering just what the 36-year-old who took a beating from Lennox Lewis in his last fight has left.
They also might have wondered what effect the new tattoo that covers a large portion of Tyson's temple around his left eye might have on the fight. A ringside doctor for the New York Athletic Commission said if it has healed properly it won't be a factor.
"I don't think it's the wisest thing to do, but there's no greater risk for a laceration or anything else if it has healed," Dr. Gerald Varlotta said. "If there's any crusting of the skin or any infection, though, it would put him at risk."
Etienne was knocked down seven times in a 2001 fight with Fres Oquendo and twice by Francois Botha in his last fight, in July.
"It will be bullets and gunsmoke," Etienne's trainer, Buddy McGirt, said. "That's the way you've got to fight Mike."
Etienne may not have been thinking clearly Tuesday when he vowed to turn down his biggest payday and a chance at stardom because Tyson was dictating the terms of the fight.
He was told Monday night the fight was off, and Bonano said his fighter was up most of the night drinking.
"I think it was like, 'Drown your sorrows,' at the time," Bonano said.
Etienne denied that, though, saying he was just upset over the fight being called off.
"I don't party," he said. "I'm a family man."
Asked if he would try to hit Tyson on his tattoo, Etienne said:
"I'll try to hit everything."