Bengal tigers are for life, not just Xmas (pic Tom Casino/Showtime)
By Ant Evans: Thanks to 'reality TV' such mundane endeavours as cooking, renovating houses and singing karaoke have created a horde of interchangeable, deathly-dull pseudo 'celebrities'; all with the staying power of a snowflake in Hades. But Mike Tyson, much too famous to be called a modern 'celebrity' and long since divorced of all ties to 'reality' remains the ultimate un-reality TV draw.
Over one and a half decades removed from his brutal exposure at the fists of Buster Douglas, nine years without a world title, three years on from receiving a virtual autopsy in Memphis courtesy Lennox Lewis and 12 months on from his four round meltdown v Danny Williams, the public fascination with Mike Tyson continues unabated.
Real boxing fans don't get it but here remains a sizable contingent of beyond-all-help zealots who, perhaps sustained by the same red mists and bouts frontal lobe dysfunction that occasionally lay siege to their hero, remain steadfast in their refusal to admit that Tyson is no longer 'the Baddest Man on the Planet'.
Zealots? Absolutely! Some Iron Mike disciples even set up a website specifically so like minded sorts could give money to Tyson to replenish the coffers spend dry on frivolities like pet Bengal tigers. Even in a celebrity-obsessed culture, we're talking astonishing depths of hero-worship hero here; some university or other really should do a study.
Tyson remains big business and it is a phenomena unique in the history of boxing.
Sonny Liston, Tyson's historical prototype, lost his air of menace the instant he was uncloaked by Muhammad Ali in 1964 and while ex-champions have always been able to make money long after their prime no-one, not Jack Dempsey, nor Joe Louis or even Ali himself, retained this kind of market value 15 years past their peaks.
Tyson's long-time advisor, Shelly Finkel, has an singular view on the public's continued fascination with his client . "It's more than people (merely) want to see a former champion win back a title," he said. "It has to do with the real Mike Tyson, outside of boxing. I think that people can see he was railroaded in (the 1992 Desiree Washington rape case).
"People know Mike shouldn't have gone to jail. The public - and not just male African-Americans - have become aware that Mike was offered a plea bargain but refused to admit to something he didn't do and therefore lost three years to jail. People identify with Mike because he fights against prejudice."
Quite. But how much 'fight' has Tyson, who will be 39 later this month, got left for the boxing ring? It has been overwhelmingly obvious for years that Tyson doesn't want to do this anymore and only his the public's fascination and Tyson's crippling financial debts are keeping an extinct career alive.
I spoke briefly to Tyson in October at ringside for Trinidad v Mayorga in New York. He seemed happy to sign autograph's for fans and remains a genuine fan of the sport but although he said his left knee (he suffered a torn complex lateral meniscus in the Williams fight) was 'fully better' he wasn't enthused about fighting again.
"I dunno man," he said. "I worked so hard to get into shape for that last fight. It's so much (harder) to get in shape now. I don't know if I want to do all that again, y'know."
Finkel admits Tyson was 'deeply depressed' following the Williams loss but was, as you'd expect, insistent that the ex-champ is fully motivated for one last assault on the heavyweight kingdom which once lived in fear of him.
He said: "Mike's a person who's had a lot of good and a lot of bad things happen to him in his life. After the Williams fight he felt embarrassed and felt depressed for a time but he wants to redeem that last performance.
"When I talk to Mike he hasn't spoken about anything other than Kevin McBride and matters relating to this next fight. Mike knows that he must win this fight or there just isn't going to be another fight after that."
He added that Tyson is training hard to get back in shape. "If he didn't want to fight he wouldn't be fighting. But Mike wants to fight, he is enjoying his training with Jeff Fenech. They've been friends for a long time and because of that I think Jeff will get the best out of him."
Perhaps. Despite his friendship with Tyson, the Australian three-time world champion turned trainer fly quit as Freddie Roach's assistant before Tyson's fight v Clifford Etienne in February 2003 because the event had turned into an eight ring circus.
But, with yet another year of bad living behind him, what can any trainer get out of Mike Tyson, circa 2005?
I asked Roach, who advised Tyson to retire after watching his charge get beat down by Williams last July, what Tyson has left. He said: "After he the last fight I told Mike: 'You can't be a contender if you can't beat Danny Williams' but I should have given Danny more credit. I won't say Mike lost because of any knee injury (as Finkel et al claim) because he never once mentioned it to me in the corner.
"The injury was real, yes, and Mike had an operation but it was that Mike's body was too tired to go on."
Another ex-trainer, Richie Giagetti, went further: "Mike's been a four round fighter since 1995. We keep hearing this BS from all these trainers. They always bullshit the same 'Mike is in the best shape of his life, he's got the speed, the head movement is back' but Mike is never in shape and he fights like shit.
"Mike's never in shape because he hates training. He did when I trained him as a 25, 26 year old for the Razor Ruddock fight back in '91 so how keen is he going to be now he's nearly 40? How can these guys call themselves trainers if they can't get Mike's respect enough to co-operate?
"These trainers just hope Mike knocks the opponent out fast and then say 'Well, look at me. I am a great trainer.' I have got 10 years of experience with Mike, off and on, and I know exactly how he needs to be trained. I love Mike but I was a fucking asshole to him in the gym because I had to be. He'd used to say to me all the time that he didn't want to come to the gym, that he's not gonna do this or that and my answer was always the same 'Oh, yes you are!'.
"If Mike didn't want to spar no more I'd say 'Well, I'm not cutting the gloves off until you give me three more rounds'. Tyson can regain the title but only with a trainer like me who will push him."
But, let's get real, Tyson isn't fighting on to regain the heavyweight championship of the world. If the title really meant that much to him he would have challenged for it more than once in the last eight years, considering how weak the division is supposed to be.
This latest re-launch is about squeezing every last drop of calcium out of boxing's big fat cash cow.
Despite what Finkel would spin you, the Williams loss has shown Team Tyson anyone in the world top 30 could de-rail their gravy train once past the first three rounds. It isn't hard to envision Tyson going along the George Foreman route, beating tomato can after tomato can in boxing outposts like Washington, Memphis, Louisville and the like in front of indiscriminating audiences who wouldn't know Ronald 'Winky' Wright from Ronald Regan.
And, even if he turns up to the MCI Center with two bad knees, slaughter Kevin McBride is exactly what Mike Tyson is going to do.
The McBride of Frankenstein is big, clumsy and - most desirably for team Tyson - white and as brittle as a chronic osteoporosis sufferer. The 6ft 6inch Irishman's 32-4-1 (27KOs) record is as padded as Mr Blobby's dinner jacket. Despite the enormous efforts his various backers have gone to in order to protect the 'Clones Colossus' from calamity (white heavyweights, no matter how useless, are bankable) has been exposed like a pervert in a raincoat.
He's been bombed out four times, including a fifth round loss to Louis Monaco.
Monaco, currently 14-29-4 (7KOs) is seen as a good gauge for all manner of prospects and former champs and contenders who need to see how much they've got left. In a 10 year career which began with a first round KO to Eric 'Butterbean' Esch, the muscular journeyman from Denver, Colorado has been beaten by: Trevor Berbick, Michael Grant, Jeremy Williams (twice), Michael Dokes, Kirk Johnson, Lawrence Clay-Bey, Vitali Klitschko, Monte Barrett, Fres Oquendo, Eliecer Castillo, Charles Shufford and Malik Scott.
But not Kevin McBride, whom he stopped at the Las Vegas Hilton in the summer of 1997.
Even more impossible for McBride to live down is his April 1998 third round KO loss to Manchester, England's Michael Murray. This wasn't the younger version of the one-time talented but often lazy Murray, who retired four years ago with a 16-26 (9KOs) record; it was a Murray is complete, irremediable journeyman mode.
Going into the Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre fight with McBride, Murray had lost 13 of his previous 18 bouts - including nine by knockout - and after the McBride bout lost another 10 straight before calling it a day in May 2001. In the last half decade of Murray's career, his only win came against Kevin McBride.
McBride has gone unbeaten since getting blasted by puncher DaVarryl Williamson three years ago, beating seven opponent with a combined record of 140-83-8. But - to a man - all seven were coming of losses when they walked the aisle to face the protected Irishman.
I'd never call any fighter a 'fraud', as some have denoted McBride. What I would point out, however, is that if the big man's skin pigmentation was darker he wouldn't have been afforded the luxury of handpicking his opponents all these years and his record would likely resemble those of any number pugs from the club fighter circuit.
Roach added: "Mike would always be able to beat this guy (McBride). He's a big guy, 6ft 6inch, and Mike's sometime had trouble with taller fighters but it's a fight Mike should win easy. If he doesn't, he has to quit.
"If Mike gets a win we could do the (James) Toney fight. They could sell tickets for the press conferences for that one. It's a fight so marketable I think it has to happen. I'd tell Mike to knock this guy out and then come fight James for the WBA title before he gets too old or suffers another loss."
Londoner Williams, who would obviously love a money-spinning rematch with Iron Mike, said: "I took the Tyson fight for rubbish money because I knew I could beat Tyson and that if I did the money would come later. McBride was supposed to fight Tyson in Louisville but wanted more money but I accepted less than he would because I had (ambitions beyond) Mike Tyson.
"McBride is taking this fight for the payday, it's the end result for him and it's a total fraud that's been served up to the public. We all box to make money but this is purely a cynical money making exercise. Mike's on cruise and collect mode now, he doesn't want to fight no more, and I hope the fans will realise that.
"McBride won't last two rounds."
AUTHUR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in a different form in Boxing Monthly magazine.
Author Ant Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org