Shadow boxer Who knows what lies behind Razor's surly mystique?

March 18, 1991|By Wallace Matthews | Wallace Matthews,Newsday

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The words are from Bob Marley, the late poet laureate of the island of Jamaica. But they could just as well have been written by Donovan "Razor" Ruddock as a warning to Mike Tyson:

"I'm like a stepping blade

You watch my size

I'm dangerous

Dangerous . . . "

You see it in his imposing 6-foot-4, 230-pound physique. You can visualize it while watching replays of his destructive knockouts of Michael Dokes and Bonecrusher Smith. You can sense it in the forbidding sullenness of his personality. Razor Ruddock, the stepping blade, can be dangerous to Mike Tyson's health.

"Tyson doesn't know what he's gotten himself into," said Murad Muhammad, Ruddock's loquacious promoter. "I don't see anything he has to beat us with."

Although Ruddock has the barest of credentials besides his size and powerful left hand, people apparently believe he poses more of a threat to Tyson than any of his previous 40 opponents. By the time they step into the ring tonight for what is being billed as a 12-round "world heavyweight elimination bout," the odds favoring Tyson will have dropped from 9-1 to 4-1, the lowest since Tyson fought Marvis Frazier in 1986.

That fight lasted 30 seconds, and this one could as well. But if you polled a number of boxing fans, the odds are they would say that to beat Tyson, a man must be big, strong and, above all, mean. And if you poll the people who have worked with Ruddock through his development from a spindly 16-year-old who gave up tennis for boxing to the formidable 27-year-old he is today, they will agree on one thing: Razor Ruddock is mean.

How mean is he? So mean that one of his former managers, George Chuvalo, was trying to call Tyson last month to share a trade secret. The secret? A little move that would enable Tyson to break Ruddock's troublesome right arm in the first round.

"It's a little old trick Two-Ton Tony Galento taught me," said Chuvalo, a roughhousing heavyweight contender from the 1960s who went the distance with Muhammad Ali twice. "It's a beautiful thing."

Now why would Chuvalo want to teach such a thing to Tyson, especially given that Chuvalo still gets a small cut of Ruddock's purses? "I like Tyson better as a person," Chuvalo said. "No, I don't know him. But I know Donovan. I don't like him. Nobody who knows Donovan likes him."

And then there is the opinion of Larry Holmes, who used Ruddock as a sparring partner before his first fight with Michael Spinks in 1985 but threw him out of camp after, Holmes said, Ruddock tried to slip him a counterfeit $100 bill. "Razor Ruddock is a punk, pure and simple," Holmes said. "He ain't got no heart to beat Mike Tyson."

So why has much of the boxing public bought into the myth of Razor Ruddock? Sure, he is big, but so were Mitch Green and Tony Tucker and Bonecrusher Smith, all of whom Tyson neutralized. He does, however, have an impressive video resume of knockouts. There is the KO over Smith, who fell face first and lay still for 10 minutes; Dokes, who froze after being hit with just one of Ruddock's hybrid left "upper-hooks" and caught two more flush on the way down; and Kimmuel Odum, who got Ruddock's attention with a solid flurry, only to be nailed and dropped with a punch that clearly was delivered after the bell. Odum never recovered and was pulverized early in the next round.

But then there are the questions, most of which surround Ruddock's 1985 fight with Dave Jaco, a professional punching bag who lasted barely two minutes with Tyson in Tyson's 16th pro fight. The same Jaco put the only loss in Ruddock's 25-1-1 record -- an eighth-round TKO that Ruddock said was due to an asthma attack. Others, including Jaco, said Ruddock quit. And the asthma has never recurred.

"Something went wrong in that fight," Ruddock said, with his lilting island accent. "I started hyper-ventilating and the doctor stopped the fight. Besides, it's too early in my career to judge."

Said Chuvalo: "If a guy quits once, who's to say he won't quit again?"

The other questions concern Ruddock's physical sturdiness. He went into the Dokes fight with a bad right hand and did not spar for 17 days before the fight. He has not sparred for the past two weeks, and only sparsely before that, for the Tyson fight, fueling rumors that the hand is injured again. And Chuvalo says Ruddock has long suffered from a torn right bicep that never properly healed.

The strange thing is, a lot of the questions about Ruddock could be answered by the fighter himself, if he were a tad less suspicious and a tad more generous with his inner self.

Among the incidents Ruddock would prefer people did not know:

* That as a boy in Jamaica, he was renowned for being able to knock a mango out of a tree with a rock, severing the stem but leaving the melon unharmed.

* That after a boyhood transgression, he once hid out in a cemetery from his strict disciplinarian of a father -- but got nailed when his father sneaked up on him disguised as a woman, wearing a dress.

* That he and his brother, Delroy, once were set upon by a gang of toughs who swung golf clubs at young Razor, only to flee in terror when the clubs snapped on impact with his shoulders.

"These things are not important, they have nothing to do with the fight," he protested. "I try to keep all personal talk to a minimum."

Ruddock tolerates no discussion of his training methods or strategy. He believes that all of life, including the outcome of his fights, is predestined. "If I'm for real, then I'm for real," he said. "If not, then so what?"

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