LAS VEGAS -- This time there would be no controversy over the referee or a post-fight brawl by the handlers, but former heavyweight king Mike Tyson raised new questions about his chances of regaining the crown after thrashing Donovan "Razor" Ruddock of Canada at The Mirage last night.
Although Tyson needed 12 rounds instead of the seven it took him to dispose of Ruddock last March, no one could dispute his superiority. The three judges, Chuck Giampa, Art Lurie and Dalby Shirley, gave him a unanimous vote of support by five and six-point margins.
But the fact that Tyson, after flooring Ruddock in the second and fourth rounds, could not finish the 5-1 underdog, only heightened speculation that he has lost the fire and fury to regain the %J heavyweight title from present undisputed champion Evander Holyfield.
Tyson, a former brawler from the Brooklyn streets, had answered questions all month about his desire and will and about his stormy relationship with promoter Don King. He was definitely in shape, coming into the fight at 216 pounds. But he was forced to go the full 12 rounds for the first time since Aug. 1, 1987, against Tony Tucker.
When the final bell sounded, it was Ruddock who won the plaudits of the capacity crowd of 15,880. Ruddock apparently injured his left hand during the savage blow that was marred by repeated low blows, and was cut under the left eye.
But Ruddock, 27, left the ring with all his dignity and more respect as a legitimate heavyweight contender.
He also won the begrudging respect of Tyson who had verbally trashed him in the pre-fight hyperbole, promising a quick knockout that would free the match of the controversy that surrounded referee Richard Steele's stoppage in the first encounter.
"It was a pretty tough fight," said Tyson, who turns 25 tomorrow. "He hit me and hurt me with some good shots. I was exhausted when it was over, but I was happy to have a tough 12-round match."
Ruddock was not available to the media after the fight. His manager, Murad Muhammad, said he was too fatigued and wounded to respond to questions.
"Ruddock is not a sore loser, he's just sore," the manager said.
Asked when and whether a Tyson match with Holyfield might materialize, King presented his familiar argument that he could not deal with Holyfield's backers "as long as they demand options" on Tyson.
It is merely a question over whether King of Dan Duva will control the pay-per-view television of this megabucks bout, and that will undoubtedly be debated for months.
But Tyson, who has won four straight fights since losing his title in stunning fashion to James "Buster" Douglas in February 1990, now found himself having to explain an overwhelming victory to the media.
He swept the first six rounds and decked the taller, heavier (238 pounds) Ruddock in the second and fourth. But he lacked the finishing punch and was momentarily stunned by the Canadian in the seventh round.
The voting, however, would not have been even that close had Tyson, a notorious low puncher, been penalized for repeatedly hitting low. That brought a deduction of three points by referee Mills Lane, but Tyson still won nine rounds on two judges cards and nine on the other.
Tyson, who disputed claims that he was womanizing and had not trained properly for the rematch, was unmarked after the torrid battle. And, uncharacteristically, he showed no malice toward Ruddock or the media that had questioned his motivation.
It was a humid, windy night in the makeshift outdoor arena in the desert, but Tyson quickly warmed to his task.
He seemed determined to remove any doubt this time about the outcome after his first encounter was marred by Steele's stoppage in the seventh round, with Ruddock dangling against the ropes.
Tyson, dressed in his familiar black warrior's garb, sans socks, first dropped Ruddock in the second round, catching him on the point of the chin with a looping right hand. Ruddock, more surprised than hurt bounced up quickly, and weathered the round.
In the fourth, Tyson landed a classic right counter after Ruddock missed with a left and drifted to the side. He hit the floor with a resounding thud, but Ruddock again displayed a big heart and closed the round fighting back.
Although Ruddock promised to fight more scientifically this time, employing his reach advantage and jab, he quickly abandoned this strategy. As in the first fight, he again resorted to trying to land one big punch. He landed several, but never enough to stall Tyson's relentless attack for more than a few seconds.
Still, he managed to win the support of the crowd that began chanting, "Razor, Razor, Razor," in the closing rounds.
"Razor proved all the experts wrong," said Muhammad, who had temporarily been under suspension by the Nevada Athletic Commission for precipitating the post-fight brawl last March. "They all predicted Tyson would win in one or two rounds. He showed he had the heart of a champion, even though he didn't win."
Both fighters reportedly received $5 million for the rematch. By -- losing, Ruddock may have actually won himself another big payday. If Tyson talks stall, Holyfield's backers may grant Ruddock a fall match with the champion.