Lack of respect fuels Bruno's drive to keep title Tyson camp's taunting, American media's jabs irritate WBC champion

March 15, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- Frank Bruno owns the World Boxing Council heavyweight crown. But that is a fact seemingly known by only the most loyal of British boxing fans.

The powerfully built champion with the Cockney accent has been treated with disdain by American ring critics and reviled by Mike Tyson's entourage, which has taunted him with shouts of "you'll end up dead" in tomorrow night's championship rematch.

Tyson, the former undisputed champion and convicted rapist, is the star of promoter Don King's latest boxing extravaganza. Not only is he rated a 10-1 favorite to repeat his knockout of Bruno seven years ago, when their roles were reversed, but Tyson also is guaranteed the lion's share of the purse and pay-per-view television revenue. He will receive an estimated $30 million, compared with $6 million for Bruno.

The disrespect he has been given by Tyson's camp and the American media has served as a constant irritant since he arrived in Las Vegas for his final weeks of training.

Typical was columnist Jim Murray's comments that Bruno "has been on more canvasses than Rembrandt," and "people with glass jaws shouldn't throw punches."

"Would you be happy if you were champion and were being treated as the challenger?" Bruno asked. "I'm not a greedy man, and I understand Tyson making his trillions, but I deserve a few crumbs, too. They have not given me an ounce of respect in America since I won the title from Oliver McCall."

Perhaps that is the reason. McCall was a longtime sparring partner of Tyson and an underachiever before he briefly claimed the WBC crown in 1994 by knocking out Lennox Lewis in two rounds.

After failing in previous title bids against Tim Witherspoon, Tyson and Lewis, Bruno finally became England's first heavyweight champion in 98 years by outpointing McCall last September.

Skeptics believe that Bruno, 34, has less chance of upsetting Tyson, 29, than in their first encounter, when he stunned the then-22-year-old champion in the first round with a vicious left hook. He could not follow his advantage and was methodically overwhelmed by Tyson, who finished him in the fifth round.

"I'm more mature now," Bruno said. "I'm a brand new man, just like a new car. I'm bigger [20 pounds heavier at 245], stronger, wiser, and now I'm fighting for my country, pride and money.

"I couldn't be getting Tyson at a better time. He's only fought three rounds since leaving prison. If I were Tyson, I wouldn't be taking this risk. He's just not used to getting hit the way I'll hit him. I rocked him the first time. This time I'll rock him to sleep."

Despite the bravado, Bruno has been visibly perturbed by the boorish behavior of Tyson's camp, led by a screecher in combat fatigues known as "Crocodile."

"Cus D'Amato [Tyson's late trainer-manager] must be spinning in his grave," said Bruno. "These people don't have an ounce of class among them. And when I knock Tyson out, they will all disappear."

After whipping McCall, Bruno was given a hero's parade through London's streets.

"He's our most popular sports figure," said Colin Hart, boxing writer for the London Sun. "If he would beat Tyson, they would probably make him a duke."

But Bruno's background, in many respects, mirrors Tyson's. Raised in London's blue-collar Wandsworth district, the teen-age Bruno had a propensity for creating chaos. His father, a Jamaican, died when he was 11, leaving his mother, Lyn, a nurse and Pentecostal evangelist, to raise a family of five, with Frank the youngest.

"He was never a real bad boy," she recalled. "But whenever the phone would ring, I'd wonder, 'What's that boy done now?' "

By age 14, Bruno was freakishly strong (6 feet, 196 pounds) and filled the role of schoolyard bully. Parents repeatedly complained of their sons' being used as punching bags.

After striking a teacher, he was packed off to Oak Hall, euphemistically called a "special school." British boxing writer Hugh McIlvanny said: "It was a school for youngsters who were not yet delinquent but were heading enthusiastically in that direction."

Unlike Tyson, who never lost his ghetto-inspired anger, Bruno learned to control his fury and became a role model for his schoolmates, volunteering to work at a nearby nursing home.

He also learned to box at Oak Hall, and at 18 became his country's youngest amateur heavyweight champion. Bruno turned pro in 1982 and flattened his first 21 opponents before being stopped by Bonecrusher Smith.

Until beating McCall, Bruno had done little to distinguish himself from the likes of countrymen Tommy Farr, Brian London, Don Cockell and Henry Cooper, who had failed in challenging American champions.

Before his first match with Tyson, Bruno said: "I don't fear any man. I fear losing and making a fool of myself before millions of people."

Granted a second chance, he vows it will be different.

"I was knocked off the hill three times before I reached the mountaintop," he said. "And I'm not leaving here without my championship belt."

NOTES: Tyson weighed in officially last night at 220 pounds, two pounds more than for the first Bruno fight. Bruno weighed 247, 19 pounds more than he weighed in 1989. . . . The fight is expected to start between 11: 15 p.m. and midnight EST. The pay-per-view show will begin at 9 and include live telecasts of a fight between Michael Carbajal and Melchor Cob-Castro of Mexico for the vacant IBF junior flyweight title and a WBC strawweight title defense by Ricardo Lopez of Mexico against Ala Villamor of the Philippines. Also on the card will be Quincy Taylor's WBC middleweight title defense against Keith Holmes.

Fight facts

Who: Frank Bruno (40-4, 38 KOs) vs. Mike Tyson (43-1, 37 KOs).

What: For Bruno's World Boxing Council heavyweight title, 12 rounds.

Where: MGM Grand Garden (16,783), Las Vegas.

When: Tomorrow night.

Tickets: $200 to $1,000.

TV: Pay-per-view show begins 9 p.m., with four other title bouts.

Promoters: Don King and Frank Warren.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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