LAS VEGAS -- Preparing for his heavyweight championship fight with Bruce Seldon tonight, Mike Tyson has spent considerable time observing and playing with Kenya, his 14-month-old white tiger, and the lion cub that share his $4
million mansion in this glitzy sandbox.
"I don't deal with them like an animal trainer," he said. "They're like us. They want affection."
The parallels between his own tumultuous life and his unusual pets are not lost on Tyson.
"There is nothing like having a lion or a tiger and knowing, no matter what you do, you can never totally control them," he said. "All of a sudden, their natural instincts take over. One day, when the tiger was little more than a cub, I turned my back for just a second. She jumped right on me and knocked me out. That's the real freedom they enjoy."
Tyson, who spent part of his teen-age years in reform school for his delinquent ways in Brooklyn, N.Y., and then three years of his adult life in an Indiana prison on a rape conviction, said he never has felt truly free.
The former heavyweight champion has earned $80 million in his four fights since being released from prison 18 months ago. He owns lavish homes in Nevada, Connecticut and Ohio and a fleet of 30 luxury cars. He seemingly can buy everything but peace of mind.
"I'm a convicted felon," he said. "I have no real freedom. I'm on probation for two more years. I can't go where I want to go. They think I'm Al Capone. Would you say I'm a free man with all these stipulations?"
But Tyson apparently has found a way to suppress the rage and frustration outside the ring.
"My lifestyle is entirely different now," he said, reflecting on his pre-prison days. "Back then, I was a wild man, fighting guys on the street, drinking and running with all these bizarre women just a week before a fight. I was totally out of control."
Now, Tyson, who adopted the Muslim faith, says he no longer is consumed by boxing.
"I love a game that doesn't love me. The only reason I keep fighting is for my children," said Tyson, who has fathered two daughters and a son out of wedlock. "Growing up, I never had much upbringing or family. If I take care of my children now, maybe they'll care for me when I'm old and crippled."
The thought of early retirement from boxing has entered his mind, he said.
"I'm thinking, in a few years, I will get rid of almost all these material things and go to Mecca," he said. "I'm interested in the spiritual life. I'm not going there to part the Red Sea."
The "old" Tyson could be baited into a fight, much like his early-morning brawl in Harlem with Mitch Green some 10 years ago.
"That was a different kind of person," he said. "I didn't like that person too much. I like who I am today much better. I was a real street guy and didn't think I'd live to be 30. That guy who went to prison couldn't survive today.
"Now, you could say, I'm crazy mellow," he said with a high-pitched laugh.
If a belligerent Mitch Green were to goad him today, he likely would turn the other cheek.
"I don't get angry anymore," said Tyson, 30. "I don't want to go back to jail and lose $30 million because some guy said, 'I took it personally.' I learned when to stop. I'm more mature now."
But there has been no evidence that Tyson has lost his fury once he steps between the ropes. The familiar killer instinct was displayed awesomely in his three comeback matches against Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis and a terrorized Frank Bruno. Combined, they lasted less than seven rounds.
"Fifty percent of Tyson's game is the fear factor," said veteran trainer Emanuel Steward, who tutors contender Lennox Lewis. "With Bruno, it was 100 percent."
Seldon, 229 pounds, has said he can offset Tyson's intimidating style and control the fight with his hard jab and intellect.
To which, Tyson, who weighs 219, responded: "He's been talking brave since the [July 13] postponement. Everyone kills me with their mouth. Seldon has to walk the walk, not talk the talk. I just know he can't beat me."
Dealing with everything outside of the ring is what has kept Tyson wary and suspicious.
"I still expect bad things to happen," he said. "If good things happen, I enjoy them. But I've never truly been happy. I might have a moment of enjoyment; then, I'm back on guard.
"I guess, for me, everything is an illusion. The only thing real is death."
Tale of the tape
.. .. .. .. .. Seldon .. Tyson
Record ... .. .. .. . 33-3 . .. 44-1
Knockouts ... .. .. .. 29 . .. . 38
Age ... .. .. .. .. .. 29 . .. . 30
Weight ... .. .. .. . 229 . ... 219
Height ... .. .. .. . 6-1 . . 5-11 1/2
Reach . .. .. .. .. . 79 . .. . 71
Chest (normal) . .. . 44 . .. . 43
Chest (expanded) .. . 46 . .. . 45
Biceps .. .. .. .. .. 18 . .. . 16
Forearm .. .. .. .. . 16 . .. . 14
Waist . .. .. .. .. . 34 . .. . 34
Thigh . .. .. .. .. . 27 . .. . 27
Calf .. .. .. .. .. . 18 . .. . 19
Neck .. .. .. .. .. . 20 . ... 20 1/2
Wrist . .. .. .. .. .. 8 . .. .. 8
Fist .. .. .. .. .. . 14 . .. . 13
Ankle . .. .. .. .. . 11 . .. . 11
Who: Mike Tyson (44-1, 38 KOs), Catskill, N.Y., vs. Bruce Seldon (33-3, 29 KOs), Atlantic City, N.J.
What: For Seldon's World Boxing Association heavyweight title.
Where: Las Vegas, MGM Grand Garden (15,222)
TV: Showtime pay-per-view telecast ($49) will start at approximately 6 p.m. Main event expected to start after 11 p.m.
Purses: Tyson, $15 million. Seldon, $5 million.
Pub Date: 9/07/96