Sat, Oct 21, 2006 - Page 19 News List

`Iron Mike' is dead, long live the new `Nice Mike'

BETTER WITH AGE?Fans devoted to the former heavyweight champ are willing to shell out US$200 for a look at the man who once petrified opponents

AP , YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO

He kicked off his sneakers, stepped on the scale in his white socks and smiled.

Seconds later, the man once labeled the baddest man on the planet, the one who could petrify an opponent simply by stepping onto the apron, flexed his biceps for a few photographers and then giggled almost in shame.

"Mike Tyson," the boxing official bellowed into the microphone, his announcement filling every corner of the minor league hockey arena. "Two hundred, forty-one and a half pounds [109.4kg]. And that's with street clothes on."

Once upon a career, Mike Tyson would arrive at a weigh-in thirsty for blood -- or an ear. Sometimes, he'd taunt his next victim, maybe even throw a punch or two as a preview to the hell he planned to unleash inside the ropes.

On Thursday, Tyson walked around the podium hugging old friends and young boxers, many of whom just wanted to shake the former champ's hand.

Iron Mike is dead. He's Nice Mike now.

"You know what, though. He's still a great show," former lightweight champion Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini said moments before Tyson arrived at the 6,000-seat Chevrolet Centre, usually home to a minor league ice hockey team known as the SteelHounds. "He's still the biggest name in boxing."

Now 40, and 20 years since he knocked out Trevor Berbick in the second round to become the world's youngest heavyweight champion, Tyson embarked on a "World Tour" by fighting a four-round exhibition yesterday against Corey "T-Rex" Sanders, a former sparring partner who tipped the scales at a whopping 132.5kg.

Tyson isn't Tyson anymore. But that doesn't seem to matter to fans willing to pay US$200 for a ringside seat and a glimpse at his former greatness.

"I never got to see him in person, only on TV, and this is my only chance," Anna Curry said after exiting the arena's box office with two tickets. "This is Mike Tyson, right here in Youngstown."

In the upcoming months, Tyson will visit South Korea, China, Russia and South Africa, where he's in negotiations to fight on Robben Island, site of the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 years.

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