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Sunday, October 14, 2001
Tyson solid, but not spectacular, in victory

By Doug Fischer

Just when it looked like Mike Tyson was finally going to be tested in a fight, his opponent in Saturday's heavyweight event in Denmark, retired on his stool at the beginning of the seventh round. But before Brian Nielsen (62-2) made the choice to stop taking the terrific pounding Tyson was dishing out, the big Dane extended the former undisputed heavyweight champion the furthest he has gone since losing to Evander Holyfield for the first time in 1996.

The Tyson-Nielsen bout, held at Copenhagen's Parken Stadium, was nothing more than a rust-shaking bout for Tyson, who improved to 49-3 (43 KOs). He had not fought since his three-round no-contest with Andrew Golota one year ago.

Tyson, who at 239 pounds was thick but solid, is the mandatory contender for the World Boxing Council title, which will be contested between champ Hasim Rahman and Lennox Lewis on Nov. 17. If Tyson is going to seriously challenge Rahman or Lewis for the WBC (and the International Boxing Federation) title, he knows he needs to go rounds like he did last night, fight more often and train harder.

"I put a lot of time in the gym for this fight," Tyson said after the bout. "He was a tough guy, it was hard to hit him, but it was good to get in the rounds. When I fight those guys (Rahman and Lewis), I'll probably have to train a little harder. Probably two more fights and I'll be ready for the championship of the world."

Nielsen, who was cut over his left eye and dropped in the third round, absorbed dozens of thunderous body shots from Tyson throughout the bout, but he proved to boxing fans who watched the tape-delayed fight on the Showtime that he was not the "Danish Pastry" most thought he was. He's not a contender, but Nielsen is as tough as fighters come.

"I'm not proud," Nielsen said of his performance after the fight was stopped when the Dane said he could not see correctly out of his left eye. "I wanted to go the distance. I wanted to continue, but every time he hit me hard to the left eye, I could not see.

"He hit hard, but not enough to knock me out. If not for the eye, he would not have knocked me out. I can take anything. I believe that."

Most observers probably didn't believe Nielsen, who took a beating.

The new, meatier Tyson laid it on Nielsen in the opening rounds, throwing vicious haymakers to Nielsen's blubbery midsection and then ripping left and right uppercuts.

In Round 1, Tyson backed his defiant foe into a neutral corner with a right to the body-right to the head-left hook combination. Tyson punished Nielsen with rights and lefts to both sides of his ribs as the bigger man covered up.

In the second round, Tyson continued to back Nielsen up with his two-fisted attack to the 260-pound fighter's body and head. Nielsen showed some attitude by tossing a few light shots (a jab to the body-hook to the head combo, the ole one-two and, of course, plenty of rabbit punches) and by mugging to Tyson after absorbing a particularly mean combination, but he returned to his corner with a half-inch gash on his left eyelid.

In the third round, Tyson immediately jumped on Nielsen with a furious double hook to the body-left uppercut to the head combination, but his attack was stalled a bit by the Denmark native's holding and hitting (actually, more like tapping) tactics. For about a minute in the middle part of the round, Tyson began to look a bit flustered and resorted to only lobbing single bombs at Nielsen's head. But Tyson got his head (and punches) together by the end of the round. After stunning Nielsen with a hook-right combo, Tyson sent his foe sprawling into the ropes and onto the seat of his trunks with a sharp hook-right-hook punch sequence with 30 seconds left in the round.

With five seconds to the bell, Tyson unloaded a powerful left below Nielsen's belt, sending him stumbling into a neutral corner and then painfully back to his own corner, where for a few seconds he collapsed to his knees in agony. It wouldn't be a Tyson fight without the possibility of a disqualification or no-contest due to a foul of some kind, would it? But Nielsen, who could have taken an extra five minutes to recover from what was ruled an "unintentional low blow", only used the one-minute rest in-between the third and fourth rounds

Nielsen came out and immediately covered up the start of the fourth, while Tyson stalked and pot-shotted single power punches (mostly a lead right hand). A right to the body-left uppercut seemed to momentarily stun Nielsen, but he held (actually, he used a headlock many times during the fight) his way through most of this round, ending it with a light double jab-right hand at the bell that got a rise out of the local crowd estimated at 20,000 by the Showtime commentators.

In the fifth (the first time Tyson has seen this round since his January '99 bout with Francios Botha), the former champ continued to stalk (although slower than the last round) and punish Nielsen with bombs. In the sixth round, Nielsen tried to do something by moving about the ring and trying to commit more to his punches, but Tyson was simply walking him down at this point. A lead left uppercut followed by an overhand right that Tyson landed in the final 30 seconds of the round may have convinced Nielsen to stay on his stool after the bell sounded.

What would have happened if Nielsen continued? Would Tyson have kept pounding away at his pudgy-but-sturdy foe for another three rounds, all the way to a unanimous decision win? Or would he have become discouraged and simply held and grappled his way to victory, or worse, begin to resort to fouls and dirty fighting?

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Tyson looked pretty sharp for a guy who's been off for a year, and who only trained sporadically amid his usual chaos and controversy (two accusations of sexual assault). Tyson put his punches together well although he wasn't completely consistent throughout the fight, especially to the body. He was both accurate and economical with his punches, which still may be the heaviest in the division. Tyson also showed some decent head movement during the rare occasions Nielsen would throw something in his direction. Tyson's jab was absent for much of the fight.

Overall, Tyson looked good, and the extra weight he carried was not a factor. Then again, Nielsen is not known as a defensive wizard or an offensive force, so Tyson was bound to look as sharp as he does when going off on the mitts during one of his work outs with assistant trainer Stacy McKinnley.

Tyson, at age 35, still a threat in the heavyweight division, but he is far from a legitimate number-one contender to the biggest prize in sports. The much smaller, light-hitting Chris Byrd -- the IBF's mandatory challenger who was in with the Klitschko brothers, Maurice Harris and David Tua in his last four bouts -- is more deserving of a title shot than Tyson.

But Tyson is a star. Byrd is not. And Tyson means a lot more money to the winner of the Rahman-Lewis rematch, so there's no doubt who the heavyweight champ will want to defend against first. It would just be nice, if Tyson actually earned that shot.

The executives at Showtime would like to see Tyson in the ring again as soon as possible, rather than sit on his ranking. Jay Larkin, the network's head honcho for boxing, recently said that January would be a good month for Tyson's return. A real test for Tyson, and an exciting fight for the fans, would be to take on the winner of the Nov. 24 rubber match between World Boxing Association champ John Ruiz and Holyfield.

If Tyson can beat the gutsy-but-limited Ruiz or get some revenge on his old nemesis, he will have truly earned a shot at the title he once held and create interest in the heavyweight division based on what he does in the ring -- not out of it.

On the Showtime-televised co-featured bout of the evening, World Boxing Organization super middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe improved to 32-0 (27) by stomping over-matched Will McIntyre over four painfully one-sided rounds. McIntyre, a club fighter from Louisiana who lost every round in a fight with fringe contender Dana Rosenblatt last year, dropped to 25-5-2.

Calzaghe, and athletic Welsh southpaw with a decent personality, and his promoter Frank Warren said they want high-profile bouts against undisputed champs Roy Jones or Bernard Hopkins, but both seem willing to settle for a unification bout with Eric Lucas (the WBC title holder) or former 154-pound champion David Reid.