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Wednesday, June 8, 2005
Tyson owned portrait of Fenech, now his trainer

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

WASHINGTON – One of the constants in Mike Tyson's career is change, especially when it comes to his trainers.

The recent list of chief seconds for the former undisputed heavyweight champ reads like a who's who of top trainers: Freddie Roach, Ronnie Shields and Tommy Brooks.

Going further back, there was also Richie Giachetti, Jay Bright, Aaron Snowell and Kevin Rooney, the man who trained him during his championship heyday.

Now you can add a new name to the list as Tyson heads into Saturday night's fight (9 ET, Showtime PPV) with Kevin McBride at the MCI Center: Jeff Fenech of Australia.

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•  Heavyweight: Mike Tyson (50-5, 44 KOs) vs. Kevin McBride (32-4-1, 27 KOs), 10 rounds
•  Tape: Tyson-McBride | Weigh-In | Oddcast: Rafael
•  Female super middleweight: Laila Ali (20-0, 17 KOs) vs. Erin Toughill (6-1-1, 0 KOs), 10 rounds
•  Welterweight: Sharmba Mitchell (55-4, 31 KOs) vs. Chris Smith (19-1-1, 12 KOs), 10 rounds

Officially, they have been working together for about 11 weeks as Tyson prepares for the McBride fight, his first bout since being knocked out by Danny Williams in July.

In reality, they've been together for years. Even when Tyson was being trained by others, Fenech was around several Tyson training camps serving as an unofficial coach and counselor.

"I'm sure at the end of the day, Mike feels differently about me than he did about them," Fenech said of his relationship with Tyson compared with those of the boxer's other trainers. "He certainly respects me [for my career], and he respects me as a friend who has been around for a long, long time. He knows I don't need anything from him."

Said Tyson, "Jeff is my dear friend, and we're having fun together. I'm glad he decided to help me."

Fenech said Tyson was an excellent pupil during their training camp in Phoenix.

"He's in such a great frame of mind. He told me he feels invincible, that he feels great," Fenech said. "I've always said that the main thing with Mike is getting his head right so he can enjoy what he is doing. If Mike needs me at the house at 8 at night, I'll be there. If he needs me at the gym at 4 in the morning, I'll be there. I'm here for my friend. My phone is on for him 24 hours a day."

So what makes Fenech think he will be any different from the others who have been in Tyson's corner in recent years?

Mike Tyson/Jeff Fenech
Tyson considered Fenech (right) a smaller version of himself when Fenech was a fighter years ago.

"Why can I be different? Because I am not trying to be a great trainer. I'm just trying to be Mike's friend and give him what he needs," Fenech said. "If Mike loses, I will take the blame. He needs to be happy. He needs tranquility, and he needs peace of mind. He needs to know that the person who is with him is not here for any other reason other than Mike Tyson. I am here for him. I love my friend.

"It's not about money for me. All the money I get from the fight, if Mike said to me tomorrow 'I need it back,' I'd give it back to him."

Although many are skeptical, Fenech believes Tyson can win the heavyweight title for a third time.

"I think my mate can be champion again," he said. "I have no doubt he can be champion again if he wants to be. I just know there is an opportunity for him to prove everyone wrong and I would love to be walking with him when he does it."

Tyson and Fenech have been friends since 1988, when they met at an awards banquet in Las Vegas. They became quite close in 1991, when Fenech fought Azumah Nelson on the undercard of Tyson's rematch with Donovan "Razor" Ruddock. Fenech also said he wrote to Tyson regularly while the heavyweight was in prison on a rape conviction.

Tyson At 20
• Rafael: Meltdown | Return | Upset |Apex | Crown
• Rafael: 20 topics | McBride | Fenech | Camp
• Graham: Nelson | Hosea/Scaff | Long | Jaco | Green
• Gallery | Vote | Torres: Respect | Bayless: Marketer
• Tyson KOs: ESPN360 | Oddcast: Rafael preview

"He always treated me so great. I love the guy," Fenech said. "I've always stuck up for him and I will for the rest of my life."

Fenech said Tyson has responded to his laid-back approach to training. Although he expects Tyson to work hard – he had him going so hard early in camp that Tyson was vomiting – Fenech is not a taskmaster. Fenech simply tells Tyson what he needs to do. Tyson has responded because he wants to be his best, Fenech said.

"When we are together, he loves it. We've had some good talks," Fenech said. "We've had a couple of bad days and a lot of great days. There's been a couple of days when he hasn't felt like training. To make up for the days he didn't come, he came to train on Sunday. We trained on Sunday this week. He came on his day off."

Before Fenech, 41, emerged as Australia's top trainer, he was a star fighter who represented Australia in the 1984 Olympics and won world titles as a bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight. He also twice faced the great Nelson for the junior lightweight title, earning a controversial draw and losing a rematch before retiring in 1996 with a record of 28-3-1 with 21 KOs. In 2002, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Fenech had an aggressive style, reminding Tyson of a smaller version of himself. When Tyson had the walls of his old Las Vegas mansion painted with portraits of past boxing greats, he included Fenech's portrait. As a tribute to his friend, he had it painted larger than the others that adorned the walls.

"Why he came to me this late, only God knows," Fenech said of finally making their pairing official. "When he was with Freddie Roach, he may have been with him in the gym but I was doing most of the work at home. He was very much confiding in me. And then on numerous other occasions I have been in his fight camps, and many times he would call me to work with him or run with him, do things with him. All I can say is maybe he's seen the light now."

Tyson said he turned to his friend when he was at a low point in his life. He was coming off the loss to Williams, during which he blew out his knee. During Tyson's recovery, Fenech helped him get through his depression and offered him unconditional support.

"It's been great working with him," Tyson said. "He caught me at a real low point of my life, and he told me I could still do it. He really helped me. We started training together."

Fenech said he is a friend first and a trainer second.

"I don't want to help him regain the title. That's up to Mike," Fenech said. "I want to help Mike in the gym and help him be happy. If Mike wants to come to the gym, I'll come to the gym. If he wants me to come to the house, I'll come to the house. I'm just here for Mike. I know what he has to do. We don't have to be in the gym to do it. We can be in the park if we have to, if it makes Mike happy."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.