On the Monday following Mike Tyson's fourth comeback victory, both Jay Leno and David Letterman opened their monologues with jokes about Bruce Seldon's pathetic effort against Tyson.
"The eight-count given to Seldon was longer than the fight," said Letterman. "Wonder if he can identify the man who mugged him!"
Leno's references to the "Gyp on the Strip" almost lasted longer than the fight: "At least Seldon got himself some endorsements," panned Leno. "Really, he did. There was a beer named after him. It's so strong that it takes just one shot and you're out!"
The jokes went on. And well they should have. The National Anthem lasted 41 seconds longer than the fight.
Don't blame Mike Tyson. He was just doing what he is supposed to do, doing what makes him the highest paid athlete in the world. For once, don't blame promoter Don King. He would have loved, as would all of us, to have seen a real heavyweight title fight. If anything, blame boxing's sanctioning bodies. In business strictly to line their own pockets, they have glutted the market and produced more champions than there are legitimate contenders. In this case, blame the WBA. The Venezuela-based group of ratings-makers and title-givers put their blessing on this one. It was their "champion" who climbed the steps with their belt to face Tyson. He would have been no less nervous had he been climbing the steps to face his executioner. Plain and simple, Bruce Seldon was scared to death.
The fear which overwhelmed Seldon was the same fear which destroyed Frank Bruno last March and so many other opponents in Tyson's thunderous, tumultuous, controversial and sensational career.
Fear. Tyson knows how to control it. While it works for him, it destroys others. Like a raging furnace, it warms him and fuels him. Like a burning building, it destroys his opponents. They know nothing of how to deal with their fear.
They try to compensate by training ultra-hard. Indeed, Seldon trained for 12 weeks for his showdown against Tyson. Bruno did the same. To their credit, both Bruno and Seldon brought two of the finest-sculpted bodies the heavyweight division has ever seen into the ring in Tyson's last two fights, or perhaps we should say, last two outings. Despite those power-packed, impressive looking frames, they brought no desire, no heart, no courage, no mental discipline, no fight--nothing--to the arena.
Back in March, Bruno gave some outstanding pre-fight talk of how he was going to destroy Tyson. It was all talk. Inside, he was terrified. On the walk from his dressing room to the ring, Bruno actually looked like a condemned man. You could almost see him playing the starring role in "Dead Man Walking." He was paralyzed with fear.
Like Bruno, Seldon showed no signs of pre-fight jitters. In retrospect, he was hiding the fear extremely well. He covered it up. He masked it. Unlike Bruno, Seldon didn't threaten the 219-pound Tyson with destruction. Instead, he became overly kind in his remarks and attitude to the man who brings nothing but a hell-bent, sadistical, homicidal rage into the promotion. Seldon thanked Tyson again and again at press conferences for giving him the chance. He shook his hand over and over. The only thing he didn't do was ask him for an autograph. Thank him? Seldon was supposed to be champion. But then again, that was strictly because of a worthless belt presented to Seldon by the WBA after he beat a washed-up Tony Tucker on April 8th 1995.
The public is not enraged at Seldon for losing to Tyson in 1:49 of the first round. Fighters win and fighters lose. Remember Floyd Patterson? Remember his first-round losses to Sonny Liston in 1962 and 1963? The public embraced him and his fear of Liston after those losses. They understood his fear. They felt it. The only difference is, Patterson fought back in both fights. He may have been throwing spitballs at a battleship both times, but he DID fight back. On neither occasion did a punch which grazed the top of his skull floor him. When Patterson went down, it was from Liston's best artillery. The heavily-muscled Seldon went down from a punch far-more-questionable than the one Muhammad Ali dropped Liston with in May 1965. That one was a chopping right hand to the chin. This was a scalp massage. The Ali right to Liston's chin was understandable and explainable. This one is not.
Fighters get hit and fighters go down. Even Tyson has been down, sent there by Buster Douglas in February 1990. But when fighters go down from nothing, or next-to-nothing, the cry from the public is "Fix!" That's exactly what the 9,545 fans in attendance --paying up to $1,000 per ringside seat--chanted in unison after Seldon arose from a second knockdown, courtesy of a left hook to the chin, then nearly fell into referee Richard Steele's arms, prompting the veteran ref to end the bout.
Sure, Tyson beat Seldon. But he did it with his presence and his aura and his reputation as much as he did it with his fists. Yes, it was Tyson who beat Seldon. But it was fear which did Seldon in as much as anything. While Frank Bruno trembled on his way to the ring, Seldon showed the world a huge, toothy smile. He smiled the entire walk into the ring. It was a total facade. Then, once in the ring, he turned his back on Tyson and looked out to the crowd as the Star Spangled Banner was playing. It's not that he wanted to sing for the fans. It's just that he couldn't stomach looking across the ring at the man who would be trying to decapitate him in just a few moments.
Here's the shame of it. You are Bruce Seldon. You grew up fast and hard on the back streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey. You ran in street gangs. You brawled. You did time in jail. You are nearly 6'2" and weigh 229 pounds of hardened professional prizefighter. Throw in the fact you are considered by the WBA to be the world heavyweight boxing champion. Then, you whimper and cower like the school sissy when confronted by the school bully. It's just not acceptable to the public, especially when you're earning $5 million for your whimper act. To top it off, you didn't fight. You whimpered, you moaned and you fell when Tyson got near you. You expect the public to understand?
Seldon's vaunted left jab--which had battered sparring partners all summer--went nowhere and did nothing. That's because Seldon never threw it with bad intentions at Tyson, the way Tyson threw punches at Seldon. Fear would not allow Seldon to pull the trigger on anything resembling the punch of a heavyweight champion. His jab became the defensive tool of a hopelessly frightened man. Seldon should have planted his feet and said to himself, "Come on, Mike, let's get down and rumble!" It would have been acceptable, no matter what the outcome. He didn't. He couldn't. It wasn't in him. Fear took over long before the opening bell. It overwhelmed and other emotions Seldon may have had.
That's why, when Tyson was through, not beating him up, but "fearing him up," Seldon cried his eyes out in his dressing room. The terror was gone. It was over. The monkey of fear was off his back. Maybe forever.
All that will remain are doubts. Seldon's career is essentially over, unless he returns against some big names for very little money. He'll not be able to roam "The ‘Hood" in Atlantic City and command any kind of respect. He would have been better off going out on his shield than doing what he did. However, fear can make cowards of us all.
It also makes legends of those who thrive and capitalize on it. Just ask Mike Tyson.
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