Tyson: 'I feel sensational' – and he looks it, too

ESPN.com had exclusive media access to Mike Tyson's last sparring session on Monday, and the former champion seemed in top form.

Updated: June 8, 2005, 11:31 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

WASHINGTON – Mike Tyson is scheduled for a public workout on Tuesday afternoon to help stoke interest in his fight against Kevin McBride on Saturday night at the MCI Center.

These workouts are all the same, whether it is Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya or any other boxing star promoting a fight. There will be a lot of cameras, reporters, fans and hype.

Tyson
Tyson

But the fighters don't do much at these workouts. Maybe Tyson will hit the hand mitts with trainer Jeff Fenech for a few rounds. Maybe he'll shadow box or skip rope. Whatever he does, it will be for show.

The hard work ended on Monday. And, boy, was it hard work.

The former heavyweight champ put in six intense rounds of sparring, the last of the more than 100 he boxed in order to prepare for the McBride fight (9 p.m. ET, Showtime).

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This is Tyson's first fight since a fourth-round knockout loss to Danny Williams last July, during which Tyson tore ligaments in his knee. Now healthy and seemingly happy, Tyson worked out with an abandon I haven't seen in a long time. He looked like he really wanted to be in the ring.

"I have a new enthusiasm to fight," Tyson said after the session. "I was doing well in my last fight with Danny Williams until I broke my leg. The fight didn't affect me. We're men. You lose, you suck it up. I am looking forward to locking up with McBride. I don't think he can take the body shots and the power. I have more experience and I have fought the better competition. I feel good and my confidence is back to a competitive level. I feel sensational. I don't think McBride can handle me."

I agree, and that was even before watching these six rough and physical rounds against Australian heavyweight Bob Mirovic, a tough, experienced 39-year-old journeyman who is 25-14-2 with 16 KOs. Tyson likes him, and at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Mirovic is perfect to simulate McBride.

I was the only writer granted access to the private session, during which Tyson showed he can still bring the pain with a two-handed attack.

I realize the problems I endured are nothing after seeing those boys. I am breathing and walking and I am healthy. My problems are nothing.
Mike Tyson, after visiting wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center

There were about a dozen people total in the Nomis Boxing Community Center, a tiny gym run by Ham Johnson, the father of former world champion Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, that sits above an auto body shop in the northeastern section of the city.

Tyson arrived around 2 p.m. after a trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he visited with wounded soldiers sent home from Iraq.

"I realize the problems I endured are nothing after seeing those boys," Tyson said. "I am breathing and walking and I am healthy. My problems are nothing."

I got to the gym before Tyson did and waited with Fenech, Mirovic, sparring partner Corey Sanders (who didn't box Tyson on Monday) and a few others for him to arrive.

He did so with little fanfare. There was no commotion and no entourage like in the old days. It was just Tyson, adviser Shelly Finkel and his security detail.

After cheerfully doing an interview with me for about 20 minutes, he had his hands wrapped by Fenech. All the while, Tyson was talkative, joking with me, Finkel and Fenech.

I have interviewed Tyson many times before, but this was a long way from my first one-on-one interview with Tyson in October 2000. On that day, I watched Tyson beat the daylights out of sparring partner Jeff Pegues for four rounds during a closed workout at a gym just north of downtown Detroit a few days before he was to fight Andrew Golota at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Tyson was irritable and in an unpleasant mood that day. We did the interview in the nearly dark gym basement, and Tyson was surly from the start. Ten minutes later, he was poking me in the shoulder, cursing at me and railing against the media in general. At that point, I quickly was hustled up the stairs and out of the gym by his security, but not before Tyson had uttered the quote that became the headline for the USA TODAY cover story I wrote: "Full-force Tyson: 'I hate everybody.'"

Tyson and I have certainly come a long way with each other since then.

Hands wrapped, Tyson changed into his boxing gear – black trunks, black shoes, black protective cup and black head gear.

It was a brutally hot and humid day and there was no air conditioning, so Fenech rubbed a cold washcloth on Tyson's neck and then rubbed grease on his arms and face. Tyson was now ready to get in the ring, where Mirovic was waiting.

This is no regulation ring, mind you. The Nomis Center is small, not big enough across to hold a standard 20-foot by 20-foot ring. This one is maybe 14x14 inside the ropes with a bright red mat. There is no place to run and no place to hide.

Tyson and Mirovic started slowly. Tyson got his left jab working while Mirovic just pawed with his jab to keep Tyson away. The action picked up near the end of the round, with Tyson's finally giving Fenech what he had been asking for – a left hook with a right hand behind it.

"How am I doing coach? Did I do OK?" Tyson asked as he came to the ring ropes for his one-minute break, some water and advice.

Fenech, who has been working with Tyson for the past 10 weeks or so, assured Tyson that he was looking good but told him he wanted to see combinations.

Tyson picked up the pace in the second round, going after Mirovic with left hooks and overhand rights. He was connecting but his timing was just a tad off. But near the end of the round, Tyson doubled up on his left and landed both directly in Mirovic's face.

When the round ended, Tyson looked unhappy. "I'm not getting the shots in clean," he said to Fenech.

In the third round, Tyson caught a couple of decent shots from Mirovic and tied him up, but they separated on their own. This is when Tyson began to really work the body.

He landed thudding shots with both hands, and Mirovic, breathing hard now, really felt them. Each time Tyson would dig to his flanks, Mirovic would take a step back and adjust his protector.

The pace continued to increase in the fourth and fifth rounds as Tyson began to throw more combinations and uppercuts when they were in close, while Mirovic tried to answer the swarming Tyson. The onlookers were very quiet, transfixed by the action in the ring.

Although Tyson was landing good right hands and some quick combinations, the body work was impressive. Some of the shots made Mirovic wince. They made me wince, too.

In the sixth round, Tyson's last before the fight, Fenech implored him to give him the best round of the training camp. Tyson tried. He was going all out for the final minute and creamed Mirovic with a left hook that seemed to wobble him. Remember, in sparring the fighters wear head gear and larger gloves, so when Mirovic wilted you know Tyson was hitting hard. You could hear and feel the impact of the punches.

When it was over, Tyson leaned on the ropes to catch his breath as Fenech soaked him with water.

Fenech said he was pleased. "He's prepared to go rounds if he needs to," Fenech said. "We've done the work. I thought he boxed great today. My man is ready."

When Tyson exited the ring, he exclaimed, "I feel good!"

Tyson stalked around the room for a minute to cool down and then walked back over to Mirovic. They tapped gloves and Tyson said, "Thank you, man."

Then he walked over to me, lightly tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "So, did you enjoy that?"

Sure did.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.