LAS VEGAS -- For those of you who've wondered whatever became of Mike "Buster, Was It Something I Said?" Tyson, rest assured he's alive. The last time anybody saw Tyson, he was down on all fours in a Tokyo boxing ring, looking for his mouthpiece and a hole to crawl in after Buster Douglas dropped him like a sack of feed from a flatbed truck.
Four months went by without a word -- nothing from Robin Givens, dowager vixen Ruth Roper, Bill Cayton, Kevin Rooney, not even a challenge from Mitch "Blood" Green for a full-contact lambada in front of an all-night tuxedo rental. Tyson was under tighter wraps than a three-egg omelet at a cholesterol convention. If it wasn't for those reassuring news flashes that still more of his cars were being impounded, we might have lost touch with Tyson altogether -- as we have with Buster. But just the other night Don King trotted Tyson out like the dictator in "Moon Over Parador" for the boxing press to examine. Tyson wore an odd, all-white outfit: white hat with a Mercedes-Benz emblem, and white shorty-pants overalls with Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche and Alfa Romeo patches. He looked like a European Good Humor man who'd entered his truck in the Grand Prix of Monaco.
So, what's new?
No marriages. A son, though, six-weeks-old D'Amato, named after his mentor, the late Cus.
No suicide attempts. Remember when Robin's people claimed Tyson had attempted suicide by backing a Bentley into a tree? What would he have thought of next, jumping out a first-floor window? "I'm not on the verge of killing myself or drowning in my own tears. I screwed up a fight, that's all -- nobody's going to stop paying taxes because Mike Tyson lost his title," Tyson said in his usual straightforward manner.
New body. Unsettlingly smaller. Like somebody ran him too long in the drying cycle. "Oh God, honey, I shrank Mike Tyson!"
New trainer. Richie Giachetti, who ran Larry Holmes's store for so long.
That's why we're here, isn't it?
Or as the stupefyingly windy King says, " . . . we're here to make history as it reveals itself to you live and in living color . . . we are encouraging an exodus, a migration so to speak, from all corners of the country, near and far . . . boxing is fun again, something that has been priorily left out . . . " and blah-blah-blah.
Tyson says he's "absolutely" as good as ever, and "all" he wants to do is "fight regularly and get back on top."
Toward that end his handlers have offered 1984 Olympic heavyweight champion Henry Tillman $250,000 to climb in the ring with Tyson on Saturday night. "I hope he lives to spend it," said the Associated Press's Ed Schuyler.
Tillman beat a 17-year-old Tyson twice in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials. He was a superb amateur, but less of a pro -- unranked and lately unplugged, four fights in the past three years. Tillman could be in and out of here quicker than a $10 roll of quarters. But what would that tell us about Tyson?
Tyson-Tillman follows Geriatric George Foreman taking on Adilson Rodrigues, a mysterious Brazilian who's fought almost exclusively at home -- he's 8-0 against Sergio Mendes. Rodrigues speaks no English, but the only words he's likely to need are "8 . . . 9 . . . 10."
"The greatest pressure Saturday night won't be on me," Foreman said. "It'll be on Mike Tyson. He lost pretty decisively. He'll probably wonder what he's doing out there if the other guy hits him."
Foreman can appreciate Tyson going Garbo. Sixteen years ago, after Muhammad Ali rope-a-doped him out of his title in Zaire, Foreman dropped out of sight too. "You go through a withdrawal of confidence. You're ashamed to see anybody. You try to build yourself up by spending millions of dollars on cars and suits -- things to make you look good. But deep down in your heart you know the only thing that will redeem you is to fight for the title again, and win. I know that feeling. I know what Tyson's feeling."
For a solid year Foreman fought only exhibitions. "I was depressed. I'd wake up in the night sweating, soaking wet. I couldn't get it out of my mind." Then he got into the ring here with Ron Lyle, his first real bout since The Rumble In The Jungle, and Lyle knocked him on his keister. "He was mopping the floor with me," Foreman recalled. "I'm on the canvas thinking I just have to get up. Or what would I say to my mother? What would I say to the sportswriters? I got up and knocked him out. George Foreman could sleep after that."
He could eat after that too.
And before. And during.
Foreman never met a food group he didn't like.
"One reporter said if I want to be the Prodigal Son, I had to stop looking like the Fatted Calf. But when I was young, we were so poor we couldn't even afford one 'o' and the 'r.' We were po'. When I started making money, I decided to eat all the hamburgers I could buy. So when you look at this," Foreman said, patting his ample tummy, "you're looking at an investment."
At 41, Foreman is back in boxing for love. He's not saddled with anxiety and expectation, like Tyson. He's stout-hearted, big-bellied and good-humored. "I've been in this city for almost a week; I've had a chance to sample the buffet. I'm still on my seafood diet -- I see food and eat it. I feel like I can win this fight if I stick to my strategy. My strategy is to hit them before they duck. That way I don't have to hit them no more."
Foreman's having fun. Tyson isn't. Fans love Foreman, in part because he's so old and such an Everyman, but also because he makes time to joke with them from the ring. He signs autographs, gives away T-shirts, poses for pictures; he's good enough working a crowd, he could be a politician. "They'd love Tyson too, if he'd open up to them," Foreman said. "But he has no leadership. He reminds me of a great big wonderful ship with no captain. If he doesn't get one soon, he'll be the Titanic."