Kevin McBride towered over the podium at Howard University's Blackburn Center Ballroom on Wednesday, but even at 6 feet 6 and 271 pounds, he looked overwhelmed.
Wearing sunglasses with his baseball cap on backward, the Irish heavyweight shuffled his feet, grasped the microphone awkwardly, and, speaking in a rough brogue, recited for a gathering of media and fans the lines he has polished during the weeks leading up to tomorrow night's bout at MCI Center against Mike Tyson:
"I'm strong as an ox."
"I'm a contender, not a pretender."
"When I hit Mike Tyson on the chin, he's gonna t'ink the whole of Ireland, as an island, hit 'im."
"I'm gonna shock the world."
He sounded like he was trying to convince himself, as much as the crowd. It didn't help that a few feet away sat Tyson, suddenly angered and spewing sound-bite gold -- thanks to comments by McBride's manager, Rich Cappiello.
To help him overcome any fear Tyson may instill tomorrow night, McBride hired a hypnotist.
"I'm leaving no stone unturned," McBride said.
But longtime boxing writer Bert Sugar does not think anything will be able to save the 32-year-old McBride (32-4-1, 27 knockouts) in the ring. He says the bout will end "somewhere between 'Oh say,' and 'can you see.' "
As the latest hand-picked opponent for Tyson, this is McBride's role. In The Mike Tyson Show, he is closer to an extra than a supporting actor. Several times at Wednesday's news conference, when rattling off the big names on the card, speakers mentioned Tyson and undercard fighters Laila Ali, Erin Toughill and Sharmba Mitchell but left out McBride.
He, after all, was once knocked out by Michael Murray -- it was Murray's only victory in his last 18 fights. And McBride was, for a time, the sparring partner for Peter McNeely, Tyson's first opponent after being released from prison in 1995 who was disqualified from the bout when his trainer ran into the ring to stop the fight after 89 seconds.
"I remember after the Tyson-McNeely fight some reporter asked if there would be a rematch -- one of the dumbest questions in the history of dumb questions," Sugar said. "I think we're getting the rematch."
McBride hired the hypnotist at the suggestion of assistant trainer, Paschal Collins, the brother of former middleweight champion Steve Collins who used one before his fight with Chris Eubank in 1995. Eubank was spooked when he heard about the plan, and it most certainly was in his head when he lost a unanimous decision.
Paschal Collins hopes McBride's hypnosis has a more tangible effect.
"Kevin has gotten a lot of bad press lately . . . And that does grow on you," Collins said. "The hypnotist was to get all those negative thoughts out of his mind."
The plan, according to Collins, is to hypnotize McBride before he walks to the ring, then use an "anchor," such as a snap of the fingers or a certain word, to bring him out of it before the opening bell. That way, McBride won't be intimidated by the huge crowd or Tyson's entrance. Even in the ring, however, the hypnosis will help, Collins said.
"The hypnotist has made Kevin's awareness so great, that Tyson, when he throws a shot, it will look like it's coming in slow motion," he said. "And also, he will [withstand] a lot more pain than a person not under hypnosis."
Most believe that McBride's hypnotic trance will be followed, probably within minutes, by a deep sleep, courtesy of Tyson. But, then again, it was tough to imagine Tyson not destroying little-known British heavyweight Danny Williams last July in Louisville. Williams knocked out Tyson in four rounds.
"You'll be surprised that [McBride] has really increased his speed," said Goody Petronelli, McBride's trainer. "He's working behind the jab. And Tyson is there to be hit, you know that."
McBride began boxing at age 9, and at 18 he became the youngest super heavyweight to compete in the Olympics. He turned pro in 1992, but after going unbeaten in his first 19 professional fights, he suffered three losses by knockout in six fights, the last coming in April 1998 to Murray and leading his promoter-manager team to release him.
"I wasn't taking fights too seriously," McBride said. "But you appreciate the losses, because then you appreciate the wins."
McBride moved to Boston from County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1999, and through Steve Collins, he was set up with Petronelli, a boxing lifer with a skinny frame, a wrinkled face and a nose that only could have been shaped by fists. Petronelli has added an air of legitimacy to the McBride camp. He trained former middleweight king Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and under Petronelli's tutelage McBride has won seven fights in a row by knockout and lost just once -- to DaVarryl Williamson, a top-10 heavyweight.
McBride also has become a local hero in the Boston area, recognized especially in Brockton and Dorchester, his adopted home town. Jerry Quinn, owner of The Kells, a Boston restaurant that sponsors McBride, said McBride is a fixture at fund-raisers and activities he sponsors for underprivileged youths, even dressing up as Santa Claus around Christmas. He has an endearing charm that was evident on Wednesday when he talked about his daughter and asked Ali for an autograph. Even Tyson has called him "cute" and "a nice guy."
"It's hard to imagine that guy can go into a ring and do what he does because he's such a big-hearted guy," Quinn said.
Now, like James Braddock -- the Irish heavyweight who overcame staggering odds and is the title character portrayed by Russell Crowe in the movie "Cinderella Man" -- McBride has a once-in-a-lifetime shot. And he believes he has done everything -- including forsaking Guinness for more than a year -- to make the best of it.
"I didn't cheat myself," McBride said. "When I win the world title and finish my boxing career, I'll drink Ireland dry."