When Shelly Finkel, Mike Tyson's manager, was asked whether losing to Kevin McBride in tonight's heavyweight bout at MCI Center would ultimately end his fighter's career, Finkel said, "I don't even want to think about that."
The former two-time heavyweight champion hasn't beaten a fighter of consequence in more than a decade and has lost two of his last three bouts. But for the second time in 11 months, Tyson's boxing career -- at least for one more day -- is alive again.
Despite squandering almost every one of his career opportunities throughout the past two decades, Tyson said he is going to take advantage of this chance -- perhaps his last -- at reviving what was once such a promising career.
"I've had 30,000 chances," Tyson said. "I'm going take advantage of my 30,351st."
Tyson, who turns 39 on June 30, wasted his last chance at career revival in July 2004. He was close to signing a $60 million, multi-fight deal with promoter Bob Arum, who pulled the offer when Tyson was knocked out in the fourth round by unknown Englishman Danny Williams. A loss to McBride, who is even more lightly regarded than Williams and weighed in at a whopping 271 pounds, would probably end his career, boxing observers say.
"In my estimation, everything in his professional boxing career rides on Saturday night," said Rock Newman, an adviser to the promoters of tonight's fight. "The swing between winning and losing is indescribable. This is really his last, last chance. If he loses, it's over. But if he wins, and wins impressively, he can go out and make $6 million or $7 million in his next fight and $20 million the fight after that."
Tyson, who has reduced his debt by $14 million, and still owes more than $20 million, will not collect much of his $5.5 million purse for tonight's bout. He will take home only $250,000, with $750,000 going to ex-wife Monica Turner and the rest going toward a seemingly endless list of creditors. Local promoters have sold more than 14,000 tickets for tonight's fight and are hoping for a sellout of more than 17,000, which would be proof that Tyson is still a pretty good draw.
Arum said he is interested in signing Tyson again, as long as the fighter performs well against McBride. But Finkel said local promoters Darryl Stuckey and Marty Wynn have right of first refusal for staging Tyson's next two fights, the first of which will probably come in September if Tyson wins tonight.
"Mike definitely wants to come back to D.C. again," Finkel said. "This has been great."
It would be even greater for Tyson if he knocked out McBride early. Tyson is 38 pounds lighter than McBride, and has an 11-inch reach disadvantage, but he is fighting a much slower fighter who probably will not be able to match his hand speed or footwork. In April 1998, McBride was knocked out in the third round by Englishman Michael Murray. It was Murray's only victory in his last 18 professional fights.
"He doesn't look like he punches very hard," Tyson said of McBride, after a workout earlier this week.
Jeff Fenech, Tyson's trainer, wants his fighter to be patient so he can build his stamina for future fights. Tyson has fought only 32 rounds since he was disqualified for biting Evander Holyfield's ears during a June 1997 bout. Only one of Tyson's last 10 fights have lasted longer than seven rounds -- he was knocked out in the eighth round by Lennox Lewis in Memphis on June 8, 2002.
"It will take time," Tyson said of rebuilding his stamina and boxing skills. "I'm not going to become 'Iron Mike' overnight. But there's no reason to be in the business unless you want to win a title."
If McBride doesn't last long, Finkel probably will match Tyson against a similar opponent in September. And consecutive victories might set up a title shot against World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, possibly in Chicago sometime next year.
"Tyson has definitely got to come through and put on a good performance," former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman said. "He's got a name. All he has to do is go out and put together a few spectacular knockouts and he'll get his title shot."