Mike Tyson seemed to be sweating from every pore. The moisture beaded up on his bald head, streamed down his still bizarre facial tattoo, covered his upper body and eventually drenched his black boxing trunks.
The people in the steamy campus gym at Howard University weren't much more comfortable. About 200 of them came Tuesday to get a glimpse of a fighter who once was, hoping that he can be once again.
For now, this is what Tyson has been reduced to: A traveling circus act, put on display in the latest city willing to buy into his charade, trying to sell enough tickets to pay his debts.
He was once the baddest man on the planet. Now he's just an occasional fighter pushing middle age and facing stiffs he wouldn't have even considered in his brief prime so he can pay off some $40 million in bills.
Funny thing, though. None of that seemed to matter to those who found their way to Burr Gymnasium on a stifling hot afternoon in the nation's capital to watch Tyson's public workout for his return to the ring against Irishman Kevin McBride.
They along with what is expected to be a near capacity crowd Saturday night at the MCI Center want to believe Iron Mike is back, though even a cursory look at his past suggests otherwise. They want to believe he can still be the heavyweight champion of the world.
''Tyson is Tyson, whether he's winning or losing,'' said Chris Hill, a freshman at Howard who was in diapers about the time Tyson was in his prime. ''There's something about him that draws attention.''
For about an hour, Tyson gave them every reason to believe.
He showed off his sculpted body by coming into the ring just wearing boxing trunks and shoes. He showed that his hand speed is still intact by hitting the mitts of trainer Jeff Fenech.
But what he seemed to enjoy showing off most was the kinder, gentler Mike Tyson.
''I'm not going to bite anybody or hit anybody after the bell or try to break anyone's arm,'' Tyson said.
Those kind of things used to be standard practice for Tyson, though he hasn't gone off in public since brawling with Lennox Lewis and biting him in the press conference announcing their June 2002 fight. Well, let's take that back. He did jump on a guy's car and damage his hood outside an Arizona nightclub in November, but a guy's entitled to some fun isn't he?
Tyson stood in the boxing ring of the small gym to say he's a changed man, largely because he's been humbled by his troubles and wants to be a better dad. For the better part of 15 minutes, he acted more like a revival preacher than a heavyweight fighter.
''It's not about being the best fighter in the world or the worst fighter in the world,'' said Tyson, keeping a straight face. ''It's about being the best person in the world.''
As if to prove his point, he chastised a man in a wheelchair at one point for using a swear word, saying there were children present. The old Tyson might have beaten him up, then mangled his wheelchair for good measure. You have to forgive us, though, Mike, if we're a bit skeptical. After all, we've heard it all before.
You told us before fighting Lewis that you had never prepared so well for a fight, then looked bewildered once you got in the ring. You told us you actually trained for Clifford Etienne, when in fact you were out partying and getting a new tattoo.
You told us you were serious about fighting Danny Williams last July, only to run out of gas and get knocked out in the fourth round. And now you're telling us that you overcame a knee injury, won a bout with depression, stopped smoking dope, and are happier than ever to be fighting again?
Save it for those who still care. Save it for those dumb enough to buy a $700 ringside ticket. Save it for those who believe that you will become heavyweight champion again even though you haven't beaten a fighter of any note in 14 years.
Those people will come Saturday night to see the train wreck Tyson promises to deliver. Enough of them will come to pay Tyson about $6 million, though most of that will go to his creditors and his ex-wife, Monica.
Tyson claims he's fighting only because he wants the title again, though he's clearly desperate for the money. If he loses his second straight fight, his career is basically over, so his manager took extra care to choose an opponent in McBride who should make Tyson look good.
Tyson should be able to knock out McBride and, after that, who knows? A few more fights and he could get a title shot because he is Mike Tyson.
Well, he used to be Mike Tyson. That Tyson has seemingly been replaced by a new Mike Tyson who kisses babies and thinks pretty highly of himself.
''Mike Tyson at 20 was invincible but not a great person,'' Tyson said. ''Mike Tyson at 38 is a wonderful person and still a great fighter.''
Therapy will do that for a guy, even if he gets hit in the head for a living.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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