Frank Bruno’s rollercoaster relationship with heavyweight rival Mike Tyson

The heavyweight champion of the world feels like a fraud.

He has yet to swing a fist in anger yet sweat is leaking from every pore.

Not even the cacophony swirling around the Las Vegas arena can drown out the doubts flooding his mind.

"Broo-no! Broo-no!," comes the familiar rallying cry of thousands, but the target of their affection has never felt more alone.

As he crosses himself for the umpteenth time, Frank Bruno tries to ignore the dread taking root in the pit of his stomach.

But the man in the opposite corner can see it etched on his face – and Mike Tyson smells blood.

***

Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson have contrasting recollections of their first meeting in the Catskill Mountains.

"He has his opinions and I have mine about what happened," Tyson recalled. "As far as matching skills, I felt I was just as equal, if not better."

Bruno: "I remember being very happy when I left the gym."

At 16, Tyson gave the Brit little further thought but, being four years his senior, Bruno knew a seed had been planted.

"I looked forward to doing it in front of a paying audience one day," he would say later. "Little did I know how long it would take."

A dozen years would pass until Bruno and Tyson touched gloves with the Brit amassing a record of 32-2, including the first of his three defeats in world title fights.

Tyson on the other hand had become the youngest heavyweight world champion in history, bulldozing his way to 35 successive victories with only four requiring the judges' verdict.

But his wrecking-ball tactics were not consigned to the ring and Bruno became the latest victim of his rival's whirlwind private life.

Just as terms were agreed for a Wembley blockbuster in the summer of 1988, Tyson took a wrong turn.

"The guy started to go seriously off the rails," Bruno wrote in his autobiography Frank: Fighting Back . "He was in deep trouble – with his managers, his wife and Don King. Not a bad trio. It was like a very bad episode of EastEnders."

Tyson had lost his coach and mentor Cus D'Amato several years previously before his co-manager Jim Jacobs was diagnosed with leukaemia.

That allowed notorious chancer-cum-promoter Don King to worm his way into Tyson's bloated entourage and his fight with Bruno was pushed from September to October when the champion broke his hand in a bizarre street fight with former opponent Mitch Green.

He then crashed his car into a tree which rendered him unconscious for 20 minutes before a December date was also pushed back when Tyson hurt his hand again, this time in sparring.

The fight was postponed one last time in January 1989 as Bruno gave up on his hopes of luring Tyson to Wembley and settled instead for the Las Vegas Hilton on February 25.

Bruno was also forced to take a pay cut, seeing his purse almost halve from $1.8million to $1m, while Tyson took home a third of his original $9m pay-day.

"I'm happy to be back. I've gone through a lot of distractions recently, but I really think it's good for someone to go through something like this," Tyson said in the build-up, trying to convince himself as much as the world's media.

Deep down, he knew his personal demons had left him under-prepared and unmotivated.

***

Under hypnosis, Bruno had played out the opening to his fight with Tyson hundreds of times – but at no point had it involved being knocked down after 12 seconds.

To make matters worse, Bruno was also deducted a point for punching the back of Tyson's head, but within seconds he rocked the champion with a left hook.

Bruno remembers Tyson swaying "like a drunk" but he couldn't capitalise on his success and the fight quickly went downhill.

Of the 37 punches Bruno landed, 14 came in the first round and for the following 12 minutes he was on a hiding to nothing.

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The Brit had no answer to Tyson's speed and relentless marauding and the towel came in from his corner in the fifth round before referee Richard Steele waved the fight off.

"I was trying to rough him up," Bruno said later. "I was in there and I've done what I've got to do and I feel ashamed. But there was a lot of pressure."

Rubbing salt into the wounds, Tyson admitted: "I was not in good shape but I had to go with what I had.

"It wasn't vintage Mike Tyson and I was up against a guy who came to fight. To begin with I thought it was going to be a long fight, but as it went on I knew I could break him."

Within hours, Bruno was offered £5m for a rematch at Wembley the following year. "Don't be a mug Frank" screamed the Daily Mirror' s headline in response.

Venerable boxing correspondent Ron Wills continued: "He's not [a winner]. He's a gentleman, a likeable guy with a sense of humour and a lot of charisma.

"Bruno has the goodwill of the nation behind him and it would be a shame if he tossed that all away by chasing his "impossible dream" of winning the world heavyweight title.

"He should forget boxing. It should now be part of his past… and deep down he probably knows it too."

And for a while Bruno did forget the ring as even in defeat he found himself armed with a new-found celebrity status.

But after appearing as the genie in a Christmas pantomime of Aladdin and starring in HP Sauce adverts, he was lured back to the hardest of endeavours.

***

Ever since he was a teenager, Bruno had struggled with his right eye.

Told he wasn't fit to box professionally because he was short-sighed, a 19-year-old Bruno found himself alone in Bogota, Columbia, the drugs capital of the world.

More pertinently, it was one of two places on the planet practicing revolutionary new eye surgery.

Now, eight years after Professor Jose Ignacio Barraquer had salvaged his career, Bruno's bruising battle with Tyson had left him with a tear on the retina of the same eye.

Another successful operation followed and Bruno was given the green light to resume his career. Four knockout victories followed before a crushing third world title defeat, this time against fellow Brit Lennox Lewis.

In the meantime, Tyson's spiralling personal life finally caught up with his career when he was stopped by Buster Douglas in the biggest upset in boxing history.

He would return to rattle off four successive wins before he was sentenced to six years in prison in 1992 for raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington.

And as fate would have it, when Tyson made his comeback against Peter McNeeley three years later, his career would again soon be intertwined with Bruno's.

***

In the immediate aftermath of his crowning achievement and the realisation of a life-long dream, Bruno had only one name on his mind.

"One dream has come true. I've just one more to go," he told the Daily Mirror . "Another meeting with Tyson – then I'll end on that note. I respect Tyson, love him . He has charisma and is great for the game. But I can't wait to get in there with him again."

Behind the bold front however, Bruno's joy at outpointing Oliver McCall at Wembley quickly faded to be replaced with fear and trepidation.

He had taken a punch on his already-weakened right eye which left it flickering even as he arrived in Las Vegas for his sequel with Tyson.

"I knew something was wrong, but I didn't want to see a doctor," Bruno wrote. "I didn't want anyone telling me my career was already over. I knew the truth – I just wanted to postpone it for one more fight."

With a $6m pay-day on the line (Tyson would earn $30m), Bruno's trainer George Francis planned to distract the Commission doctor's examination with mundane small talk about anything from casinos to the weather.

Remarkably, it worked and Bruno was passed fit – but he knew he was a lamb heading for slaughter.

Tyson, too, was playing down expectations having spent just 10 minutes in the ring since his early release from prison.

"I had only been out of jail for a year, and Don already had me fighting Frank Bruno for his belt, but I wasn't really in shape either physically or emotionally for that sort of pressure again," he wrote in his autobiography Undisputed Truth.

But while Bruno buckled, Tyson thrived.

Bruno : "I enter the ring sweating and crossing myself – seventeen times, some people say. The TV people will play that shot again and again.

"They'll say I'm scared s***less. It's not that simple. Deep down, I'm not happy about being here. I don't feel like a champion. How can I be the real champion if the bookies have me at 10-1? I should feel brilliant. I feel sick."

Tyson : "When Bruno entered the ring, I smelled the fear on him. His own promoter noted later that as soon as Bruno's dressing room door opened for his ring walk, 'It was as if someone had put a pin to Bruno and all the air rushed out'.

"I knew that Bruno really didn't want to be in there, so all I had to do was be tough and hit him with some good shots and it would be a wrap."

He wasn't wrong.

By his own admission, Bruno failed to land a single good punch as his title meekly slipped away via a third-round stoppage.

Tyson would go on to fight for another nine years but lose his biggest bouts.

For Bruno, his right retina now torn and his boxing licence in the bin, his biggest battle, with his mental health, was about to begin.

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