FISTS OF FURY

A lot of people think the angriest man in America is Newt Gingrich. My money's on Mike Tyson.

Poor Mike. Invite a girl up to the room for a couple of smoked-salmon canapes and a nice discussion of the Lake poets, and look what they do to you. Three years later you're still wearing a shackle on your leg and some 61-year-old stuffed full of cheeseburgers is the heavyweight champion of the world.

Well, not for long.
Come March 25 (how time flies), Tyson will be all done Windexing countertops in the mess hall and just about ready to vent a few of his pent-up frustrations. However, because the boxing world is still not known for its great clarity of thought, the potential objects of Tyson's rage are lining up for slaughter like there's no tomorrow.

For some of them, there won't be. The garden party that's been trilling along for three years in the heavyweight division is over. The scam is up. The big fraud is about to be exposed.

Take George Foreman. All of him. Last November 5, the sun was finally setting on the former champ's endless career when he caught southpaw Michael Moorer a shot in the tenth round. Ten seconds later Foreman became America's most revered sports hero--a champion again at 46 and an inspiration to every ex-jock and half-sloshed couch potato on the planet. Good for Foreman. In middle age, this former lout has reinvented himself as an appealing, witty, lovable guy who names all his sons after himself, laces up the Everlasts just for fun and, he says, actually feels kinda fatherly and gentle while he's banging away on the young ham-and-eggers who pass for heavyweights these days. Wonderful guy, that George.

That's why some people don't want to see his brains splashed all over the canvas in a fight with Tyson--even in what is projected to be the first $100 million fight.

It's a good bet that the toughest guys in the joint haven't been blindsiding Iron Mike in the shower. It's an even better bet that, despite three years on ice, Tyson can still take out glass-jawed Michael Moorer-- while wearing his handcuffs. Come to think of it, Moorer has threatened to quit the ring for a career in law enforcement.

Not so the undersized ex-champ Evander Holyfield. After doctors discovered he had a leaky heart, he retired. Now he's back. But if Tyson gets ahold of him, the hole in his heart will probably be fist-sized. As for the British-Canadian-Jamaican pretender Lennox Lewis, his theme song might be One Punch and I'm Gone, Mum. And the flaky Riddick Bowe? After losing both of his titles to the aforementioned Mr. Holyfield, he landed the best left-right combination of his subsequent effort against Larry Donald at a press conference three weeks before the fight.

These are not the only people who want to get into the ring with Mike Tyson as soon as he gets out of the slammer. The ever-lengthening victim list also includes Larry Holmes (Foreman's co-antique on the Senior Tour), the artless Oliver McCall (who dispensed the hapless Lewis for the WBC title before most of the wiseguys even got to their $5,000 seats) and, of course, James "Buster" Douglas.

You remember Buster, don't you? It was this paragon of the game who on February 11, 1990, caught an ill-prepared, lackadaisical Mike Tyson on a bad night in Tokyo. Right there on HBO, he stunned the fight world by knocking Tyson out. So Buster must be pretty tough, right? The real thing. Well, sort of. Except that Douglas fought only once more after starching the champ. By the spring of 1993 he had lost a bit of his fighting trim--going from 231 pounds up to, let's see here, 320.

Last week Buster Douglas came out of retirement, weighing a svelte 283 and possessed of a blazing fire in his eye. Fine. Except that Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist who believes he should never have gone to prison to begin with and who happens to be one of the toughest heavyweights in history, would probably like nothing better than to get his hooks one more time into Buster Douglas.

After he beats the wit out of George Foreman.
And violently detaches Lennox Lewis's British accent.
And turns Oliver McCall into Oliver Hardy.

So Buster will just have to wait in line to get his beating. In the meantime, don't you think a Tyson/Gingrich matchup would suit America's boxing fans just fine? Both men, after all, have a Contract With America. With his, Newt says he wants to slash government. Iron Mike Tyson, on the other hand, clearly means to slash anyone he can gets his fists on.

Think he can't do it? Ask those four walls.

The way Dr. Naismith saw it, the brown thing is a basketball and the round thing is a hoop.

For most of this godawful season, these rudiments have escaped the attention of your Denver Nuggets. They've also been a little short on team play, polite talk in the dressing room and good, old-fashioned hustle. The inspired young club that knocked the mighty Seattle Supersonics off their playoff perch last May seems to have gone south, and neither the shocking resignation of the Nuggets' coach nor the loss of their poster child to injury seems to tell the whole story.

Fact is, they aren't very good--with or without Dan Issel and LaPhonso Ellis.
Only time will tell if Emperor Bickerstaff's new kick-ass policy will turn the team around anytime soon, but Rodney Rogers and Brian Williams are two guys likely to feel the early impact of Bernie's wingtip. Upon learning Bickerstaff had replaced interim coach Gene Littles (3-13 since the Horse galloped off), Williams started talking about the need for "cohesion" rather than "Stalinistic purges where you operate under a level of fear." Rogers figured out he might have to play a little defense this year.

As for the Big Guy with the nine names, he remains the club's leader in both "D" and self-absorption. But it seems likely Mutombo will be talking less in coming weeks about his rightful place on the All-Star roster and his individual stats than about getting the Nuggs back to the playoffs: He's way too smart not to hear Bernie's tune playing in his ear.

If Bickerstaff's sudden move to the bench--he's now the club's general manager, president and head coach--had the air of a Central American coup about it, the timing couldn't have been better. Those weren't the Houston Rockets or the Phoenix Suns rolling into Big Mac last Tuesday night; those were the NBA's Designated Bad Jokes, the Los Angeles Clippers, winners of just nine games all season. Right on cue, the revved-up Nuggets handed Bickerstaff a 118-80 blowout win in his debut.

The happiest man in the house, and the most relieved, had to be Littles, who returns to his top-assistant post a contented man.

Bickerstaff's dictatorship--er, stint as head coach--has the look of endurance about it. He is a resolute, iron-jawed type, and most Nuggets observers think it will take six armed guards and a snowplow to get him off the sideline.

Still, Bickerstaff's the one who must ultimately see to it that the brown thing starts going through the round thing. If he doesn't do it, he could find himself looking for three new jobs in a year or so.

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