LAS VEGAS -- Confident of beating former heavyweight champion Tony Tucker for the vacant World Boxing Association title at Caesars Palace tonight, Bruce Seldon got tearful discussing his post-victory plans in his home state of New Jersey.
"I'm going to the gravesites of my mother, and my former manager and trainer, Carmen Graziano, to give thanks for all they did for me." he said. "They were the most important people in my shaping my life."
First, Seldon must disprove his reputation as one of professional boxing's underachieving heavyweights.
Seldon's heart and commitment came into question after he seemingly quit in his corner in the ninth round after being ahead on the judges' cards in his nontitle fight with Oliver McCall in his hometown of Atlantic City in April 1991.
Four months later, Seldon (31-3, 27 KOs) lasted less than a round against Riddick Bowe. Like many fighters, he has ready explanations.
"Before I fought McCall, I was fighting the flu for six weeks," he said. "But I'd never pulled out of a fight. It was a tough fight, a crowd-pleaser. But by the ninth round, I was just exhausted. Carmen told me: 'Don't kill yourself to prove something to your fans. You can live to fight another day.'
"Bowe? I was too hyped up fighting before my hometown fans. I just got tagged. But that happened four years ago. Why do people still dwell on that? Losing is part of being a fighter. It happens."
A lot happened to Seldon when he was growing up, most of it bad.
At 15, he was sentenced to five years in a juvenile facility for armed robbery. While incarcerated, he learned to box and earned his high school equivalency certificate.
"I believe I could have excelled at almost any sport, especially football and basketball," Seldon said. "In basketball, I could jump and dunk with the best of them.
"But boxing was the only sport that didn't require a college education before turning pro. Once I tried it, I knew I'd be good at it."
No one questioned the potential of Seldon, 6 feet 1, 230 pounds, only his resolve.
"I was young, athletic and single, so girls were always flashing around me," Seldon said. "I'd be partying every night."
Two years ago, Seldon met restaurant owner Joseph Devone and attorney Rocco DePersia. They persuaded him to leave Atlantic City and bought him a home in Gloucester Township, N.J.
"It's real quiet here. I'm a married man now, with a wife and three kids," he said. "If I'm not with them, I'm in the gym down the road. I have no distractions now."
In Tucker, Seldon can almost see himself. An athletic 6-5, 235 pounds, Tucker (52-2) squandered the prime of his boxing life fighting a drug problem.
Tucker, 35, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., held the International Boxing Federation title for two months in 1987 before losing a 12-round decision to Mike Tyson. But the moment Tucker carries from that fight came in the second round, when he lifted Tyson off the canvas with a vicious uppercut.
"When I landed the punch," he said, "the pain in my right hand was so excruciating, I knew it must be broken. I fought the rest of that fight with just my left. It just wasn't enough."
Tucker would not fight again for two years, allowing his hand to heal and also overcoming managerial and drug problems.
He won his next 14 bouts, including victories over McCall, the current World Boxing Council champion, but hardly anyone took notice. He won faint praise. In 1993, Tucker became the mandatory challenger for Lennox Lewis' WBC crown and lost in a lackluster 12-round bout.
Said Tucker: "I kept praying for another title shot. I was hoping to fight George Foreman. But it just didn't happen."
The WBA stripped Foreman of his title and selected Tucker and Seldon as the heirs apparent.
"I've been transformed into a beast, a madman," said Tucker. "I'm much more mature than when I fought Tyson. This man [Seldon] is standing in the way of prophecy that I will win the title."
With Tyson back after serving a three-year term for rape, Tucker and Seldon are hoping to serve as future opponents.
"Everyone knows whoever wins this fight could get a shot at Tyson," said Tucker. "That's my motivation to beat Seldon."
Countered Seldon: "Tucker's a crafty veteran, but he's not aggressive, and he's 35. I'm younger, faster and stronger. And when I sign to fight Tyson, I'll be wearing a big smile on my way to the bank."