LAS VEGAS - Any questions the boxing world may have harbored as to whether Mike Tyson could regain the aura of invincibility he displayed before losing his undisputed heavyweight title to Buster Douglas seven years ago were eradicated last night. Tyson battered World Boxing Council champion Frank Bruno of England into a state of helplessness after only 50 seconds of the third round.
With this devastating display, Tyson, who had spent three years in prison on a rape conviction before launching his ring comeback last August, recaptured the first piece of the fragmented heavyweight crown.
There were rumors that he had appeared flat and vulnerable in training, but this was vintage Tyson, a relentless fighting machine who had little or no respect for Bruno's punching reputation.
In fact, this was a much more thorough job than his five-round mop-up of Bruno in this same gambling capital six years ago. Nor did he show the wild streaks that were in evidence in his two brief tuneup bouts last year against Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr.
"I was going after the knockout in the first round," said Tyson, showing real emotion for the first time in the week culminating with last night's fight. "I threw punches in bunches. I wanted to bring him down. I knew he couldn't stand up to my power.
"Bruno was holding from the opening bell. He knew he was going to get knocked out."
With classic British understatement, the battered Bruno said: "I'm brokenhearted. Mike Tyson is better than I thought."
Perhaps the only salvation was the $6 million purse Bruno earned in his first defense since winning the crown on his fourth attempt by out-pointing former Tyson sparring partner Oliver McCall last September.
Tyson, 29, the biggest attraction in boxing, added $30 million to the $35 million total he earned in pulverizing McNeeley and Mathis.
This had the electric atmosphere of a major international sporting event, with more than 4,000 British fans in attendance, many of them draped in the Union Jack. They began cheering and chanting "Bruno" in unison hours before the main event began.
Their unconditional support of England's most popular sports hero had lowered the odds in the betting shops from 10-1 on Friday morning to 5 1/2 -1 by noon yesterday.
Tyson, in the unfamiliar role of challenger, was the first to enter the ring, decked out in his familiar stark black cutoff shirt, unadorned trunks and shoes, sans socks. He received a big ovation, but nothing to compare to the greeting for Bruno, wearing a satin red, blue and white robe and looking supremely confident.
The partisanship intensified during the playing of the two national anthems.
Tyson, who at 220 was giving away 27 pounds and some five inches to his towering British rival, rushed out of his corner at the opening bell and scored with a looping right high on Bruno's brow.
Bruno quickly tied up Tyson inside, but got knocked against the ropes by another overhand right. After Tyson scored with a right to the body, Bruno countered with a hard combination.
Now the two heavyweights stood in mid-ring exchanging potential knockout blows as the sellout crowd of 16,783 roared in approval. A left-right combination by Tyson did the most damage before the bell sounded.
Tyson maintained a relentless attack at the start of the second round, firing rapid punches out of his "peek-a-boo" stance. A vicious left hook wobbled Bruno.
When Bruno refused to break from a clinch, veteran referee Mills Lane, working his 86th title fight, deducted a point from the champion. Relief was short-lived for Bruno. He could not withstand Tyson's next charge in the opening seconds of round three.
Nine straight brutal blows, highlighted by a pair of head-rocking uppercuts, left the Brit helplessly dangling over the bottom strand of ropes. Lane did not bother to count, simply waving his hands to signify the end while removing Bruno's mouthpiece.
Tyson had hopes of unifying the crown by the end of 1996 with victories over current World Boxing Association champion Bruce Seldon and International Boxing Federation king Francois Botha, South Africa.
Seldon was scheduled to be next, but was put on hold after backers of former WBC champion Lennox Lewis, of Canada, won their battle in New Jersey Superior Court restraining Tyson from defending his WBC belt against anyone else before fighting him.
With Lewis already scheduled to meet Ray Mercer in a May nontitle match, that could push a showdown with Tyson back to September.
But after his devastating performance against Bruno, none of the contenders will be in a special hurry to test his will and power.
In an earlier bout, Washington's Keith Holmes knocked out World Boxing Council middleweight champion Quincy Taylor of Dallas with a ninth-round flurry.
Holmes (28-1, 18 KOs), who jabbed and danced his way to a slim lead over the first eight rounds, suddenly exploded a right cross on Taylor's chin in the ninth round.
Taylor (26-4, 22 KOs) crumpled in a neutral corner, but managed to beat referee Richard Steele's count. But there was no escaping Holmes, who landed 11 unanswered blows, including a crunching left hook before Steele stopped it at 1: 43 of the round.
In another undercard bout, International Boxing Federation middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, of Philadelphia, caught Joe Lipsey of Lansing, Mich., with several stiff combinations in the third round before finishing him with a lightning barrage at 2:50 of the fourth round.
Also, WBC strawweight champion Ricardo Lopez of Mexico stretched his unbeaten record to 41-0 by knocking out dogged Ala Villamor of the Philippines at 40 seconds of the eighth round.
And two-time former champion Michael Carbajal (39-2, 24 KOs) of Phoenix won a unanimous decision over Melchor Cob-Castro (45-4-4, 19 KOs) of Mexico to claim the vacant IBF junior-flyweight title.
Pub Date: 3/17/96