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Sunday, January 27, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rugged `Razor' Ruddock Aims For World Title

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA - The late Cus D'Amato had a dream: If he somehow were to gain absolute control of a great natural athlete in his formative years, he would produce a heavyweight champion the likes of whom the world never had seen.

D'Amato came tantalizingly close to realizing that vision. Six years before he died in 1985, the legendary trainer was granted custody of a 13-year-old incorrigible named Mike Tyson, whose rage and power, coupled with D'Amato's instruction, took him to the undisputed heavyweight title and an aura of near-invincibility.

But even as Tyson soaked up the old teacher's vast store of boxing knowledge, D'Amato understood that his prize pupil always would lack the physical ingredients to take the dream to the limit. Tyson was not magnificently gifted in the manner of, say, a Bo Jackson or a Jose Canseco, superior athletes in other sports who more closely approximated the image from which D'Amato had hoped to fashion his masterwork.

You have to wonder, then, what might have happened if D'Amato had been presented with someone such as Donovan ``Razor'' Ruddock.

Ruddock, 27, a Canadian citizen by way of Jamaica, is widely regarded as the finest pure athlete in the heavyweight division, perhaps in all of boxing. He is 6-3 and 228 pounds, an explosive puncher with a mean streak in the ring that rivals that of Tyson himself. He has played hockey and tennis, and although he never has tried baseball, his prowess at knocking mangoes out of trees with stones made him something of a legend during his childhood in St. Catherine, Jamaica.

``I am blessed,'' Ruddock said when asked about his athletic ability. ``But there is nothing that, for me, can compare to boxing. When I knock someone out, it is like I am on top of the world.''

On top of the world is where Ruddock will be should he defeat Tyson March 18 in Las Vegas in a bout that will have significant impact on the division's future. The winner will fight for the title against the winner of the next day's bout between undisputed champion Evander Holyfield and George Foreman, 42, in Atlantic City's Convention Hall.

By his reckoning, Ruddock should have become undisputed heavyweight champion last Nov. 18, the date he was supposed to challenge Tyson in Edmonton. But Tyson, claiming illness, canceled out and opted instead for a Feb. 10 fight with James ``Buster'' Douglas in Tokyo. Douglas, who since has been dethroned by Holyfield, wound up taking Tyson's title on a shocking 10th-round knockout.

``When they canceled the fight, Don King (Tyson's promoter) said Tyson was sick,'' said Ruddock, who is 25-1-1 with 18 knockouts and is rated the No. 2 contender by the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation. ``Four days later, he was dancing at a disco. How sick could he have been? The whole episode made me very suspicious. I think Tyson pulled out of his fight with me because either he or King, maybe both, didn't think he would beat me.''

Ruddock has filed a $75 million lawsuit against King, which he has said will be dropped when the rescheduled bout takes place.

Ruddock, an intensely private man, does not grant many interviews and, when he does, must be prodded to reveal information about himself. He is confident in his talent and will talk about that when asked. But question him about anything personal - his fear of mountain climbing is one notable exception - and his mood turns chilly.

``Why would anyone want to know about it, anyway?'' he said. ``The only thing that should matter is what I do in the ring.''

Ruddock's promoter, Murad Muhammad, is not nearly so reticent. Until such time as the rest of the planet comes to share his belief that Ruddock is the best heavyweight around, Muhammad considers it his sacred duty to spread the gospel.

Take a recent incident between Ruddock and Tyson, for instance. The two were on the same fight card in Atlantic City earlier this month, and Ruddock grabbed the former champion's arm as they and members of their entourages were going up to their respective hotel suites in an elevator.

``Donny grabbed Tyson and said, `I'm next, right? You're not going to pull out on me this time, right?' '' Muhammad said.

``Think about that for a minute. When was the last time anybody had the nerve to put his hands on Mike Tyson? A lot of guys talk tough, but the reality is that they're afraid of the man. But Donny isn't afraid of any man.''

Ruddock's parents emigrated to Canada in 1974, when he was 11, and he spent the next several years in search of a sport that would quench his competitive thirst. He tried hockey, which was the big thing with his new neighbors, but his affinity for checking and launching laser-beam slap shots was tempered by the fact that his skating left something to be desired.

Next up was tennis, after he was given an old racket with strings missing as a present.

``I used to go to the park and hit balls against a wall,'' Ruddock said. ``I did that for a whole year, then I started beating guys who had played their whole lives.

``When I was 14, I won a local amateur tournament in Toronto. But after that it began getting very expensive. I didn't have the money to go to country clubs. My mom had five kids.''

A classmate, Rico Rossi, then suggested boxing, which suited Ruddock's personality and his wallet.

``In boxing,'' Ruddock said, ``all you need are a pair of gloves.''

Ruddock quickly established himself as one of the top prospects in Canada by winning the Toronto Golden Gloves for middleweights and the All-Ontario light-heavyweight title.

In a sense, Ruddock still is learning his craft. He had only 19 amateur fights (17-2), and he dismisses his only loss as a pro - a ninth-round technical knockout by journeyman David Jaco on April 30, 1985 - as nothing more than a learning experience.

``I was only 180 or so pounds then,'' Ruddock said. ``A baby.''

There are times when Ruddock still appears to be growing up as a fighter. He was knocked down in the second round of his July 2, 1989, bout with former WBA champion James ``Bonecrusher'' Smith, but came back to win on a seventh-round knockout. He appeared a bit out of control and, at 240 pounds, overweight against Kimmuel Odom last Aug. 19, but still won on a third-round TKO.

Yet, when he connects the way he did in his breakthrough fight, a third-round knockout of former WBA champion Michael Dokes last April 4 in Madison Square Garden, the effect can be memorable.

Dokes, who had gone 10 tough rounds with Holyfield the previous year, was knocked unconscious by a series of three lefts that were half-uppercut, half-hook. ``I thought Dokes was dead the way he fell,'' said veteran Las Vegas matchmaker Mel ``Red'' Greb.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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