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The Mike Tyson Chronicles: Clifford Etienne – Boxing News

By Geno McGahee

On June 8th, 2002, Mike Tyson would be exposed as a shell of his former self and not a true contender at the hands of reigning world champion, Lennox Lewis. Prior to the bout with Lewis, many were picking “Iron Mike” to regain the heavyweight title, citing the supposed weak chin of the defending champion and the toughness of Tyson. Commentator Bobby Czyz noted that there is a difference between being good and being tough and he didn’t consider Lewis tough enough to handle Tyson…many didn’t.

The Mike Tyson aura was still there and even after he crashed to the floor against Lewis, there were still remnants and the thought that he could get it all back if he was mentally right and physically fit. The people had invested so much into Tyson and it was hard to come to the realization that he was shot as a fighter. The people didn’t want to admit it and the promoters didn’t want Tyson to stop because he drew a crowd and after a few more quick knockouts of mediocrities, he’d be back into a big payday.

So an opponent had to be chosen that would make Tyson look good and trick the people into thinking that another successful chapter of his legacy had begun. The opponent was “The Black Rhino” Clifford Etienne, 24-1-1, 17 KO’s.

Etienne had a great story and was an attraction on HBO and pay per views for some time. His aggressive style and punch output made him a fan favorite and how he found boxing and what his aspirations were made him a must see. Boxing fans love stories of redemption.

Serving a 40 year sentence for armed robbery, Etienne found the sport of boxing. He would go on to win the state prison boxing championship, building a record of 30-0, and through good behavior he would be released from prison after serving 10 years of his sentence. The plan was simple after his release: win the heavyweight title.

The professional career of Etienne began very well, winning mostly by quick knockout. He was making an impression on the fans and the boxing media as well, prompting some to even compare him to Joe Frazier. The comparison was fair. Their styles were very similar and they both had very big hearts. Frazier had a lot more talent and a better chin, but in the beginning stages of Etienne’s career, most had high hopes for him and there was the potential there that he could be something great.

In 2000, he squared off against future WBO Heavyweight Champion Lamon Brewster and outworked him over ten rounds, winning a wide decision. He would follow up with what many considered the heavyweight fight of the year when he took on Lawrence Clay-Bey on a pay per view televised undercard bout in late 2000. Clay-Bey couldn’t fend off “The Black Rhino” and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of punches that were being thrown at him. Etienne took some big shots but walked through them and kept pushing forward. This win and the victory over Brewster drew the attention of champion Lennox Lewis. Another American undefeated contender with fan support and a lot of positive television exposure was on the verge of challenging.

Etienne’s world would crumble on March 23, 2001, when he stepped in to face lightly regarded Fres Oquendo. Etienne would be sent to the floor by right hands over and over again before he stopped getting up in the eighth round. All of the “next Joe Frazier” talk was quickly stopped and “The Black Rhino” was all but forgotten.

Quietly he would resume his career, putting together five victories over mediocre opposition before landing another showcase bout against “The White Buffalo” Frans Botha on Showtime. It was another memorable war, much like the Clay-Bey encounter. Both men would hit the floor and when the dust settled, the bout was scored a draw, although most thought Botha won the fight. A bout with Mike Tyson was hanging in the balance for the winner, although it was highly unlikely that Botha would get another crack at Mike under any circumstance. The interest was in Etienne and when he escaped without a loss on his record, the match with Mike was made.

Mike Tyson, 49-4, 43 KO’s, built a career after his disqualification defeat to Evander Holyfield in 1997 on mediocre opposition. His return fight after the DQ loss was to Frans Botha, where he attempted to break his opponent’s arm on several occasions and was losing the fight before finding the right hand in the fifth round. The word concerning the fight was that Tyson was getting even more violent and unpredictable and that made him a huge attraction. He was a train wreck and the fans were eager to see him again.

On another not to good night for Mike, he clobbered Orlin Norris after the bell, resulting in a no contest, but even more positive/negative press…depending how you look at it. A couple fights later, he fought Lou Savarese and stormed in early, dropping big Lou in the first ten seconds of the fight and flurrying directly after, prompting the ref to call it, but that wasn’t good enough for Mike. He leapt over the official and threw more punches at Savarese before order was finally restored. Tyson by TKO in 38 seconds of madness, but the crazier stuff would happen in the post fight interview. The infamous “eat his children” remark was said when speaking of Lennox Lewis. His comments were so random and strange that it created more of the new aura of Mike Tyson. He was crazy. Mostly it was hype to remain marketable but some of it was surely Tyson. His confidence wasn’t what it once was because his skills had deteriorated and he was having trouble with opposition that he would have destroyed years before. The arm breaking, head butting, and extra anxiety in the ring was due to his realization that he was not the young force he once was.

The loss to Lennox Lewis was proof that Tyson was not what he once was or was even a threat to the championship, but people still bought into the insanity and one of those people was Clifford Etienne.

The bout was set for February 22, 2003, but it looked like it wasn’t going to come off. Tyson was reportedly ill, missed training, and got a tattoo on his face the week of the fight. It was obvious to most that the fight wouldn’t be going through. Showtime and Tyson’s manager Shelly Finkel worked to reschedule the fight, and Etienne seemed relieved, but people spoke too soon and Tyson was back in and ready to fight. Etienne then threatened to pull out, but money spoke and he was back in as well.

In the ring, Etienne paced with a look of dread upon his face. He was terrified. There were moments of false bravado during his introduction, but he was coming face to face with a legend. Etienne began his career in 1998. By that time, Mike Tyson was already a 2-Time Heavyweight Champion. It is fair to say that Etienne probably watched a Tyson fight before beginning his boxing career, and followed it closely like any other boxing fan did at the time. For him to be face to face with him, prepared to duke it out, was too much for him and it was obvious before the first bell even rang.

The opening bell rang and the two bulls charged at each other. It was boxing suicide by Etienne but he didn’t know any other way to fight and that is why he was there to begin with. A jab by Etienne didn’t land and Tyson stormed, although the best punch initially was a hard right hook by “The Black Rhino.” It didn’t faze Tyson. Tyson latched onto Etienne’s left arm and they fall into the ropes, giving the indication that we may be in for another strange Tyson night. When Etienne got to his feet, he immediately complained to the referee about the tactics of his opponent. The objection went ignored and the action resumed.

Etienne lunged in swinging blindly at Tyson, almost making the subconscious decision to get it over with and it didn’t take long. A right hand landed on Clifford’s chin and sent him to the floor and he remained down for the count. He was actually helped to his feet by Tyson. Iron Mike used to help his fallen opponents to his feet in his early career.

It took only 49 seconds for Tyson to return to the top of the heavyweight’s list of title contenders. A rematch with Lennox Lewis was there if Mike wanted it, but he didn’t and rightfully so. Other champions were more sensible, but it was still unlikely that Mike could regain the title for a third time.

After the fight, Tyson took over a year off and then chose Danny Williams as his next opponent. Initially Kevin McBride, an Irish heavyweight, was the choice but it was considered such a mismatch, it was refused and Williams was accepted. Williams was tough but didn’t seem to have the chin or defense to fend off Tyson. Amazingly, he did. Tyson would lose by TKO in four rounds to Williams and then even more amazingly, lose by TKO to Kevin McBride in his next fight. His boxing career was over.

Things were even worse for Etienne. After losing to Tyson, he won 5 out of 6 bouts against journeymen, drawing with Gilbert Martinez, a fighter that is used to losing. He would step up and be stopped in the third round by both Calvin Brock and Nikolay Valuev. Etienne was “the next Joe Frazier” and now he was just a journeyman…it was quite a drop, but there was plenty more room to fall.

In early August of 2005, Etienne was arrested, charged with armed robbery, kidnapping, and attempted murder of a police officer. He carjacked a woman with her children in tow, after robbing a check cashing business, and pulled a gun on a police officer. In the trial, the defense argued that Etienne was high on drugs and sustained injuries to his brain in the ring and there should be mercy shown upon him for that. There was none. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison. It was a story of redemption and then one of tragedy. Considering the cocaine in his system during his crime spree, you have to wonder what role the drug played in his defeats in the ring and what he could have been had he stayed clean. He has plenty of time to think about it now as he sits in a cell, locked away for the rest of his life.

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