AT 5 A.M. THE ONLY LIGHT OUTside is the neon haze hovering over the nearby Vegas strip. Mike Tyson fairly bounds through the gates of his sprawling estate on the hilly outskirts of the city and takes off into the darkness. The daily 10- to 15-mile run begins a relentless, even manic, regimen of road and gym work - interrupted by little other than meals and Islamic prayers - that can stretch more than a dozen hours. ""This is the hungriest he's been in a long time,'' says Tyson comanager Rory Holloway of his fighter's bid to win back the heavyweight title from Evander Holyfield. ""I would never say a loss is good, but Mike needed a challenge.'' Tyson, who says he underestimated Holyfield in their bout last November, projects absolute confidence: ""I'm much more ready this time.''
But on the eve of Saturday night's historic rematch - the biggest purse in boxing history, with each fighter guaranteed $30 million - those close to Tyson say he is battling demons far more formidable than the current champion. Tyson's life is a devastating mix of seething anger, loneliness and estrangement from his close business associates and his entourage of hangers-on. The decision to postpone the rematch from April had less to do with his reported gash near the eye than with his wobbly emotional keel. ""He hates his life and the people he has in it,'' says a friend. ""The fight and the loss made it worse, but the unhappiness has always been there.'' The 30-year-old two-time world champion disdains his promoter, Don King, and distrusts his management team, to which he is bound by a long-term contract. But Tyson scoffs at any notion that he wants out of boxing. ""What am I going to do?'' he asks. ""Be a brain surgeon?''
America, at least white America, has never fully grasped Mike Tyson. First it tried to romanticize him as an up-from-the-streets kid, the stuff of '30s movies. Then, after some nasty incidents and a felony conviction, it demonized him as a savage thug who beat and raped women. The true Tyson is not so easily rendered. He is far more complex and intelligent than he is usually portrayed, a man whose problems have been compounded by a four-year imprisonment that to this day he can't comprehend. ""He feels like he was robbed of four very valuable years, and that really pisses him off,'' says a former employee. Now the loss of his title threatens Tyson's fragile self-respect even further. ""The only thing Mike trusts about himself is his ability to fight and win,'' adds the friend. ""If he doesn't do that, I'm not sure what he has left.''
Tyson would be the first to answer, ""Not much.'' He was conspicuously mis- erable at his own 30th-birthday party, arranged by his assistants last summer - a three-day bash with a $1 million price tag at his 17-acre, 60-room estate in Farmington, Conn. While more than 500 guests, including Snoop Doggy Dogg, Donald Trump and Al Sharpton, feasted on lobster and filet mignon, accompanied by a limitless supply of Cristal and custom-made cigars, Tyson moped about. ""I don't know half the people here,'' he complained. ""This isn't what I wanted.''
Neither, of course, was the loss to Holyfield. Though publicly he handled the beating with class, friends say the emotional knockout that followed was worse than anything that happened in the ring. ""He took it very hard, and it's been hard to figure him out since,'' says a friend and fellow Muslim. ""It was never easy, but now he's just distant from the sport itself.''
Tyson feels painfully alone, even though his entourage usually numbers at least a dozen. He complains that everyone around him is there only for the money, but he never stops lavishing gifts on them. At his birthday party he gave BMWs or Range Rovers to six longtime members of his posse. Shortly after he met a NEWSWEEK reporter, he asked her if she needed any money - not to influence any story, but simply because that's how he deals with people. One former model recalls how, on their second date, ""Mike offered me money. He's a sweetheart like that.'' Tyson shelled out $600,000 for her first business venture, which in five years hasn't shown a profit. That may suggest a certain intimacy, but she says, ""As long as I've known him, I don't know him. He doesn't let you in, and I'm not sure he can.''
Another betrayal: Tyson says simply that he has learned from bitter experience not to trust anyone. ""People f--- you again and again. That's the truth of humanity, and I deal with it by accepting it,'' he said. ""I've been taken advantage of so much, sister, you just don't know.'' While he prides himself on having sent his older brother, Rodney, through pharmacy school, he considers the result just another betrayal. ""Now he doesn't have much to do with me because I'm not smart enough,'' says Tyson. ""He's one of the uppity black people who think they're better because they're smart.'' Rodney declined to comment.
Tyson may sneer, but in fact he reveres intelligence. In prison he read black history and writings by W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass. ""In school you just hear their names,'' he says. ""I was never told to read their actual writing so I could understand where they were coming from. I dug them. Du Bois was a smart cat.'' Though he stopped reading once he left prison - ""I had lots of time then; I don't anymore'' - he likes to talk about contemporary issues. Unlike many black athletes, he preferred dating black women, usually educated, career-minded women. ""I like to talk about what's happening out there,'' says Tyson. ""You can't do that with a dingbat.''
In April he married Monica Turner, a Washington, D.C., physician. Tyson has a 1-year-old daughter with Turner, who's pregnant with their second child. ""I want my kids to be smart,'' he says. The marriage was also, friends believe, an act of defiance against his handlers. Turner has an older daughter whose father is a convicted cocaine dealer serving a lengthy prison sentence. Tyson tired of repeated warnings that Turner was only after his money. He would respond with a look that said, ""And you're not?'' He did not invite any of his longtime business associates to the wedding and reportedly disregarded advice to get a prenuptial agreement. Turner declined to comment for this story.
Many in boxing hope Tyson will learn to steer clear of the bad influences that abound in the fight game. ""Mike's a good guy who needs to be around the right people,'' says Holyfield. ""Otherwise he becomes the people he's around, and that's the bad part.'' It's not clear how much influence his new wife has. They have barely spent any time together since the marriage. While Turner lives in a $10 million home in Maryland, Tyson has been in Las Vegas since the wedding. ""He likes Monica as much as he's going to like anybody, because she hangs back and lets him do his thing,'' said one friend.
Often incomprehensible: Still, Tyson frets about his ability to sustain a relationship with any woman. Of his parents, he recalls ""a lot of fighting and hitting.'' His first marriage, to actress Robin Givens, was ""much the same - fighting all the time.'' He remains so unpredictable and volatile that women often find him menacing. ""I love women, but it's hard for me to communicate with them,'' Tyson says. In truth, it's often hard for him to communicate with anyone. He is given to wild stream-of-consciousness raps that are often incomprehensible. ""He does come in and out of reality,'' says a close associate. ""Having a conversation with him is like talking to a black Robin Williams - 'cept he ain't funny!''
What he ""ain't'' is clearer to Tyson than what he is. ""I really don't know what I am,'' he says. ""I just try to do the best I know how. Nobody should look to me for anything.'' Except, with his boxing legacy now at stake, for the fight of his life. Holyfield pegged him as a bully who would fold up if he got hit back. Indeed, Tyson has never shown the ability to improvise in the ring. He's been in trouble only twice during his pro career, against Holyfield and against Buster Douglas in 1990; both times he was knocked out. ""Mike has never been afraid of anything in his life,'' insists Holloway, his comanager. But the next KO could be permanent. Few believe Tyson has the discipline or the temperament to stay on boxing's periphery waiting, possibly a long time, for another title shot. And if he's not champ, then he's just Mike Tyson - the one prospect that truly does scare him.
The heavyweight division is famous for its much anticipated rematches. Among the most memorable:
DATE CHAMPION CHALLENGER OUTCOME 1927 Gene Tunney Jack Dempsey Tunney survives knockdown thanks to ref's "long count" 1938 Joe Louis Max Schmeling Louis avenges loss--with a first-round knockout 1961 Ingemar Floyd Patterson becomes first ever Johansson Patterson to regain heavyweight title 1965 Cassius Clay Sonny Liston Clay proves he's no fluke with "phantom punch" KO 1975 Muhammad Ali Joe Frazier The "thrilla in Manila"--Ali retains title