By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- From the minute Mike Tyson alighted the black Tahoe and set foot on Phelps Street, he was surrounded by autograph seekers.
As he walked a few feet along the sidewalk to the Downtown Boxing Club for a workout, his entourage and a few members of the media followed.
Inside, the former world heavyweight boxing champion gathered several more on-lookers amid a multitude of video cameras in the gym. The indoor entrance scene was quite quiet.
The only person the famed fighter approached openly was Sherman McBride of Aliquippa, Pa. Tyson and McBride, a friend, embraced.
Then Tyson walked around slowly, inspecting posters which were hanging on the walls around the combination gym/billiards hall.
In no hurry
Other than being an hour and 10 minutes late for the workouts, the wait was worth it.
But, from a media person's perspective, it wasn't fruitful.
"Gag order" and "squelched speech" describe the limitations faced by reporters.
"We do our interviews at press conferences," a handler of Tyson's said when the fighter was approached for comments.
Supposedly, earlier in the day, Tyson -- or his party -- had an unfavorable experience.
It's not that Tyson, who is preparing for exhibition fight at the Chevrolet Centre on Friday, objected to questions.
"I don't mind," he said before quashed by his handler's directive to the contrary.
A television reporter who said he came all the way from Italy begged to have a chance to ask "Iron Mike" some questions.
When the tattooed Tyson moved toward the media crowd, he finally got trapped. But his retorts were without value.
Asked about his reaction to the attention he's received in the last few weeks, Tyson replied, 'Grazie, grazie, grazie.'"
What were you working on in the ring? the fighter was asked following his light workout session with trainer Jeff Fenech.
"Moves," Tyson said.
What are people going to see Friday?
"Mike Steele," said Tyson, pointing to his T-shirt advertising the name of candidate Michael Steele for U.S. Senate.
You're not going to wear a shirt in the ring?
No bare chest?
"That would be interesting," he said, "but I want to wear this shirt to represent Michael Steele," he said of his promotion of the Maryland politician.
During his 45-minute workout, Tyson (50-6, 44 KOs) delivered punches against hand pads worn by Fenech, a former super featherweight champion.
"We were trying to work on getting his timing back and throwing a few combinations that he'll use in the exhibition," Fenech said of Tyson's bout against Corey "T-Rex" Sanders (25-2-1, 14 KOs).
"He's a big guy," Fenech said of the 6-6, 330-pound Sanders. "We're trying to work him [Sanders] hard to the body and cut that tree to the bottom."
Tyson's friend, McBride, is the nephew of New Jersey boxing commissioner Larry Hazzard. Sherman said he's been at many Tyson fights in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Memphis over the years and he still tries to stay in touch.
"I support Mike," McBride said while waiting for Tyson to arrived on Tuesday.
The 42-year-old McBride, an assistant football coach at Aliquippa High School, is pleased to see Tyson's conversion from his troubled past.
"It used to be Mike and 20 other people and he used to try to please everybody," he said. "Now it's just Mike making decisions that are best for him. That's good because, when you make decisions on your own, you have no one to blame but yourself. Maybe he'll be a little more accountable."
It'll be a month before Michael Steele knows whether he's a winner, but Tyson will know after Friday night.
"I feel like a man of steel," Tyson said.
No better place to prove it than downtown Youngstown.