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An oral history of Spokane boxer Chauncy Welliver’s two-round spar with Mike Tyson

Multimillion-dollar offers have been coming at Mike Tyson like a flurry of his powerful uppercuts.

None has landed.

Ever since a 53-year-old Tyson – arguably the most iconic and polarizing figure in boxing history – proclaimed “I’m back!” in a recent training video, bids for a comeback fight have been pouring in and ultimately turned down.

Fifteen years removed from his previous bout, Tyson appeared to be in fighting shape as he ferociously attacked the padded hands of his trainer, movement reminiscent of his former heavyweight champion glory.

Some of the biggest cash offers have reportedly come from from promoters pushing unconventional opponents, including retired Mixed Martial Arts legend Tito Ortiz and veteran MMA brawler Wanderlei Silva.

Sonny Bill Williams, a New Zealand rugby star turned professional boxer, was among the first fighters recently turned away by Tyson.

The same athletic, muscle-bound Williams defeated Spokane native Chauncy Welliver – a 6-foot-2, 300-pound boxer known locally as the “The Hillyard Hammer” – in a 2015 fight in Australia.

But Welliver, once ranked as high as fifth in the world by the World Boxing Council, was asked to fight Tyson, albeit 18 years ago and in a sparring session.

He obliged.

“That’s asking a high school basketball player, ‘Hey, want to shoot hoops with Michael Jordan?’ Or asking a baseball player if they wanted Nolan Ryan to throw a pitch,” Welliver said. “Want Joe Montana to throw a football to you? It was a beautiful offer to have, really.

“Tyson was the king of my sport.”

Welliver, 37, recently gave his account of the time he exchanged blows with Iron Mike in January 2002.

Chauncy Welliver, right, shadow boxes with his brother Rick at Spokane Fight Club in 2002.  (The Spokesman-Review)
Chauncy Welliver, right, shadow boxes with his brother Rick at Spokane Fight Club in 2002. (The Spokesman-Review)

How it started

Welliver had a professional record of 6-1-1 before his 19th birthday and had traveled to New York as part of former middleweight champion “Sugar” Shane Mosley’s team to train.

Tyson, preparing for a heavyweight championship bout with Lennox Lewis, was working out at the same Brooklyn facility – Gleason’s Gym – with his entourage in tow.

He wanted a challenge but apparently wasn’t getting it from any of the fighters with whom he was training.

A young, wide-eyed Welliver was asked about the prospect of sparring with Tyson, an unlikely opportunity.

It paid, too.

“They needed bodies. Someone that could get in there and really give him a good go. I said, ‘OK, I’m down for that.’ Then they offered $400 a round for every round you survive. He’s bringing it, so we’re paying you so he can hit you, and try to knock you out.

“I thought ‘Oh, my God. This is getting real.’ ”

The ex-Rogers High student returned to his hotel room in Manhattan and proceeded to watch “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” on a portable DVD player before a group of men abruptly walked into the room.

It was Tyson and members of his team, and a coach had asked to see film of a past Welliver fight to gauge his ability. He brought a copy from Spokane on VHS for scouts to evaluate.

Welliver soon realized that Tyson was in the room, too.

“I was sitting down watching the movie and he was standing above me, I could feel him looking at me,” Welliver said. “Tyson then said, ‘I used to watch Willy Wonka as a kid, too.’

“I just looked up and shook my head because I was so nervous I didn’t know what to say.”

The fight was on.

The buildup

A fellow professional boxer and member of Mosley’s team – Welliver opted to keep his name off the record – approached an admittedly scared Welliver in the hours preceding his spar with Tyson.

He attempted to ease Welliver’s nerves, but ultimately exacerbated his fear.

“ ‘Tyson’s a man, just like you. He feels pain. Go out there and let him know you’re a man,’ he’d tell me,” Welliver said. “But that’s no ordinary man, that’s Mike Tyson.”

Fortunately for Welliver, his teammate faced Tyson first.

It didn’t go well.

“He said he would bust Tyson up for me so that when I fought him, he would have nothing left,” Welliver said. “But when Tyson hit him, he was knocked out. It was the first time I ever saw someone snoring in the ring. This was supposed to be the guy better than me, and he’s on the ground sleeping.”

Tyson grunted after he landed the knockout blow and screamed, “Who’s next?”

Steve “Crocodile” Fitch – a motivator and member of Tyson’s team – pointed in Welliver’s direction.

Welliver’s time to exchange blows with Tyson – a man who five years earlier famously bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a heavyweight title match – had come.

Fighting Iron Mike

Tyson paced back and forth as he waited for Welliver, who stood in the corner getting tutelage from a coach.

Welliver said his heart was beating out of his chest as he made his way toward the center of the ring.

When the bell rung, Welliver resorted to a self-preservation tactic that contrasted his usual aggressive style, running away.

“I made Muhammad Ali look like he had stones in his feet,” Welliver said. “I moved every which way. I didn’t get punched in the first round, and it wasn’t because of great defense.”

Tyson’s team became annoyed as Welliver floated across the ring and avoided blows. This isn’t what they were paying him to do.

“Me not giving him a good round was holding him back,” Welliver said. “So the next round I got in his face.”

Welliver said he may have been in Tyson’s face a little too much.

He said he hit Tyson with a pair of jabs before Tyson answered with a crushing blow, a punch Welliver described as a feeling of electric shock.

But before Welliver’s legs could give out, he said he was able to power through the pain and land consecutive lefts on Tyson just as the round ended, concluding the spar.

Tyson grunted again – this time in frustration – as he ordered Welliver to leave the ring in a profanity-laced manner.

Fitch also berated Welliver, he said.

“(Fitch) was like, ‘You’re trying to punk Mike Tyson in New York? … You’ll walk back to your hotel,’ ” Welliver said. “They were pretty mad, but fortunately I didn’t ride to the gym with them, anyway.”

Down the road

Tyson went on to lose to Lewis that year and ended his career dropping two of his final three bouts.

Welliver, who has been in and out of retirement, has a career record of 55-12-5.

The two sparred again a year later in Las Vegas. When they ran into each other again in 2014, Tyson didn’t remember the sizable Spokane man.

Welliver went to get a picture taken with Tyson among his fans, and mentioned to him that the two had sparred twice.

“Whatever, man,” Tyson said. “Just take the picture.”

Welliver wasn’t offended.

“Some people would be totally happy with an autograph or photo with Tyson,” Welliver said.

“But how many people can say they got punched by him?”

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