ATLANTIC CITY - Former heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon hunched forward, rested his thick forearms on his thicker thighs, and stared at the flat-screen TV at a friend's apartment.

His eyes never left the screen, even when they welled with tears.

The 44-year-old Atlantic City native was watching ESPN's "One Night in Vegas," a 60-minute documentary that recounts the events of Sept. 7, 1996. Exactly 14 years had passed, but the memories were still vivid. They came to the surface while Seldon opened up for the first time about the events that unfolded before, during and after his fight that night against Mike Tyson.

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That night, Seldon lost his WBA heavyweight title with a first-round knockout to Tyson at the MGM Grand. A few hours after watching the fight from a ringside seat, rapper Tupac Shakur was killed on a nearby street.

The film, part of ESPN's "30 for 30" series, primarily focuses on the relationship between Tyson and Shakur. But for Seldon, the movie dredged up the feelings of embarrassment, anger and humiliation that have remained in his heart for 14 years. The documentary will be rebroadcast today (9 p.m. ESPN2).

"I'm feeling the same thing I always feel when I watch a replay of the fight," Seldon said, his voice wavering. "Sorrow. A lot of sorrow. What happened to me that night is why I am where I am today, unable to find a job, struggling to make ends meet. This is definitely not how I thought my life would turn out."

Before the fight

Back then, Seldon was on top of the boxing world. A year earlier, he had won the vacant WBA title with a seventh-round TKO over Tony Tucker in Las Vegas and had defended it with a 10th-round TKO over Joe Hipp.

But this fight was different. Seldon's wins over Tucker and Hipp were earned in undercard bouts. This one was the main event. The Strip was emblazoned with billboards hyping the fight.

"Bruce had never been in that situation before," said Absecon native Jim Kurtz, who was a member of Seldon's entourage at the time and would later become his manager. "But we all thought he was ready for it. This was going to be his time to shine."

Had the fight been held on the original date, March 13, 1996, Seldon had no doubt that he would have beaten Tyson. An intense training camp in New York's Catskill Mountains had left him in top shape and brimming with confidence.

A few days before the fight, the bout was rescheduled for September because Tyson had come down with a sudden case of bronchitis.

"Bruce was running on a treadmill in a YMCA in Vegas and (Tyson's former co-managers) John Horne and Rory Holloway were on treadmills next to him," Kurtz said. "When they started talking trash, Bruce turned up the speed and the incline and sprinted for about 20 minutes without even breathing hard. The next day is when Tyson got sick."

During the delay, Seldon stayed in top shape, but doubts had begun to creep in. They grew even larger when he headed back to Vegas in September, showed up for the weigh-in and saw that Tyson was in tremendous shape, just like him.

The pressure also had started to build. Richard Steele, who served as the referee for the fight, sensed that Seldon was headed toward defeat when he visited the dressing rooms to deliver his prefight instructions.

"I went into Tyson's dressing room first and I'll never forget it," Steele said in the documentary. "Mike was building himself up to be a monster, hitting the gloves, I can see it in his face that he's waiting to put those hands on somebody.

"I got to Bruce's dressing room and I soon as I walked in, I can feel the tension, I can feel the nervousness. I can see the nervousness, not only on Bruce but everybody in there. They know hell's about to break out."

During the fight

The bout lasted just one minute, 49 seconds. Seldon initially went down from a punch that appeared to miss him, drawing boos from the crowd. He got up quickly but was soon back on the canvas from a Tyson hook. Seldon got up from that one, too, but his knees buckled when Steele approached him, forcing the referee to wave a halt to the fight.

Hours later, Shakur was shot. Seldon had no idea the rapper had been killed until the following day. Seldon had other things on his mind. Right after the fight, he retreated to his dressing room and the reality of what had happened hit him like one of Tyson's punches.

"It was terrible," Seldon said. "I was very upset and was bawling my eyes out. I had worked so hard to get in position to have that opportunity and I gave it away. It was like I lost everything."

In the aftermath, rumors that Seldon had taken a dive circulated through both the boxing community and his hometown, despite the fact that he was earning $3 million whether he won or lost.

While watching the movie, Seldon intimated that while he did not lose on purpose, he was not exactly focused on winning during the fight. As much as he wanted to keep his belt, he also wondered if a victory would be the best thing for his life.

"I was really ready for the fight up until the bell rang (to start the bout)," Seldon said. "While I was in the ring, I began to think about what a win would mean. There would be all these distractions, all this attention. I wouldn't even be able to walk out of my house. I started to think that if I lost, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world."

After the fight

More knockdowns followed, though none occurred in a boxing ring.

Humiliated by the defeat, Seldon didn't go back to Atlantic City for almost a decade. Seldon also gave up boxing for almost eight years.

Finally, on the urging of Kurtz and co-manager Joe Thompson, he gave boxing another try. Seldon fought 11 times between 2004 and 2009, compiling a 7-4 record with seven knockouts. He announced his retirement after losing to Fres Oquendo in Chicago on July 24, 2009.

After the documentary was over, Seldon spent a few minutes discussing the movie, then sprinted toward the door. The man who had made millions, who once drove a $50,000 SUV, fished $2.25 out of his pocket to catch a ride on a jitney back to his modest Atlantic City apartment.

He spends his days at the Atlantic City Police Athletic League gym as a trainer for his eldest son, Isiah, a super-middleweight with a 2-0 record. He spends his nights alone in his apartment, wondering what would have happened if that one night in Vegas turned out differently.

"I thought the movie was beautifully done," Seldon said. "I just wish I would have won the fight. I didn't realize that life would be much worse because I lost. It was one of the worst things I could have done."

Contact David Weinberg:

609-272-7186

DWeinberg@pressofac.com

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