LAS VEGAS -- For a man who purports to be one of the two best heavyweights in the world, Donovan "Razor" Ruddock has managed to maintain an amazingly low profile.
Monday night at The Mirage, Ruddock, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound Canadian by way of Jamaica, will earn $3 million for testing Mike Tyson's new resolve in a 12-round elimination bout. The winner has been promised a title match against the survivor of the April 19 fantasy fight between champion Evander Holyfield and George Foreman.
How does a fighter who can walk through a crowd unnoticed in his adopted hometown of Toronto suddenly find his name and likeness outlined in neon lights on "The Strip" alongside Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and Bill Cosby?
It is a most improbable tale. On the surface, Ruddock's record is an impressive 25-1-1, and the pre-fight commercial constantly reminds us that his crushing left hook put a pair of former champions -- Bonecrusher Smith and Michael Dokes -- into long stupors. But Smith and Dokes had long been serving as steppingstones for a number of precocious sluggers.
And then there is that one blot on Ruddock's resume. An eighth-round technical knockout in 1985 by journeyman Dave Jaco, who has lost more often than the Los Angeles Clippers. Ruddock insists he was overwhelmed by an attack of asthma.
"I fought against my doctor's advice," he said. "To place so much emphasis on one of my early fights is foolhardy."
Still, the loss to Jaco depressed Ruddock enough that he stopped fighting for eight months. During a family trip to Florida, he had the opportunity to spar with Larry Holmes, who was preparing for his second match with Michael Spinks.
"I was giving Larry more than he was giving me," Ruddock said. "They fired me as a sparring partner. It restored my confidence."
Ruddock said he became a fighter by accident.
One might argue that Tyson, a reformed street bully, simply became a professional to put a legal stamp on his mayhem. But Ruddock had other ideas. He dreamed of becoming a tennis star and, as a teen-ager, won several local tournaments.
"Tennis got very expensive," Ruddock said. "I came from a poor family, and I couldn't afford to play at country clubs."
But Ruddock soon discovered an outlet for his competitive spirit. Sitting in a Toronto junior high school one day, he received an encouraging push from fellow ninth-grader Rico Rossi.
"He said, 'Donovan, you're the strongest kid in the neighborhood. Why don't you box? You'd kill everybody,' " Ruddock said.
The idea was so appealing that Ruddock rushed out of the classroom to the principal's office and demanded to talk to his older brother, Delroy.
"I was really impulsive," Ruddock said. "That very day, I wanted to go to New York, where I figured I could be taught to fight by the best trainers. But I needed a bag to pack my belongings, and that's where Delroy came in."
But Delroy, 2 years older, was also much wiser. He convinced his brother that he could achieve the same goals by staying in Toronto.
His mother, who lay the groundwork for her family's move from Jamaica to Canada, thought boxing was just a passing fancy for her middle son. His father, a butcher, followed Donovan's amateur career bemusedly. Even when he turned professional, Ruddock questioned his own motives.
"I didn't have great aspirations," he told the Toronto Sun. "I just thought getting $400 to fight was better than bringing home a trophy."
In 1986, his fifth year as a professional, Ruddock was still laboring in relative obscurity, fighting for small purses when he was matched against former heavyweight champion Mike Weaver, who was still considered a dangerous puncher.
"I got a call from [promoter] Murad Muhammad," said veteran boxing manager Howie Albert, who guided Emile Griffith to the welterweight and middleweight titles. "He told me to check out this young Canadian kid who was fighting Weaver.
"Well, I saw Weaver nail him with a terrific left, but Razor fought through the pain and wound up winning the decision. I told Murad: 'Whatever it takes, sign him. You've got yourself a future champion.' "
Albert said Ruddock passed his biggest test in defeating Dokes at Madison Square Garden in New York last April.
"I once had a good middleweight named Tom 'The Bomb' Bethea, who knocked out [former champion] Nino Benvenuti in Australia," Albert said. "I lined up a big-money fight for him in New York, but he was terrified of the idea. He said, 'I should be selling hot dogs on 7th Avenue.'
"But here's Razor making his first visit to the Garden, and he didn't have any stage fright. He just took Dokes out as easy as could be."
One of Ruddock's secrets is being able to separate his boxing life from his role as a husband and father of three young children.
"Donovan has a wonderful balance," said Delroy, who is his brother's manager. "In the ring, he's real mean. He has this burning desire to be the best. Outside, he is a gentle, caring soul."
Ruddock is not caught up in his sudden fame. "I'm not the kind of guy who seeks the limelight," he said. "I never thought about being a superstar. I just love boxing, and I'm good at it. This is the fight I've been waiting for. Every fight I've gone into I've believed was more important than the last. In my mind, this is for the real championship.
"I was supposed to fight Tyson in Canada two years ago, when he was still champion. Instead, he ran off to Tokyo and lost to Buster Douglas.
"I was ready then, and I'm ready now. I believe in destiny. There was a reason for waiting. Now my time has come."