Tyson still packs a crowd, if not a punch

Fight will set stage for ex-champ's future

January 29, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MANCHESTER, England -- This is what the boxing world has learned about Mike Tyson since his arrival in Britain:

He remains a world-class shopper with an eye for diamonds, designer clothes and extremely expensive cars.

And he can sell out the largest indoor sports arena in Europe.

But can Tyson still pack a punch? Can he loom as a legitimate heavyweight contender?

Those are the questions waiting to be answered tonight when Tyson meets journeyman British heavyweight Julius Francis at the 21,000-seat MEN Arena.

Tyson (46-3, one no-contest, 40 knockouts) who weighed in yesterday at 223 3/4 pounds, is the 16-1 favorite in a 10-round fight that few expect to go longer than three minutes, much less the distance.

Francis (21-7, 11 knockouts) weighed in at 244 1/2.

By the circus-like standards of the Tyson over Britain tour, the weigh-in was almost normal.

Tyson showed up an hour late. Francis, not to be outdone, was even later.

Tyson waved one of his new diamond bracelets, picked at his hair and smirked at Francis, who glared straight ahead.

"He can't hit me with his eyes," Tyson later told Britain's Sky News.

Asked about facing a heavier opponent, Tyson scoffed, "I don't know. He's kind of fat."

A decade removed from his prime, the 33-year-old Tyson is a boxing enigma who has gone global to jump-start his sagging career. In Las Vegas, home to the biggest bouts, promoters had to paper the house for Tyson's last appearance in the neon junkyard.

But in Britain, Tyson's mixture of fame and infamy is utterly intoxicating for boxing fans who yearn to see a big fight, even if they have to travel north from London to this rain-swept city known for its old brawny industry and its world-famous soccer team, Manchester United.

It's hard to figure what to make of Tyson's career since he was jailed, bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear and had a fight against Orlin Norris end in no-contest because of an accidental punch after the bell.

"I hope I'm as good as people say I look," Tyson said Tuesday after his only public workout, in which he threw few punches and worked on boxing fundamentals.

But he can still talk the talk of a heavyweight champion.

"I'm here to prove I'm the best heavyweight in the world," Tyson said during a Thursday news conference. "I'm an animal in the ring. I don't know how he [Francis] feels about that. I'm an animal following the Marquis of Queensbury rules, but I'm ferocious in the ring and I can't change that -- it's just the way I am."

Francis seems a bit dazed by the fight furor, even addressing his foe as "Mr. Tyson." To get accustomed to a big crowd, he's due to appear today at halftime at Manchester United's sold-out match.

"I know the world's media is here because of Mike Tyson, but this is my time and it is all about Julius Francis," he said.

The 35-year-old Francis is a British Rocky, with a record. He has been shot at and knifed, run with gangs and been jailed. In interviews, he has admitted once being a soccer hooligan and dealing drugs.

But that's all behind him. The born-again Christian visits schools and youth clubs to warn children against using drugs and turning to a life of crime.

Francis trained in the obscurity of a British army base near London, while Tyson shopped his way through Britain.

Tyson will be paid from $8 million to $12 million for the 10-round bout, while Francis, whose previous biggest purse was $85,000, will get $560,000.

Roy Francis, no relation to the fighter, is the referee. Francis will be the sole arbiter because non-title fights in Britain do not have ringside judges.

This is clearly the biggest bout for Julius Francis, who didn't start fighting professionally until he was 28. Although he has a three-bout winning streak, Francis has endured some woeful losses, once getting knocked out on a body shot, another time losing a decision to a jazz musician who moonlighted as a boxer.

But Francis says he can win. So does his manager, Frank Maloney, who also guides the career of heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

"Julius is going to win in Round 8," Maloney said yesterday.

The manager is accustomed to harboring long-shot dreams. He's running as an independent to become mayor of London.

What's his platform?

"Mike Tyson is going to be my running mate," Maloney said.

The Associated Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this article.

Fight facts

What: Mike Tyson vs. Julius Francis, heavyweight bout, 10 rounds

When: Today, 5 p.m.

Where: MEN Arena, Manchester, England

TV: Showtime (tape delayed, 10 p.m.)

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