Boxing: Botha wary of Tyson

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FRANCOIS BOTHA predicted yesterday that the world will see the old Mike Tyson again this weekend, when the pair meet in Las Vegas.

By "old", Botha was referring to the brutally intimidating Tyson who took boxing by storm when he became world champion at the age of 20.

However, while Tyson is an overwhelming favourite to beat the South African in his first fight since he was disqualified for biting Evander Holyfield in June 1997, Botha believes he can upset the odds.

Botha is 7-1 with the Las Vegas bookmakers to upset Tyson's comeback, but he is used to flying in the face of reason. In a freak accident at 16 he fell into a hole while gathering corn and mangled his right arm. Nerve damage was so severe that he still does not enjoy full feeling in the limb. His little finger does not fully close and for years he boxed mainly with his left arm.

He missed the Olympics when South Africa was barred because of apartheid and has warred with the boxing authorities throughout his career. When he became International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion in 1995 he was stripped of his title a few weeks later after testing positive for steroids which a doctor had prescribed for an injury.

"All of a sudden he has lost all his money," Botha said of Tyson. "He wants something again. That might make him more angry than he was in the past. It might make him come out harder to get it back again.

"I think Mike Tyson is the best heavyweight out there," said the South African. "I want to fight the best. If you beat the best, you are the best."

He admitted that he can not get the intimidating vision of Tyson, coming at him from the first bell, out of his mind. "Tyson's rushing up trying to catch me," Botha said. "I've got to do my thing. I have to make the right moves. This guy's coming to take my head off in the first three rounds. He'll try to get it in the first. That round will be brutal, but I know I am going to get through it. If I do the fight is mine."

Henry Wharton insisted yesterday that he will have no regrets about retiring even though he had a triple title fight just three weeks away. He was to have challenged Crawford Ashley for the European, Commonwealth and British light-heavyweight titles on 6 February.

Wharton's retirement has surprised both Frank Maloney, his promoter, and his trainer Gary Atkin. Atkin said: "The strange thing is he's never been in better shape."

But the 31-year-old from York is convinced that he has chosen the right moment to retire. "I'm not prepared and I was never going to be prepared for the Ashley fight," he said yesterday. "I don't feel I have the things that I once had in my career and I don't want to fight again. I will have no regrets. How many boxers do you know who have retired after a win? Everybody carries on too long."

Wharton's last fight was a non-title light-heavyweight bout with the Ukrainian Konstantin Okhrey in York in September. Wharton accepts that after that contest, which ended in a bruising sixth-round victory, he should have immediately retired. "The doubts had been there for almost 12 months, but after the Okhrey fight as soon as I left the ring I knew it," he said.

During Wharton's 31-fight career he held the British, Commonwealth and European super-middleweight titles, but lost his three career fights, all on points, in challenges for the world super-middleweight title. He was beaten by Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank in 1994, and Robin Reid three years later.