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Boxing: Date set for next Tyson contest

MIKE TYSON failed at the pay-per-view box office in America last weekend, enticing 750,000 households to pay the equivalent of pounds 30 to watch him knock out Francois Botha in the fifth round. That meant just 2.7 per cent of homes with access to pay-per-view bought the fight.

But Tyson will not be losing out. He is expected to make millions of dollars when he returns to the ring on 24 April.

A Showtime television executive confirmed the date last night and said an opponent would probably be selected sometime next week. "That's a lock," Jay Larkin said of the date for Tyson's next fight, which will once again be held at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas.

Possible opponents for Tyson include Axel Schulz, Lou Savarese, Shannon Briggs and Michael Moorer, he said. That, of course, is contingent on Tyson not going to jail next month when sentenced on a no contest plea stemming from his assault on two men following a traffic accident in Maryland.

Larkin said some 750,000 homes bought the Botha fight at an average price of $45 (pounds 28), below the 1m or so he had hoped for. But he said a short time to promote the fight and a bad date brought on by Tyson's desire to fight quickly cut into the buy rate. "It's still the biggest pay-per- view event since Tyson-Holyfield II," Larkin said. Tyson himself made at least $10m for the Botha fight.

Earlier Showtime's executive vice-president, Mark Greenberg, had admitted they had anticipated more people tuning in for Tyson's comeback. "It was at the low end of what we were expecting," he said.

"There are things we should have done better," he added, pointing to the extended negotiations with the MGM Grand. This delayed the elaborate marketing and publicity campaign planned to prime people for the fight.

The viewing figures were not good enough to put it in the top 10 of all- time pay-per-view fights. Tyson fights make up seven of the top 10 pay- per-view bouts, including the top four, led by his infamous match with Evander Holyfield in June 1997, which racked up 1.99m buys.

n Pele Reid, the former kick-boxer, will have his chance to break into the big league of boxing heavyweights when he challenges Julius Francis for the British and Commonwealth titles at Bethnal Green a week tomorrow. In doing so Reid has had to forego a fight against a Ukrainian, Vitaly Klitschko, an old kick-boxing opponent of his, for the European title next month.