Boxing: Francis ready for dream shot at Tyson

JULIUS FRANCIS, of Woolwich, south London, will meet Mike Tyson, of Las Vegas, in the most expensive fight ever to take place in Britain at the MEN Arena in Manchester on 29 January.

The Tyson-Francis fight and the other fights on the bill will cost nearly pounds 8m and the funding will come from Showtime, the cable television company, live tickets sales and the anticipated high sales of Sky's pay-per-view package on the night.

Francis, 35, a former bouncer, pirate boxer and current British heavyweight champion, defended his selection as Tyson's opponent by comparing his skills with the talents of the last two men who shared a ring with the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. "In January Tyson struggled to catch up with Frans Botha, and Botha has never beaten anybody of note," said Francis.

"In October Orlin Norris never fancied it and he is best known as a cruiserweight. I would do well against both of them." Francis, like Botha and Norris, will start as underdog.

Frank Warren, the promoter, has plans to feature Tyson again, either in a possible co-promotion with his partner, Peter Kohl, in Germany or in America with Tyson's promoters, American Presents. "I hope this is just the start," said Warren. However, he was understandably irate yesterday even after the news that ticket sales at the 21,000-seat stadium had passed 17,000. He said: "This fight could have and should have been at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 15 January, but I ran out of promotional time because of people playing silly games."

Francis turned professional in 1993 after a bizarre end to his amateur career. In 1993 Francis was the favourite to win the Amateur Boxing Association super-heavyweight title, but a week before the semi-finals he appeared under a pseudonym on a so-called pirate boxing show, one not under the British Boxing Board of Control's rules, at Caesars Palace, Streatham, and won the heavyweight title of Kent. A few days later somebody at the ABA found out and Francis was removed from the championships.

He turned professional in May, the same month he would have fought for the amateur title. Tyson also fought illegally on smokers, as pirate shows are called in America, before he turned professional, but that is where the similarities in their careers end.

"I'm studying a tape of the Botha fight and looking closely at everything Botha did right and everything that Tyson did wrong," added Francis. "He is no longer the so-called Baddest Man on the Planet but he is still a good fighter, one of the best heavyweights in the world. In truth, it is impossible to have a plan because I will find out what I'm going to do when he hits me.

"If Mike wants to get dirty, I can get dirty. I know how to use my elbows, I know how to use my head in the ring and on the street. I'm not going to let Mike Tyson intimidate me with his dirty antics. I don't see why I should."

Francis will receive $500,000 (pounds 308,000) for the fight, which is considerably more than the pounds 20,000 he was due to get this Saturday at York Hall, Bethnal Green, to defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Harry Senior. Francis has relinquished the Commonwealth belt and Senior will now fight Brixton's Danny Williams for the discarded belt in front of an estimated crowd of 800.