Boxing: Tyson link puts Francis in front line

MENTION THE name of Mike Tyson and people take notice. The British heavyweight champion Julius Francis was not on the BBC's guest list for Sunday night's Sports Personality of the Year Awards - until Friday, when he was linked with Tyson in the national press.

Francis, 35 last week, is lined up to fight Tyson when "Iron Mike" makes his British debut in Manchester on January 29, a big bonus for the Woolwich man whose career has blossomed in the last year.

Being in the front row to see Lewis receive the BBC award gave Francis an unexpected chance to meet Muhammad Ali.

"It's the pinnacle of my career, to meet a living legend. I'm still in awe about it," Francis said. "I never, ever thought I would get to meet Ali."

Yesterday, Francis stood in for Lewis, who had flu, at a Boxing Writers' Club lunch in London, to mark his achievement of becoming Britain's first undisputed world heavyweight champion this century.

Francis's manager, Frank Maloney said: "The Tyson fight will happen and it's my job to make sure that Julius gets the best deal. The biggest setback will be if Julius gets knocked out in one round. But the plus side is that if he beats Tyson, he'll become an overnight hero."

The fight is expected to be officially confirmed today.

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