Boxing: Tyson turns `Mr Nice' in bid to hype fight

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LAUGHING OFF questions about his past misdeeds and vowing to be a "good boy", Mike Tyson was in relaxed and confident mood as he faced a room full of reporters and television cameras to announce he would be back in the ring on 16 January in Las Vegas against Francois Botha, a former International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion.

"I'm sorry, but I've learned my lesson and I won't do that anymore," Tyson, 32, said with a grin when asked about the fight on 28 June last year when he twice bit Holyfield's ears. "I'm a very good boy."

After the fight, Tyson was stripped of his licence by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for 15 months as a punishment. In October, the former heavyweight champion convinced the Nevada commission to let him fight again after promising to undergo psychiatric therapy and "abso-lutely never" do it again. But commissioners warned him to either behave himself in the future or be thrown out of boxing for good.

Tyson spent most of a raucous press conference yesterday poking fun at his bad-boy image and promoting his fight rather than answering serious questions.

Tyson, who at age 20 in 1986 became the youngest man ever to win the heavyweight title, even stood up for Botha, chiding a man at the press conference who shouted: "He's a punk!" when the South African was introduced. "Let's be nice to this guy today," Tyson said. "Let's all be nice. For anyone who didn't know, I'm on parole and I'm trying to be nice up here."

But, asked if he would fight Holyfield again or challenge for the heavyweight belt again, he said: "The fact is, if the price is right I'll fight a lion. I'm not here because I've been voted the nicest guy in the country."

And Tyson declined to answer when a reporter asked if he was worried about going back to prison - a reference to Tyson's 1 December "no contest" plea to assaulting two motorists in Maryland after a minor traffic crash. He awaits sentencing in that case, which could affect his parole after spending three years in an Indiana prison for a rape conviction.

Also in attendance at the press conference was the former basketball great Magic Johnson, whose role as Tyson's adviser helped win over Nevada boxing officials.

Johnson declined to speculate when Tyson would fight for the title but said: "He's still the biggest in the world and no one will ever be bigger."

A decision on whetherTyson's probation will be revoked is being delayed until after the fight, his first in more than 17 months.

The judge, Patricia Gifford, has put off the decision until he is sentenced in Maryland, which is scheduled for 5 February.