Tyson hopes to cage the rage within

The former heavyweight champion has to defeat a dangerous underdog without a repeat of controversy

For not quite the first time in his life, Mike Tyson is doing his best to be a good boy. Tonight, the former world heavyweight champion and perennial public villain returns to the ring in Las Vegas for his latest comeback - marking his first fight since a three-and-a-half month spell in prison this summer for an outburst of uncontrollable road rage in rural Maryland.

For not quite the first time in his life, Mike Tyson is doing his best to be a good boy. Tonight, the former world heavyweight champion and perennial public villain returns to the ring in Las Vegas for his latest comeback - marking his first fight since a three-and-a-half month spell in prison this summer for an outburst of uncontrollable road rage in rural Maryland.

So far, at least, he is playing it all by the book. Tyson has been training hard, first in Phoenix, Arizona, and, for the past month, in Las Vegas itself, in preparation for his encounter with Orlin Norris, a 33-year-old former World Boxing Association cruiserweight champion. He has hired one of the most straightforward trainers in the sport, Tommy Brooks, who coached Evander Holyfield for his now notorious encounter with Tyson in 1997 - the one where Tyson lost his world title and Holyfield lost a chunk of his ear.

Even in his pre-bout press conference this week, Tyson kept the verbal pyrotechnics to a minimum. "I am planning to bring a lot of pain," was about as aggressive as it got. By Tyson standards, that was the equivalent of threatening to step on his opponents toes with a bedroom slipper.

If the ogre of old is sounding more like an outsize pussycat, though, there are good reasons. In the course of his ordeals with the law and with the world boxing authorities, Tyson has not been oblivious to a certain humiliation. He has been effectively sidelined from serious heavyweight competition, and has also lost a huge amount of money - an estimated $13 million (£8.1m) that he owes to the tax authorities, and millions more he has had to shell out to his lawyers.

From champion of the world, Tyson has sunk to such depths that he could not even get tonight's fight on pay-per-view television - it is being broadcast on the widely available cable station Showtime instead. Interest in the fight is subdued by Tyson standards, with little more than three quarters of the MGM Grand Garden Arena's 16,000 seats taken on the eve of the bout.

Originally, the fight with Norris was to have been for the World Boxing Council's international heavyweight crown, but Tyson changed his mind after realising that the WBC would have demanded a $300,000 sanction fee to free the title up from its current, considerably disgruntled holder, Ross Puritty.

As a result, tonight's contest will run just 10 rounds rather than the standard 12. Money, not professional pride, is clearly the big motivator: Tyson is expected to walk away from the ring as much as $10m richer. "Everything is for sale," he said a few weeks ago - his homes, his assets and, it seems, the remaining shards of his professional reputation.

Norris is a creditable fighter, but nobody is pretending he approaches the calibre of a Holyfield or a Lennox Lewis. Norris's trainers have admitted that his main interest is to have the chance to fight the legendary Mike Tyson, no matter what the circumstances, and that he will be hard put to last the distance - something no opponent of Tyson's has managed in the past eight years. Bookmakers are favouring Tyson at 10-1 or even 12-1.

"I'm expecting an action-packed fight," Norris said. "I know he is going to hit me. I have to avoid the big bombs... My job is to not get hit with that big shot."

Behind the upbeat rhetoric, there is little doubt the crowd will be baying for blood. Even since his various falls from grace, Tyson has proved well able to let loose the animal within him and go against his own best interests - to the delight of the crowd.

Banned for life after the Holyfield biting incident, he very nearly blew the generous opportunity to be reinstated that the Nevada Athletics Commission offered him this time last year by losing his temper in public and smashing a motorcycle helmet to the ground. His comeback fight in January, in which he stopped Frans Botha in the fifth round, almost ended in renewed recriminations and official sanction. Tyson admitted afterwards that he had tried to break Botha's arm.

Trouble beckoned once again earlier this month, when Tyson said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that given the same set of circumstances he would have bitten off the end of Evander Holyfield's ear any day. This week he tried hard to backtrack. "I was just talking smack, just hyping the fight," he said. "I was just blowing off hot air... The Nevada State Athletic Commission knew I wasn't serious. They knew the trauma that I went through. I won't do that in the ring."

Fine words, but the fans in the Grand Garden Arena may just be a touch disappointed tonight if Tyson, of all people, chooses to stick by them.

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