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Tyson is back, fighting for his livelihood

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- By now, Mike Tyson's woes have been well documented. He's broke after blowing about $300 million, owes creditors another $38 million, and is in desperate need of a series of fights to put a Bentley or two back in the garage.

At 38, he's a shell of the fighter he once was, reduced to taking on fringe contenders while hoping he still has something left -- and hoping fans still care enough to pay to see it.

The former baddest man on the planet returns to the ring tonight after an absence of 17 months to take on little-known British heavyweight Danny Williams. Tyson is in Muhammad Ali's hometown, yet now he's more of a curiosity than a legitimate contender.

The return is hardly a calculated one. Tyson simply ran out of money and has no way to make any other than by boxing.

"I didn't think I was going to fight again," Tyson said. "I wanted to be like Ricky Williams and have some fun."

The fun stopped when creditors took his cars, made him sell his multimillion-dollar houses, and reduced Tyson to caring for his pigeons in a modest Phoenix home. But Tyson insists that while he's fighting again because of necessity, he has also rediscovered a love for the sport.

Now, it's a new, mellower Tyson who has no entourage, shows no public anger, and appears genuinely happy to be back in the ring.

"I'm just looking forward to fighting Friday," Tyson said this week. "Isn't it cool to be fighting Friday?"

Tyson, who has been in the ring for only 49 seconds since taking a beating from Lennox Lewis two years ago, trained three months for the scheduled 10-round fight against Williams, a former British Commonwealth champion who was picked as an opponent because he works for cheap and seems to be an easy target.

Unlike his last fight, against Clifford Etienne, when he partied during training and took a week off before the fight to get a facial tattoo, Tyson seems to be taking this comeback seriously. "My future seems so much brighter than my past," Tyson said. "I don't even know how I made it to the fight 17 months ago."

Tyson will earn several million dollars for the 57th fight of a pro career that began 19 years ago with a first-round knockout of Hector Mercedes in Albany, N.Y. If his bankruptcy reorganization plan is approved by a judge, he'll be able to keep $2 million of his purse, while the rest goes to creditors.

According to the plan, Tyson must fight often in the next two years to pay off his debts, and his handlers are making plans for him to do just that. Assuming he wins, he's planning to fight in late September or October, then once more before the year is over.

Promoter Bob Arum is negotiating with Tyson's manager for a series of three fights that Arum claims can make Tyson at least $100 million if he wins them all.

That's huge money for a fighter who hasn't held a title in eight years and, arguably, hasn't beaten a top-rated fighter since he was in his prime 16 years ago. But Tyson is still marketable, no matter what he has done in the ring.

"There's a certain intangible connection -- either good or bad -- that the public makes with an athlete," Arum said. "They make that connection with Tyson."

First, though, Tyson (50-4, two no-contests, 44 knockouts) must get past Williams, who has fought in America only once and is 1-1 against Julius Francis, a British fighter Tyson knocked out in the second round a few years ago.

Williams is 31-3 with 26 knockouts, but has never fought a name opponent or top contender. Still, Tyson will have ring rust after his long layoff and hasn't exactly been beating household names recently, either.

"This guy can punch a bit, so you have to be careful," said Tyson's trainer, Freddie Roach.

Williams, for one, doesn't believe Tyson will be careful at all. That's not his style, and it's too late in Tyson's career to change styles now.

"I believe Tyson will charge right out at me," Williams said. "You've got to stand up to him and give it back to him. You can't run off and be scared."

Oddsmakers don't give Williams much of a chance, making him a 9-1 underdog. He admits to having problems with big fights, often crying in his dressing room before a match because of the expectations he puts on himself.

For this fight, Williams said, he has been remarkably calm and confident. No one expects him to win, and he believes Tyson might be only 40 percent or so of what he once was.

"He's very powerful and can take you out with either hand," Williams said. "But I don't believe he's the threat he used to be."

The fight at Freedom Hall is being bankrolled by a local money man, and promoted by a local promoter with no big fight experience. Estimates of ticket sales fluctuate wildly every day, but those involved with the fight acknowledge that ringside ticket prices of $1,500 scared some buyers away.

Still, Tyson remains enough of an attraction to draw 5,000 people to a lunchtime workout at a local entertainment complex, and the fight is expected to generate modest pay-per-view sales at a suggested price of $44.95.

"You're not going to change Mike Tyson -- we just want to bring back what he did," Roach said. "If we can do that, that will be enough."

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