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Retired Tyson says he's ready; are fans prepared to shell out?



Published: Thu, October 19, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The former boxer is trying to stir up interest in Friday's exhibition.

By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

YOUNGSTOWN -- Just before Mike Tyson stepped to the podium Wednesday, one of his handlers emphasized to the throng in front of him -- which included a few reporters and a few more fans -- to "keep the questions about boxing."

Not everyone listened. One asked Tyson if he could get his autograph. (Tyson said sure.) Another simply wanted to thank him for coming to Youngstown.

"The heavyweight division is dead without you," the fan said.

"Thank you," Tyson said.

Minutes earlier, just after Tyson sat down, a fan handed him a boxing glove and a pen.

Clearly, Tyson still has his admirers. The true question is, Are there enough of them to fill up a 5,900-seat arena for Friday's card?

"This has always been a big high school football town and I knew that going in," said the fight's promoter, Sterling McPherson, who grew up in Niles. "I thought with 6,000 seats, there were enough fans when you add Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Akron.

"If people choose to stay home, that's their choice."

Plenty of tickets available

Although ticket sales reportedly aren't brisk -- Chevrolet Centre GM Matt Hufnagel said the arena doesn't release figures, "whether it's a Tyson fight or the Doodlebops," he said -- those involved with the fight are hoping fans will come after attending a prep game. (Doors open at 7 p.m. and the fights start at 8.)

"You can go to a high school game and still see the fights," said TV analyst Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, a Youngstown native and former lightweight champion. "I think everyone's in for a big treat."

Tickets range in price from 25- 200, but anyone who has recently purchased a SteelHounds season ticket miniplan received a free ticket. (Also, on the media release, the phrasing has been changed from "tickets priced" to "tickets affordably priced.") Needless to say, good seats are still available.

Pay-per-view mystery

As for the pay-per-view sales, who knows?

"With pay-per-view, it's hard to say," McPherson said. "Unless it's Tyson-Holyfield, people don't buy that until a few days before the fight or the day of the fight."

The card hasn't been finalized -- Tyson's four-round exhibition against Corey "T-Rex" Sanders is scheduled to start around midnight -- but the co-feature will pit Lou "Honey Boy" Del Valle against Zack Page of Warren in a 10-round cruiserweight bout.

McPherson said the next stop on "Mike Tyson's World Tour" will be Nov. 11 in Norfolk, Va., followed by a stop in either Los Angeles or San Diego in late November. China and Russia have been discussed as possible locales.

Tyson has said repeatedly that he's nervous about the exhibition, a consequence of being out of the ring (and the public eye) for more than a year. One of the reasons Youngstown was chosen to be the tour's first stop was Tyson's familiarity with the area.

"It feels like home," said Tyson, who owned a house in Southington for years. "I know the people here. The people here are good people.

"If this was in Las Vegas, I'd probably be [very nervous]."

Tyson and Sanders haven't made a decision about whether they'll be wearing headgear -- McPherson said it's their choice, although he'd prefer they not wear it -- and promoters have been quick to emphasize that it's an exhibition, not a fight.

Tyson is retired and will stay that way.

"It's one of the best decisions I ever made," Tyson said.

And while he's nowhere near his fighting weight -- the weigh-in is today at the Chevrolet Centre and is open to the public -- Tyson said he's just hoping to have fun and put on a show. Just how much does he has left?

"Enough to box four rounds," he said, laughing.

scalzo@vindy.com




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