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Mike Tyson's opponent Julius Francis
"Mike Tyson is not the fearsome brutal fighter that he was"
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Head of Showtime Jay Larkin
"This is one of the fastest selling Mike Tyson events in history"
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Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 16:06 GMT
Julius takes on Iron Mike

Julius Francis Julius Francis (left) is one of boxing's late developers

Click here for a full factfile on Julius Francis

Mike Tyson, the most feared boxer of his generation, has confirmed he will fight in Britain for the first time.

The former undisputed world heavyweight champion will take part in a non-title bout at Manchester's MEN Arena on 29 January next year.

I feel 2000 is my year, Mike Tyson is coming and I've got a great opportunity
Julius Francis
But the man who will be in the opposite corner that night is virtually unknown outside boxing circles: Julius Francis.

The previously unheralded Francis has been given his biggest break as Tyson tries to resurrect his career after the latest in a series of setbacks.

But Francis' profile with the British public is so anonymous that he was not invited to the BBC Sports Review of the Year - which includes an audience made up of the country's top sports stars - until news of the Tyson fight broke.

So who is this relative journeyman who will go into the ring against a legendary fighter famed for his brutal power, killer instinct and occasional outbreak of ear-biting?

Thankless task

Few people would volunteer to trade blows with Tyson, who has only ever fought outside the US once before - when he was sensationally beaten by another unknown fighter, Buster Douglas, in Tokyo in 1990.

Mike Tyson Tyson has never won a fight outside the States
But Francis will reportedly receive 350,000 for the fight - comfortably the largest purse of his career - and he is confident of pulling off a shock victory.

"I volunteered for this job," he says. "My manager asked me and I jumped at the chance.

"Tyson is not the fearsome fighter he was in the late '80s and early '90s. He's still a force to be reckoned with, but I'm prepared to go in there and put everything on the line to prove myself."

It has been a long, hard road to the top of the sport for Francis.

He has achieved his big chance at the comparatively advanced age of 35.

But then he did not turn professional until he was 28, after suffering a traumatic early life.

Boxing, as with so many of the sport's great figures - including Tyson himself - proved Francis' salvation.

Julius Francis Francis has waited a long time for his big pay-day
As a tear-away youngster and some-time football hooligan in south London, he was frequently in trouble with the law and served time in prison for a number of offences.

He admits he was on the street for a time and suffered a serious stomach wound that required 60 stitches after he was stabbed with a carving knife in a fight at a party.

These days, though, he is a reformed character and chooses not to dwell on his rollercoaster past.

"I'd never say life owes me anything," Francis told BBC Radio 5 Live. "I've gone out and worked for it.

"Those things are in my past - but I've paid my debt now and I'll leave them in the past and go on from there."

On the buses

Francis is now determined to use his status as British champion to influence young people in a similar position to him.

He can frequently be found travelling round the capital on a "book bus", visiting schools to help encourage pupils to read.

Julius Francis Francis consoles Danny Williams after his victory this year
"I hope they listen to me," he said. "I've got a bit of knowledge and experience to give them about things that have happened to me."

And asked whether the prospect of facing the mighty Tyson would be terrifying, he admitted the experience of reciting poetry to inner-city schoolchildren had prepared him for the task.

"There is a fear when I go into school and have all these expectant seven and eight-year-olds waiting with bated breath, looking at this big giant.

"It does scare me sometimes - it brings me out in a cold sweat."

Julius Francis factfile

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See also:
25 May 99 |  Sport
The ups and downs of Tyson's life
09 Dec 99 |  Sport
Tyson to fight in Manchester
16 Nov 99 |  Sport
Tyson may fight in Britain
24 Oct 99 |  Sport
Comeback farce for Tyson
24 Oct 99 |  Sport
In pictures: Tyson's comic comeback

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