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MIKE TYSON'S FACE TATTOO !

Tyson tale takes another twist

By MICHAEL HIRSLEY

Questions about what Mike Tyson will do when he steps into the ring for the first time since a devastating knockout loss last June have been pushed aside by new questions.

Will he actually step into the ring Saturday? And what's that big tattoo doing on the left side of his face?

Tyson missed half a week's training last week amid reports that he was suffering from influenza and back problems and that he had begun behaving erratically, including getting a facial tattoo.

His trainer, Freddie Roach, who last saw Tyson in the gym Wednesday, described the tattoo as an "African tribal scroll" shaped like the numeral three, extending from above the eyebrow to the jaw line.

Regardless of whether it was the back, the flu or the tattoo that truly sidetracked him from preparing to face Clifford Etienne in Memphis, Tyson's inactivity in the gym prompted Roach to declare his boxer unprepared to fight.

"In my mind, I would advise Mike to cancel this fight because he's not 100 percent," Roach said Sunday. "It's not just that he's missed training, but he's been sick on top of that. The days he missed were crucial days."

But missing the fight could be nearly as critical to Tyson's chances for a last hurrah_whether it be redemption or simply one more lucrative payday.

That's because heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who punished Tyson before knocking him out in eight rounds last June, is waiting in the wings.

Because Tyson brings sizable cash potential to every fight, Lewis expressed interest in a June rematch if Tyson looks impressive against Etienne. But if Saturday's bout is off, it would likely take months to reschedule and Lewis would have to look elsewhere, at least in the short term.

That is probably why_flu, tattoo or anything new_Tyson vs. Etienne had still not been canceled as of Sunday night.

Roach said he remained on standby to fly to Memphis with Tyson "if he decides to fight. I'll be in his corner and we'll do the best we can."

Shelly Finkel, Tyson's adviser, said, "The decision will be made for me by [Monday], when he does or does not get on a plane from Las Vegas to Memphis. He's sick, he has the flu." As for the tattoo, Finkel said, "That's a separate issue that I don't want to discuss."

If Tyson cannot answer the bell for Saturday's fight, Finkel said, "I'll have to seek an alternative date."

That would leave a damaging void in Showtime's schedule for Saturday night. The premium cable network showcased the Tyson-Etienne bout sandwiched between a live Jay-Z rap concert and the premiere of its new reality series, "Family Business." Showtime also planned to sell the package for $24.95 on pay-per-view for non-subscribers.

Signs of trouble simmered all last week at Tyson's Las Vegas training site. Roach lost contact with his fighter Wednesday. Finkel and promoter Gary Shaw flew into town to meet with the fighter while assistant trainer Jeff Fenech flew out of town, complaining that he didn't want to proceed with what had become a disjointed venture.

Some skeptics regarded getting a tattoo, a procedure that carries a risk of bacterial or viral infection, as a sign that Tyson was seeking to get out of the fight. Others questioned whether the behavior indicated a change in the medication Tyson takes to control his behavior.

In an earlier interview, Roach conceded that he did not know whether or when Tyson was on medication.

When Tyson applied for a Nevada boxing license in 1998, the state's athletic commission required that he undergo psychiatric testing. One of the psychiatrists said he needed to take medication.

Etienne, 24-1-1 with 17 knockouts, is not regarded as a stiff challenge. He has shown neither knockout power nor a good chin as his opponents have improved. Nonetheless, the bout is critical to Tyson as a steppingstone back to Lewis.

That leaves those around the ex-champ in denial about his fragile state.

Even as Roach said he talked with Tyson briefly Saturday night "and he didn't sound good," and a doctor told the fighter Thursday "he shouldn't do anything for 10 days," the former featherweight boxer hedged his assessment:

"Mike trained two days last week and he has a good base under him. Fighters do fight sick sometimes. I have."
 

MIKE TYSON'S FACE TATTOO !






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