MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Eight months after Lennox Lewis gave him a brutal beating, Mike Tyson returns to the same ring tonight trying to resurrect his career against a fellow ex-con who has trouble staying upright.
After a silly week that did more to spark interest in the fight than it deserves, the newly tattooed Tyson goes into the ring in desperate need of a spectacular knockout if he wants future fights with Lennox Lewis or Evander Holyfield.
If Tyson can't beat Etienne, it could be the beginning of the end for a tumultuous yet always interesting reign of a man who was once the most feared heavyweight around.
The fight is scheduled for 10 rounds, but if it goes that far, even Tyson's handlers acknowledge they may have to reassess the fighting future of the puncher who once terrorized the division.
"He not only has to win, but he has to win strong," said Showtime executive Jay Larkin, whose network has helped bankroll Tyson's fights since he was released from prison in 1995.
To ensure that he does win, promoters came up with what they believe to be a perfect opponent in Etienne -- a raw fighter who stands in front of his opposition and isn't afraid to trade punches.
Even better is that Etienne tends to go down after he's hit with those punches -- seven times in one fight alone against soft-hitting Fres Oquendo.
"Contrary to what people say, he can take a punch," said Les Bonano, Etienne's manager. "He can take one on the chin. It's when he gets off balance and gets hit in the temple, that's a different story."
Etienne shouldn't have much trouble spotting Tyson's temple. On the left side is a tattoo inspired by a Maori tribal design that's supposed to indicate Tyson is a warrior.
No one doubts that, but he's an aging warrior who was beaten and battered before being stopped in the eighth round by Lewis on June 8. Tyson took his beating like a man, but it raised questions about his future in a division now populated by heavyweights much bigger than he is.
"I know how to fight," Tyson said. "I'm just going in there to do my thing."
The 36-year-old Tyson managed to land only 49 punches against Lewis and seemed unable to throw more than one punch at a time. But Lewis fought on the outside, while Etienne will be right in front of Tyson and ready to be hit.
Still, Tyson didn't train for a week because of various illness and ailments -- both real and imagined -- and his trainer was concerned he could look bad if he doesn't get an early knockout. He was forced to spar two days before the fight, making the fight itself more of an extended sparring session than a real bout.
"I'm worried about his conditioning if the fight goes into the later rounds," Freddie Roach said.
Though the public hasn't lost its fascination with the youngest fighter to win the heavyweight title 17 years ago, even Tyson (49-4, 43 knockouts) knows his time may be running out if he can't stop Etienne.
Assuming he does -- and oddsmakers make him a 4-1 favorite -- Tyson has a guaranteed rematch with Lewis and a potentially lucrative third fight with Evander Holyfield.
The fight, which will be broadcast by Showtime and on pay-per-view for non-Showtime subscribers, is expected to begin about 9:30 p.m.
"Probably I'll fight Holyfield, then I'll fight Lennox if he's not with Don King," Tyson said.
Etienne, who started boxing while serving 10 years in prison for armed robbery, has played the part of opponent perfectly, though he almost cost himself his biggest payday ever when he staged a one-day boycott to protest Tyson's stage-handling of the fight.
Etienne (24-1-1, 17 knockouts) will make nearly $1 million -- more than in his previous fights combined. That's not bad for a fighter coming off a draw in his last fight against a lumbering Francois Botha, who knocked him down twice.
"I think I'll probably knock Mike out in the fourth or fifth round," Etienne said.
Tyson may be a fading heavyweight, but if a week's worth of weirdness is any indication, he's still the oddest fighter on the planet, if not the baddest.
During that time, Tyson skipped training, claimed he had a bad back and then said he was too sick to fight. A day after the fight was called off, he woke up feeling better and declared it back on.
Not so fast, said Etienne, who staged a protest of his own before his wife told him he'd better fight or find another bed to sleep in.
"I think he has a mental problem, but Mike has to live with that," Etienne said.
Psychologists agreed with that several years ago when Tyson was forced to undergo a battery of tests after biting Evander Holyfield's ear before being allowed to resume boxing.
He was on medication, then off medication. Now those close to him refuse to say if he is taking anything.
If the main event isn't enough of a freak show by itself, fans in Memphis will be treated to one on the undercard.
There, Tonya Harding will try to complete her transformation from skater to fighter when she makes her pro debut against Samantha Browning. Harding had one fight, a celebrity match against Paula Jones, while Browning says she has been in plenty of bar fights but never with gloves on.