LAS VEGAS -- Jimmy Vaccaro, the sports book at The Mirage, has been doing his best to boost interest in tonight's 12-round elimination heavyweight bout between former champion Mike Tyson and Donovan "Razor" Ruddock.
"Our opening line favored Tyson 9-1," said Vaccaro. "But the gamblers have bet it down to 4-1, the lowest Tyson has been since he fought Marvis Frazier five years ago."
That is supposed to support the notion that Ruddock (25-1, 18 knockouts) at least will make Tyson break a sweat and provide more competition than such recent rivals as Frank Bruno, Carl Williams, Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart, who lasted a total of eight rounds against Tyson.
Promoter Bob Arum, rival to Don King, who is promoting the Tyson-Ruddock fight in conjunction with Mirage head Steve Wynn, also lent credence to the match. Arum suggested Tyson, next in line to fight the winner of the April 19 Evander Holyfield-George Foreman championship bout, was taking an unnecessary risk.
"Tyson will probably beat Ruddock," said Arum, "but he didn't have to fight him. It's foolish. He is risking a big payday. It's just not smart boxing business."
Fight publicists say Ruddock, 6 feet 3, 228 pounds, possesses the size and power of a Buster Douglas, the 40-1 underdog who dethroned Tyson, 5-11, 217, in Tokyo in February 1990, when Tyson's mind and body seemed 10,000 miles away.
A native Jamaican who lives in Toronto, Ruddock earned the No. 2 ranking by all three boxing organizations on the strength of his knockouts over faded former champions James "Bonecrusher" Smith and Michael Dokes.
No one questions the power in Ruddock's left hook, but his unorthodox training regimen and his mysterious loss to journeyman Dave Jaco in 1985 call his legitimacy as a title contender into question.
There also is the matter of Ruddock's right hand, fractured during his victory over Dokes in April. Ruddock ended his sparring sessions 10 days before tonight's bout, but he and his trainers say the hand is healed.
"Razor was in shape before he even got to Las Vegas two weeks ago," said co-trainer Art Miles. "He's been training since January. We don't want him to leave his fight in the gym."
Countered Tyson's trainer, Richie Giachetti: "I think his hand is broken, but it doesn't matter. Razor's right hand is only an ornament. He's strictly a left-handed fighter, and no one-handed fighter can beat a Mike Tyson."
That raises the more delicate question of Ruddock's heart and whether he will be frozen by the sight of Tyson charging across the ring at the opening bell. Withstanding Tyson's initial assault could prove the key to the fight.
One of Ruddock's major detractors is trainer Teddy Atlas, who learned his craft from the late Cus D'Amato, Tyson's original tutor.
"I don't see much heart in Ruddock," Atlas said. "He's a front-runner. I don't think a guy changes. It's like Cus used to say, 'A guy who is born square doesn't die round.' "
Ruddock's manager, Murad Muhammad, also exhibited a lack of confidence by opposing the Nevada boxing commission's choice of Richard Steele as the referee, suggesting Steele might stop the fight the first time Ruddock appears in danger.
But Ruddock's trainers have maintained a brave front.
"Razor is going to do the same thing to Tyson that our Air Force did to the Iraqis. He'll bomb the hell out of him until he can't take anymore," co-trainer Art Mills said.
This fight originally was scheduled for Edmonton, Alberta, in November 1989, but Tyson pulled out with a case of pleurisy. Instead of a postponement, King booked Tyson for a more lucrative date with Douglas in Tokyo, a maneuver that ultimately cost Tyson the title he had held for four years and nine defenses.
Muhammad filed a $27 million lawsuit against King for breach of contract. King settled out of court by agreeing to pay Ruddock $3 million for tonight's encounter with Tyson.
Ruddock might have had a better chance of winning two years ago when Tyson's life was in turmoil.
"Douglas made Tyson realize he wasn't invincible," said Ruddock's co-trainer, Slim Robinson. "He thought he could win whether he trained or not. He used to have Kevin Rooney to push him hard. I doubt if anyone is in charge anymore. Mike gives all the orders."
Tyson appeared lean and mean in his workouts, saying that he would not be satisfied "unless I kill him."
The Razor's edge is his boxing ability, and his best strategy might be to move out of harm's way in the early rounds and use his long jab to frustrate Tyson.
But a more likely scenario is for Ruddock to meet Tyson head-on in mid-ring and test power vs. power. He shares Tyson's killer instinct, and as D'Amato would say, it will boil down to who imposes his will first.
Or, as the gamblers suggest, the surest bet is the fight going three rounds or less.
NOTES: King has arranged an attractive under card, including two championship bouts.
Julio Cesar Chavez (73-0) of Mexico, considered the best fighter pound-for-pound, defends his World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation super-lightweight (140) title against stylish New Orleans boxer John Duplessis (36-1).
In what could prove the best fight on the pay-per-view show, Simon Brown (33-1) and Maurice Blocker (32-1), former stablemates and best friends from Germantown, Md., will be trying to add to their welterweight laurels. Brown, a slugger, owns the IBF crown, and Blocker, a rangy, stand-up boxer, is WBC champion.
The telecast will begin with a 10-round super-middleweight non-title match between four-time world champion Roberto Duran (86-8) of Panama and Pat Lawlor (21-9), an unranked club fighter from Sacramento, Calif.
Main event: Mike Tyson (38-1) vs. Donovan "Razor" Ruddock (25-1-1) in a scheduled 12-round heavyweight elimination fight
When: Today, under card begins at 9 p.m., main event about 10:30 p.m.
Where: The Mirage, Las Vegas
Under card: Julio Cesar Chavez (73-0) vs. John Duplessis (36-1), super lightweight championship; Simon Brown (33-1) vs. Maurice Blocker (32-1), welterweight championship; Roberto Duran (86-8) vs. Pat Lawlor (21-9), super middleweight
Promoters: Don King and Steve Wynn
TV: Cable pay-per-view