Orlin Norris is a 34-year-old journeyman of no great distinction who was selected to be a punching bag for Mike Tyson Saturday night.
"We know that's why he got picked. We just think they made a mistake," Norris adviser Mike Marley said.
Norris's primary claim to fame is being the younger brother of Terry Norris, a former champion and headliner who spoiled one of Sugar Ray Leonard's comebacks. Terry is the flashy one. Orlin has been a "can you give him a break and put him on the undercard" kind of fighter who is at least a 12-1 underdog to Tyson in a bout at the MGM Grand Saturday night.
This will be the first fight since mid-January for the 33-year-old Tyson following layoffs caused by jail time following a rape conviction (1992), suspension in the wake of biting off part of Evander Holyfield's ear (June 1997), and most recently, jail time resulting from the assault of two motorists in suburban Maryland (February 1999). Tyson said he weighed nearly 280 pounds when he left prison last spring, and reportedly weighed 255 as recently as six weeks ago but got down to 223 Thursday for the official weigh-in.
"People make a big deal out of me having to lose all that weight, but I've always had to do that," Tyson said. "I've gone up and down my whole career."
Norris, who weighed 218, is a former cruiserweight champion who will make $800,000 for this fight, twice as much as his previous biggest payday. Just last June, he fought for a $20,000 purse. Norris (50-5, 27 knockouts) has defeated some fairly notable fighters, including Renaldo Snipes, Greg Page, Oliver McCall and Tony Tucker.
Asked if Norris might be intimidated by Tyson, Marley cracked, "The only thing Orlin is afraid of is not getting paid. . . . He'll be smarter and will fight longer than Francois Botha," who after hurting Tyson early was knocked out in the fifth round of their Jan. 16 bout.
"I'm one old, tough chicken," Norris said this week. "I know it's not going to be an easy fight. I'm going to get hit, but I have to stand up to it. I know he's going to hit me; I just have to avoid the big bombs."
The question with most of Tyson's "comeback" fights is whether they can be competitive. Clearly, there are doubts among some fans because several thousand tickets remained available. The celebrities who usually pour into Las Vegas for a Tyson fight are noticeably absent.
Of course, people turned out in droves to watch mismatches when Tyson (46-3, 40 knockouts) was at the top of his game in the late '80s and scaring the daylights out of the likes of Frank Bruno, Michael Spinks and Carl Williams. But Tyson, who will make $10 million for this fight, has struggled through his last three bouts, dating from Nov. 9, 1996.
He has shown none of the hand speed, foot and head movement that characterized his rise to the undisputed heavyweight championship, although those working with him in training for this fight contend his back-to-the-basics approach will be obvious against Norris.
"He's had some extensive periods away from the ring and little by little, he's getting back to the things he was taught," co-trainer Jay Bright said this week. "I am talking about being elusive and being in a position to punch, keeping his hands up, head moving, using his legs to be close to the opponent. . . . Any fighter who has been inactive is going to lose a certain amount of his speed, his timing, his coordination."
Asked what specifically went wrong for Tyson in the early rounds against Botha, co-trainer Tommy Brooks said: "Number one is that he didn't follow the fight plan. He was out there trying to catch the guy with one shot, loading up with his punches. He wasn't putting his punches together, although he did catch the guy with one shot. That's what we've worked on in the gym. Now he's putting his punches together, stepping around guys and not making himself a target."
Norris has heard all this talk about Tyson putting punches together instead of throwing haymakers, and isn't listening to any of it. "It's possible that Tyson will fight differently," he said. "But Tyson is Tyson. I know this: He is not going to come out boxing."
Norris says his tactic will be to keep moving toward Tyson and try to score cleanly. He feels that since Tyson wears himself out with huge punches, he can get deep into the fight if he avoids such punches. The Norris camp believes that after three rounds the fight becomes "interesting" and after five it becomes "fascinating" because Tyson's frustration and temper could get the better of him the longer the fight lasts.
But Tyson believes otherwise.
"Orlin Norris is a good fighter, but I don't care how well he has prepared," Tyson said this week. "I'm preparing to knock him out cold."
CAPTION: Asked if Orlin Norris, above, is intimidated by Mike Tyson, his manager cracked, "The only thing Orlin is afraid of is not getting paid."
CAPTION: Mike Tyson reportedly weighed 255 pounds as recently as six weeks ago but is now around 223.