Just when it appeared professional boxing had reached its height of absurdity, the fight game managed to embarrass itself even further. Mike Tyson and Orlin Norris fought for three minutes tonight before the bout was stopped and declared a no-contest after Norris said he couldn't continue because of a sprained right knee.

An instant after the bell signaling the end of the first round, Tyson landed a left hand to the head of Norris, who fell in the middle of the ring. Referee Richard Steele immediately walked to the judges at ringside and ordered two points to be deducted from Tyson for striking a blow after the bell.

But that wouldn't solve the problem. After walking to his corner, then sitting on the stool for nearly five minutes during which time he was examined by the ringside physician, it was decided Norris could not continue. The scheduled 10-round bout was declared a no-contest because of an "accidental foul after the bell." The crowd screamed obscenities at the ring before both fighters were led away.

Tyson saw it differently.

"I really don't want to fight anymore," the angry Tyson said. "I'm tired of this.

"He threw it. How [did] I hit him in the jaw and he hurt his leg? Anyone who's competitive, even if he's got a fractured leg, would get back up and fight."

But Tyson said: "He walked back to his corner. That shows you how twisted his knee was. He must have hurt it getting on the stool."

Norris was taken to Valley Hospital to receive an MRI exam on his right knee. On the way to the dressing room he said, "He hit me after the bell. I just went down on my knee the wrong way. . . . Tyson hit me pretty square, but the bell rang."

Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said Steele said that "the punch definitely came after the bell, but he didn't believe it was on purpose."

The commission later said the fight will be reviewed on Monday.

Tyson's $8.7 million purse was being held. But Ratner said, "There is no suspicion, Orlin is getting paid tonight." Norris was supposed to get $800,000, but he was paid only a little more than $200,000 because of a court order involving a lawsuit against him, his manager's share and an IRS lien.

"They're probably going to take it like they did before," Tyson said of the purse. He was fined $3 million when his license was revoked following his suspension for biting Evander Holyfield on June 28, 1997.

The first round was marked by a lot of mauling. It was Tyson's first fight since he knocked out Francois Botha on Jan. 16, and it was only Norris's second fight in 14 1/2 months. Tyson landed a couple of rights to the head, Norris got in a couple of punches, and then the bell rang.

Tyson, 33, who weighed 280 pounds when released from a Maryland jail on May 28, officially weighed 223 pounds. Norris, 34, weighed 218 pounds. Tyson's record remains 46-3 with 40 knockouts. Norris, a former cruiserweight champion, has a 50-5 record with 27 knockouts.

It was the latest in a series of controversial nights of boxing. Tyson, in this same MGM Grand Garden ring, bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear. Another Holyfield fight, this one with Lennox Lewis, ended in a controversial draw as decided by the judges. And just last month, welterweight Oscar De La Hoya suffered his first loss via a controversial decision.

Even before this latest embarrassing night for boxing, the evening had none of the buzz of the usual Tyson fights. For better or worse, Tyson fights had become the biggest events in Las Vegas. Not only could the promoter count on selling 16,000 or so tickets with little effort, the hotel/casino host was virtually assured of having another 5,000 to 10,000 people flood the premises just to be part of the scene.

A Tyson fight was the place for the famous, near-famous and want-to-be-famous to see and be scene. The VIP bodyguards and limousine drivers alone totaled in the hundreds. There were never enough taxis on Tyson fight night in Las Vegas, and never enough policemen either, given the number of violent incidents which so frequently followed.

Tyson is supposed to fight Shannon Briggs, who was at ringside, on Feb. 26 at Madison Square Garden. How that fight will be affected will not be known until after the commission meets.

The aim of the Tyson camp tonight was to put the easiest big-name opponent before the former champ, as a tuneup for Briggs. That, in turn, presumes to be a tuneup for the winner of the Holyfield-Lewis fight for the championship. In a moment of candor, co-trainer Tommy Brooks said, "We're trying to make him a marketable commodity again."

Nothing that happened in three minutes here tonight will help move Tyson in that direction.