Mike Tyson apparently will fight Julius Francis, the British Commonwealth champion, Jan. 29, in Manchester, England.

The fight is all but signed, a boxing source told the Associated Press yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

This would be Tyson's first fight since his one-round no-contest with Orlin Norris Oct. 23 in Las Vegas. It also would be his first outside the United States since he lost the undisputed heavyweight title when he was knocked out in the 10th round by James "Buster" Douglas in Tokyo in 1990.

The site for the 10-round bout would be MEN Stadium in Manchester. The fight would be seen on a delayed telecast on Showtime, beginning at 10 p.m. in the United States.

Francis, who turned 35 yesterday, has a 21-7 record, with 11 knockouts. He has won his last three fights, all defenses of the British title he won in 1997.

Meanwhile, one of Tyson's personal assistants stepped forward yesterday to claim ownership of two ferrets who were allegedly neglected at Tyson's sprawling Las Vegas mansion.

Darryl Francis said not only were the ferrets his, but that he played with them often and was concerned about their well-being. He disputed allegations they were neglected, saying he never would have called a ferret rescue organization to the mansion if he did not care about the animals.

"How can it be neglect when you call for help? We were just trying to do the right thing," Francis said. "If we were neglecting or abusing them we could have just thrown them over the fence into [neighbor] Wayne Newton's yard."

Clark County animal control officials are investigating possible neglect charges after one ferret was found dead and the other sick when a ferret rescue organization was called to Tyson's home last month.

C.J. Jones of 24 Carat Ferret Rescue said she was told the ferrets were Tyson's when she went to the house, but Francis said they were given to him two years ago.


Martin Set to Debut

Casey Martin will make his debut as the first cart-riding member of the PGA Tour at next month's Bob Hope Classic, the event's organizers said.

Martin successfully sued the PGA Tour last year for the right to use a cart in tournaments because of a circulatory disorder in his right leg. He will play in the Hope Classic on a sponsor's exemption.

"We are happy to have a person like Casey Martin in our field," said Bob Brennan, the tournament's chairman. "He has had to work harder than most to overcome adversity."

Although Martin, 27, played in two PGA Tour events in 1998 on sponsor's exemptions, he had not qualified for the full tour. He earned his 2000 tour card by finishing 14th on the 1999 Nike Tour money list.


Elway Is in Mix

Former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway is part of a group considering a bid to buy the city's hockey and basketball teams and their new downtown arena, the Denver Post reported.

Citing three unidentified sources, the paper reported preliminary talks to buy the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Pepsi Center from Ascent Entertainment Group may start later this week.

The potential ownership group apparently includes Elway, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, ski-resort mogul George Gillett and mutual-fund entrepreneur Bjorn Borgen, according to the report.

Winter Sports

Italian Wins Super-G

Isolde Kostner of Italy won a World Cup super-G in Val D'Isere, France, becoming the only woman with two World Cup victories this season. The 1996 and 1997 world super-G champion aggressively attacked the sun-drenched Oreiller-Killy course, crossing in 1 minute 19.81 seconds for her seventh World Cup victory.

The U.S. team, whose equipment was lost on the flight over to Europe, was forced to borrow gear for a World Cup downhill training session.

Chad Fleischer of Vail, Colo., who finished second in the final downhill last season, used an assortment of equipment belonging to various teams.

"I was wearing skis from the Austrian team, had Hermann [Maier's] poles and borrowed a yellow racing suit from the Canadians," Fleischer said. "I was also wearing some yellow Austrian helmet instead of my snow leopard one. It was pretty funny, and everybody was laughing at us. Everyone was doing double takes. No one could recognize us."

Horse Racing

Pincay Moves Closer

Laffit Pincay Jr. inched closer to Bill Shoemaker's record of 8,833 victories, riding one winner in six mounts at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., to move within one of tying the 29-year-old mark.

"I don't have any pressure," he said. "I'm riding with a lot of confidence."

Pincay lost his first three races before guiding Millie's Quest from last to first in the sixth. Making her U.S. debut, the 2-year-old paid $6.20, $2.80 and $2.20 after being sent off at 2-1 odds.


Manchester United Triumphs

Hours after signing a four-year, $3.9 million contract, Irish midfielder Roy Keane celebrated with the opening goal in Manchester United's 3-0 home victory over Valencia (Spain) in the second round of the European Champions League.

After struggling in recent weeks, Barcelona reestablished itself as a favorite with a 5-0 rout of visiting Sparta Prague. Patrick Kluivert and Luis Enrique each had two goals. . . .

The U.S. women's national team will compete in the Australia Cup Jan. 7-13. The team will play the Czech Republic Jan. 7 in Melbourne; Sweden Jan. 10 in Melbourne; and Australia Jan. 13 in Adelaide.