08/21/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
YOU MIGHT THINK MIKE TYSON'S STINT in an Indiana penitentiary for rape would hurt his popularity as a boxer. Think again. The promoters of Tyson's return to the ring (Sat., Aug. 19, 9 p.m. ET) confidently predict that the fight will shatter the pay-per-view record, currently held by the 1991 Evander Holyfield-George Foreman bout, which notched more than 1.4 million buys. There is considerable interest in Saturday's event despite an unprecedented price tag (from $39 to $59, depending on your cable provider) and the fact that Tyson's handpicked opponent, Peter McNeeley, is to all intents and purposes a beefy sacrificial lamb. So why hasn't a prison term adversely affected Iron Mike's sterling marketability? Bear in mind that Pete Rose was blackballed from baseball for the far less heinous transgression of gambling. The fact is that boxing is such a cathartic, savage sport that we are willing to accept almost anything short of fatal antisocial behavior from its stars, even outside the ring. Still, I don't think the Tyson-McNeeley brawl will set sales records—if only because of Tyson's reputation for thunderous first-round knockouts. After all, who wants to pay top dollar for a fight that may well be over before the microwave popcorn is done?