Whether or not the behemoth southpaw Tye “Big Sky” Fields is all hype or a hope for the moribund heavyweight division could be determined tonight at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

The 6’8”, 275 pound Fields, 40-1 (37 KOS), a native of Missoula, Montana, who fights out of Las Vegas, will face the biggest challenge of his career when he squares off against the 6’3”, 220 pound contender Monte “Two Gunz” Barrett, 33-6 (19 KOS), of New York.

The 10 round bout will be part of the HBO Pay-Per-View telecast called “Lethal Combination” that will be headlined by the Manny Pacquiao-David Diaz WBC lightweight title fight.

Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who has been promoting the 33-year-old Fields for several years, said this fight could make or break Big Sky, who was a standout basketball player at San Diego State University in the late 1990s.

Utilizing a baseball analogy, Arum said that Fields has been boxing in the Double A and Triple A leagues long enough.

“Now he’s going to the major leagues,” Arum told the Las Vegas Review Journal (LVRJ). “Can he hit major league pitching? We’ll see on the 28th. If he beats Barrett, we’ll keep him in the big leagues.”

Not surprisingly, Fields has no shortage of detractors who claim that his record was built by beating scores of non-entities.

Upon turning pro in early 1999, Fields rattled off 14 consecutive first round knockouts. In his 17th fight, in January 2001, he was shockingly stopped by unheralded Jeff Ford in the first round.

He rebounded from that loss by scoring five straight knockouts, the last of which was a first round blowout of Ford in a rematch.

Since then Fields has beaten useful veterans such as Sedreck Fields and Maurice Harris, but biggest name on his resume is Bruce Seldon, who held a version of the heavyweight crown when Fields was still playing Division One college ball.

Fields stopped the aging Seldon, who was on the comeback trail, in two rounds in October 2005.  He has also stopped his last three opponents, Roderick Willis, Chris Koval and Domonic Jenkins, all of whom had a respectable cumulative record of 50-11-2.

When one considers that Fields went directly from basketball to boxing without the benefit of acquiring any amateur experience whatsoever, it is easy to excuse the loss to Ford as a fluke.

But another criticism he can’t seem to shake is the suggestion that he lacks stamina. The extremely competitive and athletic Fields addressed that by training for and completing a marathon.

His boxing trainer, Jesse Reid, has been around a long time and has worked with all types of fighters. Known for being honest with his fighters, as well as with the press, Reid admits that Fields is a diamond in the rough but adds that anyone who underestimates him is making a big mistake.

He believes that Fields’ lack of amateur experience is actually working in his favor.

“He doesn’t have a lot of bad habits that have to be broken,” explained Reid. “He’s a great all-around athlete, very strong, and he uses his size and strength well. He needs to use that to his advantage, to be an intimidator.”

Reid has transformed Fields into a swarming mauler, who he hopes will throw a minimum of 100 punches a round. If he does that, Reid believes he will be hard to stop.

The 37-year-old Barrett has had an ebb-and-flow career since turning professional in 1996. His biggest wins have come by decision against aging champions or title challengers like Greg Page, Tim Witherspoon and Phil Jackson.

He stopped the previously undefeated Owen Beck, who was 24-0, and once beaten Eric Kirkland, who was 17-1. He also looked sharp in losing a disputed decision to Joe Mesi, who was 27-0. Barrett even had Mesi on the canvas.

As good as Barrett has looked in those encounters, he has not fared well against much bigger men. He was stopped in the seventh round by the 6’7” Wladimir Klitschko and in the eleventh round by the 7’0” Nikolay Valuev. He also lost a split decision to the 6’8” Lance Whitaker.

In his fight against Hasim Rahman, which was for the vacant interim WBC heavyweight title, Barrett did nothing to show the judges or the audience who paid to witness the snorefest that he had the desire or the determination to be a champion, interim or otherwise.

Whether or not he can muster up any enthusiasm against Fields is open to conjecture. If Fields is as bad as many people think he is, even a moderately motivated Barrett should be able to beat him.

The guess here is that Fields is better than the skeptics believe he is. Top Rank is known for signing solid prospects, so it is hard to fathom why they would have invested in him if they didn’t think he had the potential to make some noise.

With the current state of the heavyweight division being so dismal, if Fields can get past Barrett he will find himself in the midst of the division’s sweepstakes. With Top Rank behind him, that is not a bad place to be for a once-beaten heavyweight who didn’t even turn professional until he was 24 years old.

Arum has stated on numerous occasions that he believes that Fields is “the real deal,” and the good-natured and hardworking Fields wants to prove that his promoter is correct in his assessment of him.

“This is a big opportunity for me,” he told the LVRJ. “I’m going to feed off the energy, and I’ve dreaming about this for eight years.”

When told by that reporter that he had come a long way in a relatively short time by boxing standards, his aw-shucks type answer showed that he is just an earnest man trying to make an honest living in the toughest of vocations.

“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” he responded. “I wish I had started sooner, but you can’t control time. I’m still learning, but I’ve made a lot of progress.”