You can't spell Russell Crowe without "row."

Yes, everyone's favorite Gladiator is at it again.

Facing tabloid reports that he pulled a Mike Tyson and chomped on the ear of his bodyguard during a bar brawl, Crowe and the guard are trying to set the record straight, recounting their version of the fracas in letters to the editor of an Australian newspaper.

"Russell Crowe did not bite my ear. That never happened, simple as that," bodyguard Mark "Spud" Carroll says in a letter to the Melbourne Herald Sun. "He did take a nip at my chest--I was trying to smother him at the time, so I can understand."

The nipping came during a post-shoot drinking session following a day of work in Toronto on the actor's upcoming boxing drama, Cinderella Man, in which Crowe plays Depression-era fighter Jim Braddock. Ron Howard is directing the film for Universal.

In a separate missive send to the Herald Sun, the 40-year-old Crowe describes the incident as "a push around after work on a Friday night about a month ago."

"It was a misunderstanding we easily cleared up the next day," Crowe writes.

That "misunderstanding" started when Crowe didn't take kindly to a remark from Carroll that the supposedly reformed bad-boy actor should go home to his wife and kid because people might get the wrong idea seeing Crowe chatting up a female extra during a Friday evening trip to a local watering hole.

"I thought he was accusing me specifically of something and I took offense to it," Crowe tells the newspaper. "Spud was passing on other people's perceptions and I shot the messenger."

Having knocked down a few pints already, Crowe then unleashed hell on his mate.

"While we didn't seriously hurt each other, we wore badges of dishonour for a few days," Crowe writes. "Luckily for me, the sequences we were shooting required me to wear heavy post-boxing makeup, so you couldn't tell."

Carroll, a former rugby player, says, "As for calling it a fight, believe me, we have done much more damage to each other playing touch footy."

According to their notes, the two have since patched things up.

"As I said, we cleared the air between us the next day, called each other a few ripe names, had a hug and got on with the job," writes Crowe, who then took a jab at the tabloid press.

"It doesn't surprise me that I'm overly sensitive to gossip and speculation and heartily sick of other people's perceptions," Crowe says. "People say and write more crap than I could ever care about and I just don't bother commenting on 99 percent of it because that is all I would end up doing.

"I was a fool to let the situation with Spud get out of hand. [wife] Dani knows it, but more importantly, she knows that I know it. She also knows I love her completely and would do anything for her."

Since marrying and fathering a kid, Crowe has distanced himself from his brawling past.

Following the 2002 British Academy Film Awards, for instance, Crowe roughed up director Malcom Gerrie at an after-party for editing out a poem Crowe recited upon accepting his award for Best Actor. Later that year, Mr. Beautiful Mind butted heads with a New Zealand tycoon at a trendy London restaurant, purportedly over a woman.

In any case, Cinderella Man has finally wrapped after an eventful shoot. The production was delayed for two months so Crowe could recuperate from orthroscopic surgery on his shoulder, which he blew out while training. The film is scheduled to hit theaters March 18, 2005.

Crowe, who last appeared on the big screen in Peter Weir's Academy Award-nominated maritime adventure Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, is next set to star in Australian director Jocelyn Moorehouse's romantic fairy tale Eucalyptus.

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