NEW YORK -- Two forces of nature should not be messed with.
It isn't wise to fool with Mother Nature, and it also isn't wise to fool with some hot air known as Don King, as the boxing world learned once again yesterday.
Many in boxing were writing King's funeral notices in recent weeks after he lost legendary junior welterweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez to rival promoter Bob Arum, failed to force an immediate heavyweight title fight between champion Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, and was unable to negotiate a new big-money deal for Tyson with HBO that would include the firing of color analyst Larry Merchant, whom Tyson abhors.
But yesterday in the Rainbow Room at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, King stood 64 stories above New York City and proved that he still stands tall in the seamy world of big-time boxing negotiations.
After having rejected HBO's $85 million package for eight live fights and two tape delays of pay-per-view shows, King came through with the $120 million deal he promised a week ago when many scoffed, announcing a joint venture with Showtime's pay-per-view arm, Showtime Event Television, that would pay Tyson that figure if he completes the proposed 10-fight package.
Of more immediate significance was the first fight in the deal, a 12-round bout against No. 2 contender Razor Ruddock, set for March 18 at The Mirage in Las Vegas, regardless of whether it is recognized as a world title fight by the World Boxing Council.
King has been trying to strong-arm the WBC into stripping Holyfield of his title for refusing to defend the undisputed title he won from Buster Douglas in October against Tyson before fighting George Foreman on April 19.
Both the World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation have sanctioned Holyfield-Foreman, but the WBC has dragged its feet, threatening to strip Holyfield if he goes through with the fight.
That matter is tied up in federal court, where it likely will remain until it goes to arbitration. But yesterday, King and Tyson agreed to meet Ruddock, even if no belt is at stake.
"It is the best possible heavyweight fight," said Mirage owner Steve Wynn, who staged the Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran, Michael Nunn-Marlon Starling and Holyfield-Douglas fiascos. Wynn paid millions for those three fights, and all were artistic failures, although probably financial successes. Obviously, Wynn hopes Tyson's first appearance at The Mirage will change his luck.
"It's the most honest heavyweight fight among the contenders," Wynn said. "It is legitimate. It will be wonderful. It's a one-of-a-kind show. The most important thing is the matchup. Most people don't see it as a 90-second fight."
One of them who doesn't was a stunned Holyfield, who was in New York with four members of Congress holding his own news conference, blasting the WBC and pushing for federal control of boxing because of the WBC's threats.
"I think it's a big risk Tyson is taking," Holyfield said. "I'm very surprised."
Because Tyson is the No. 1 contender, Holyfield would have to fight him by late October as a mandatory defense as long as Tyson remains unbeaten. Ruddock, meanwhile, is widely regarded as the second most dangerous contender in the division, but apparently Tyson does not share the same respect Holyfield has for Ruddock.
"Basically, he's a good fighter, but I'm extremely confident about the fight," Tyson said. "The fight is not going to be as hard as everybody thinks it is."
When asked why Tyson felt the fight would not be difficult, he replied flatly, "Because it isn't."
Tyson felt no need to elaborate, and his questioners felt no inclination to explore the matter further.
While Ruddock was at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto seeking a visa to come to the United States, his promoter, Murad Muhammad, was in the Rainbow Room smiling as if they had just found the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
"It's evident that neither Holyfield nor George Foreman will fight Razor Ruddock in the next two years," Muhammad said. "So we're going to force them."
To do that, Ruddock must defeat Tyson, a scenario Tyson found unlikely, although King conceded that both fighters were gambling with their immediate futures on this bout.
"Both of these guys are risking a lot," King said.
While true, both also will be making a lot, although no one on hand would say exactly how much. However, it seems as if Tyson will command $8 million to $12 million, while Ruddock seems sure to corral at least half that.
The fight also puts King back in the middle of the heavyweight picture, because you can bet Ruddock didn't get a chance to fight Tyson without King getting the most powerful thing in boxing out of it.
An option clause.