The way has been cleared for the hotly anticipated heavyweight showdown between undisputed champion Evander Holyfield and former champion Mike Tyson, but representatives of both fighters remain suspicious of each other's motives in negotiating a settlement that would lead to a title match by early fall.
Holyfield's camp was especially skeptical about the sudden cancellation of Tyson's rematch with Donovan "Razor" Ruddock, which had been scheduled for June 28 at The Mirage in Las Vegas.
Ruddock reportedly stepped aside after being paid $1 million by promoter Don King to allow Tyson to make Holyfield his next opponent. King also promised Ruddock a subsequent match against the winner.
"This had nothing to do with Ruddock," Dan Duva, who serves as Holyfield's promoter, said yesterday from Reno, Nev., where he is staging the Greg Haugen-Hector Camacho junior welterweight bout.
"This was King's decision unilaterally. Obviously, Tyson did not want to fight Ruddock and finally stood up to King. I'm sure he told him he wanted Holyfield and a chance to get his title back, and nothing else."
No serious negotiations have taken place between the principal parties. King and Shelly Finkel, Holyfield's financial adviser, reportedly spoke for less than a minute in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday when they met at a convention of cable television operators. The brief conservation was initiated by ESPN sportscaster Charley Steiner, who asked when a Holyfield-Tyson match might be held.
"The bottom line is that both Tyson and Holyfield want the fight, so it should happen this fall," said Finkel.
"King and I talked briefly, but he told me that his attorney, Charley Lomax, would call me by Friday [today] to try and get negotiations started."
Tyson has not commented publicly on his abrupt change in plans. His rematch with Ruddock was considered a natural after their first fight, March 18, ended in controversy when referee Richard Steele stopped it in the seventh round with a shaken Ruddock leaning against the ropes.
King spokesman Al Braverman said Tyson and King were fearful that Holyfield would make alternate plans to defend his title if he was kept waiting.
"We wanted to put the pressure squarely on Holyfield's advisers," Braverman said. "We understood he was ready to fight every ranked heavyweight except Tyson. Now that Mike has no obligations, the boxing organizations will make Holyfield fight him next."
But that issue seemingly had been resolved, save for the purse split. Before Holyfield signed to fight George Foreman in Atlantic City, N.J., last month, he assured the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council and the International Boxing Federation that if he beat Foreman, Tyson would be his next title tTC defense. The IBF has ordered purse bids by June 1.
Those hurt most by the cancellation of the Tyson-Ruddock rematch were Mirage owner Steve Wynn and the Showtime cable network, which had booked the match.
Wynn, however, might benefit by securing the Holyfield-Tyson bout, since financially troubled Donald Trump is no longer a major player in bidding for big bouts.
King's representatives "might try to say Ruddock was unhappy over his manager, Murad Muhammad, being suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission," Holyfield spokeswoman Kathy Duva said. "He said he didn't want to fight without Murad in his corner, but I don't believe that was a good enough reason for Wynn or King to cancel a multimillion-dollar promotion. With King, you have to look for hidden motives.
"King tried to sell Tyson that his first fight with Ruddock would be for the title after the WBC stripped Holyfield for fighting Foreman. But when that didn't happen, Tyson apparently lost his patience."
King has said he would like Tyson to fight Holyfield by late August or early September, but Dan Duva said a match of that magnitude could not be put together before October.