They've never thrown a punch at each other, but Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield continued to fight yesterday.
On the eve of a purse bid ordered by the International Boxing Federation to force a Holyfield-Tyson financial settlement allowing them to battle for Holyfield's undisputed heavyweight championship, Tyson told IBF president Bob Lee he would neither participate in nor honor the proceedings, while Tyson's promoter, Don King, offered George Foreman $15 million for a fall fight that would preclude such a title match.
Apparently this will not dissuade the IBF from holding its purse bid today, but it should make negotiating a deal with King all but impossible unless Holyfield and his advisers are ready to make a major financial concession -- which they are not.
"If we win the bid, we'll do everything humanly possible to get Tyson to sign and fight for all three titles," said Dan Duva, Holyfield's promoter. "But we're not going to accept any deal from Don King. He has done nothing but try and hurt Evander Holyfield. Why should we do anything for him? We offered them $15 million. That's 35 percent [10 percent more than mandated by a purse bid]. He won't get $15 million from a purse bid."
King countered by calling the IBF a fraudulent operation and saying Tyson had no interest in fighting for its title.
"We do not want to be their No. 1 contender," King said. "The IBF does not exist. We don't recognize them. We don't want to be rated by them. They can take their belt and let Holyfield fight who he wants."
King said, and Duva confirmed, that he offered Holyfield $30 million, the largest purse in heavyweight history, to fight Tyson, with the challenger getting $25 million and King working as co-promoter. Failing that, King said he would accept $25 million for Tyson and the Duvas could run the entire promotion. After both offers were rejected, King approached Foreman, who said over the weekend he was considering the offer.
"Foreman-Tyson without a title would be bigger than Holyfield-Foreman," King said. "We got the hottest attraction in the world. The only thing Holyfield brings is three belts, and we don't want the IBF one. We'll fight Holyfield the man, but not the organizations.
"Let's move away the chicanery. Let's move aside the facade of trickery. We're not discounting the titles. The titles have discounted themselves. If they try and go through with the purse bid, it's a sham. They can't be the KGB and make us do it."
King contends, and Duva concedes, that Tyson is not the ordinary contender. The former champion remains one of the most fearsome punchers in the sport and a man much of the public still recognizes as champion 15 months after being knocked out by Buster Douglas.
Because of this, King argues, Holyfield won't earn $30 million in four fights with the likes of Tommy Morrison, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer and Pierre Coetzee.Though that may be true, Duva said Holyfield wants only to be treated as champion the way Tyson and Douglas were.
"King asking for $25 million for Tyson is stupid negotiating," Duva said. "A champion has never gotten that, let alone a challenger. If Tyson won't fight, we'll fight someone else. We refused the $30 million because Evander can get more, and he wouldn't take it from King under any circumstances, even if it was enough.
"When Evander was the challenger, he took 25 percent [of a purse bid to meet Douglas] and never complained. If the title's not important to Tyson, fine. Evander wants to fight Tyson, and he's offered him more than any challenger in history. They're the ones refusing to fight.
"This is not about money. It's not about the IBF or the WBC. King doesn't want this fight to happen because he's not sure Tyson will win. King wants to be sure he wins even if Tyson loses. By fighting [Razor] Ruddock, he has options on both fighters."
King conceded that there is no road to the title that doesn't lead to Holyfield, but said he is willing to risk Tyson's future against Ruddock and Foreman if he cannot squeeze a 40 percent purse for Holyfield-Tyson.
"We recognize Mike Tyson can't be the undisputed champion until he beats Holyfield," King said. "But Holyfield has got to go to the well four times to earn $30 million. Mike can make more money than Holyfield. Foreman can make more money than Holyfield by fighting Tyson. Holyfield won't make $15 million against anyone but us."
If King can sign Foreman, he will create a dilemma for Duva because that would effectively put the top three contenders on ice. If Tyson beats Ruddock on June 28 and Foreman agrees to fight him next, the next rated IBF contender is Coetzee, a South African heavyweight of little note.
One assumes even Duva would agree that a Holyfield-Coetzee title fight would not carry much of a price tag no matter how many belts were on the line.