Mike Tyson waits, beltless and outside title-fight loop TV entanglements hold up ex-champ's return to glory

June 30, 1991|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Correspondent

LAS VEGAS -- Mike Tyson, once the enfant terrible of the heavyweight class, turns 25 today, but his future never has been so uncertain. He is all dressed up, but with no place to go.

Tyson also finds himself minus a championship belt.

Since losing his title 16 months ago in an upset by James "Buster" Douglas, he has won four straight fights, including Friday night's overwhelming, 12-round decision over Donovan "Razor" Ruddock, who was hospitalized with a fractured jaw after his drubbing at The Mirage.

But Tyson remains a pawn in the continued politicking between his adviser Don King and rival Dan Duva, who is in control as the promoter of undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

There is already a date (Nov. 8) and a site (Caesars Palace) for the fight, but the promoters cannot seem to find any common ground.

In the past, boxing's power brokers argued over locations, promoters and purses. But the focus is now on who controls the burgeoning pay-per-view business, where most fight profits are reaped.

Duva has cast his lot with Seth Abraham and the TVKO network, and King controls his own Kingvision network and also works with Showtime Event Television, which helped launch Holyfield's professional boxing career.

But at yesterday's news conference, while Tyson said he still was "feeling groggy" from some of Ruddock's punches, King seemed to see things perfectly clearly.

"Let's lay it on the table," King said. "Forget the television business and all this talk about options for TVKO if Tyson wins. Those are just Duva smoke screens.

"We will take $25 million for Tyson to fight Holyfield, or we will pay Duva $30 million to promote the match. Hey, $30 million is more than Holyfield could make fighting four other guys.

"I don't want to be the promoter, even though I know I could make everyone involved more money," King said. "I just want to get this fight on. We'll pay all our own expenses. We'll go into the fight naked, if necessary."

Duva, who made the winning purse bid of $51 million to promote the Holyfield-Tyson fight, has offered $15 million to Tyson, saying that is a record purse for a title challenger. But King rejected the proposal, saying that Tyson brings more to the table as a drawing card than does the unbeaten Holyfield.

"Normally, a guy fights to win a belt, fame and fortune," said King. "But Tyson and Muhammad Ali are the exceptions, who were bigger than the belt. Like Ali, Mike is recognized by the public as the uncrowned champion. Duva and [financial adviser] Shelly Finkel have tarnished the symbol of the belt."

King said that, even though he controlled former champion Larry Holmes, business sense dictated that he give bigger or equal purses to title challengers Ali and Gerry Cooney, who were regarded as greater box-office attractions.

"If they don't want to pay Tyson what he is worth, I propose a winner-take-all match with Holyfield," King said, sounding more like his old, huckstering self. "No under-the-table deals. Let the winner walk away with all the money."

If the impasse in negotiations with Holyfield's backers continues, King said, there is a strong possibility Tyson next would fight former champion George Foreman, who surprisingly extended Holyfield to the 12-round limit in his last defense.

King reportedly offered Foreman $15 million, but Norman Henry, one of Foreman's many advisers, said: "Don waited too long. George turned it down four days ago. Don wanted to tie the offer in with a biography of Foreman's life."

Other reports have Foreman's brother Roy and adviser Ron Weathers willing to accept King's purse offer.

But Foreman, a boxing folk hero, realizes he can also demand huge guarantees for a Holyfield rematch or by fighting any of the young heavyweight hopes such as Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer or Tommy Morrison.

So, conceivably, Tyson could be left without a meaningful opponent this fall.

Tyson has managed to restrain his anger in being asked to await his bid to regain his crown. But he was visibly miffed last week after Holyfield took out a half-page ad in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, wearing his three title belts, with the invitation, "Hey, Mike, Let's Get It On."

"The belt is a symbol, and, in due time, I'll get it back," Tyson said. "Ali didn't have to flash it. Everyone knew he was champ. Holyfield should be embarrassed making challenges. The champ doesn't do that. He accepts them. But Holyfield knows he can't beat me, and I know he can't beat me, so he's just playing politics."

And who might Holyfield fight if he sidesteps Tyson this fall? Other than Foreman, Ruddock and Bowe are the most attractive opponents, but both are aligned with King. The lack of legitimate title contenders could force Holyfield to reach an agreement with Tyson.

The former champion was uncharacteristically humble in victory and even heaped praise on the battered Ruddock, who forced Tyson to go the 12-round limit for the first time since Tony Tucker did the same four years ago.

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