George Foreman is in the middle of a tug-of-war between the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and the No. 1 contender for the right to beat up the 43-year-old country preacher this fall. And it appears the contender is winning.
Don King, representing former champion Mike Tyson, has encamped himself in the Houston Marriott frantically trying to close a deal that would match Foreman and Tyson Nov. 1, with Foreman getting from $17 million to $20 million for something King has dubbed "The People's Heavyweight Championship."
Meanwhile, representatives for champion Evander Holyfield have been working the phones in New York, Houston and Providence, trying to head off King, dangling a $12.5 million offer sweetened, they believe, by the prospect of Foreman winning the "real" title.
"I think it would be bad if [King] took Foreman away from us, and we're trying to stop it," said Shelly Finkel, Holyfield's manager. "But as Don always says, it's a long way from the spoon to the mouth."
But right now, the spoon is in King's hand. Yesterday, King was feeding Foreman and his brother Roy the old "We are fam-i-ly" line, recalling episodes from 1974, when King staked Foreman ++ out for days in another Houston hotel trying to seal a Fore
man-Muhammad Ali title fight. He succeeded that time, getting Foreman a record $5 million purse.
"Really, this ain't a negotiation," King said yesterday in the midst of an all-day bargaining session. "This is a family love-in between George, Roy and me."
This time, however, King also is backing up the nostalgia trip with some cold cash. After Friday night's Tyson-Razor Ruddock fight, King handed Roy Foreman a check for $1 million as a down payment on Foreman-Tyson. He also is dangling the prospect of a belt adorned with "baubles, bangles and fabulous doodads" that he hopes some major corporation will donate as a title belt of sorts.
Foreman, who could not be reached for comment, tentatively is scheduled to fight Sept. 7 on HBO against either Glenn McCrory, Art Tucker or James Pritchard for a $5 million payday.
"Nothing is complete until the contracts are signed," King said. "But we're in the process. My pencil is burning up."
As, presumably, are Finkel and Dan Duva, Holyfield's promoter. The two were hoping to do a Nov. 8 rematch of the April 19 Foreman-Holyfield bout since it appears both sides have shelved talk of a Tyson-Holyfield title showdown. Each side has alternative plans in case their Foreman gambits fall through.
"What's the worst thing that could happen?" Duva said. "We don't fight Foreman again? So what. No matter what happens, Evander Holyfield will be defending his title in November."
For Holyfield, Plan B would be the winner of the Aug. 7 Ray Mercer-Tommy Morrison bout, for which Duva said Holyfield would make $15 million. For Tyson, it probably would be undefeated Riddick Bowe. "If I don't deliver this, so be it," King said. "It ain't the end of the world."
And it won't be the end of the Holyfield-Tyson-Foreman tug-of-war. "Even if Tyson-Foreman gets made," Duva said, "the winner still has to come back to fight Evander Holyfield."