In a shocking switch yesterday, Mike Tyson was in and George Foreman was out as heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield's opponent at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nov. 8.
"It's a done deal," said Al Braverman, matchmaker for Don King, Tyson's exclusive promoter.
The agreement with King was confirmed by Holyfield's financial adviser, Shelly Finkel, who only three days ago had said that a Holyfield-Tyson fight was a dead issue, and that Holyfield was prepared to sign for a rematch with Foreman, who lost a 12-round decision to the champion April 19 in Atlantic City, N.J.
"We didn't give Tyson one penny more than we originally offered," Finkel said. "He's getting $15 million."
Holyfield will receive an estimated $36 million of the $51 million purse bid.
After Tyson scored a repeat victory over Donovan "Razor" Ruddock on June 28 in Las Vegas, King said he would not accept less than $25 million for Tyson to fight Holyfield.
"King changed his mind because he finally realized Tyson had no one else of any consequence to fight," Finkel said. "When he couldn't sign Foreman, he had nowhere else to go."
King also lost the battle over control of pay-per-view television. // The championship match will be carried by TVKO, a subsidiary of Time-Warner. Tyson, however, will receive 40 percent of any pay-per-view revenue exceeding $48 million, with Holyfield guaranteed 60 percent over that same figure.
In recent months, Tyson has pressured King to secure a title match. He lost his crown in Tokyo 17 months ago to Buster Douglas, a 40-1 underdog. Tyson, 25 last month, has since won (( four bouts.
Foreman, 42, who became a folk hero by launching a comeback in 1987 after a 10-year absence from the ring, was used as a bargaining chip by both King and Dan Duva, Holyfield's promoter. But the former heavyweight champion lost out on both counts.
Two of his representatives, promoter Bob Arum and adviser Ron Weathers, were in New York yesterday, ostensibly to complete a contract with Duva for a Holyfield-Foreman rematch.
While Arum awaited word in his Hotel Carlyle suite, Duva and Finkel were in the office of King's lawyer, Bob Hirth, signing for the Tyson match.
"They screwed us," Arum screamed over the telephone, referring to Duva and Finkel. "They're creeps, but we'll get even, don't you worry."
Finkel said: "I just told Arum that the best thing for Holyfield was to take this fight with Tyson," Foreman will have to settle for a $5 million payday on HBO, Sept. 7, when he will fight journeyman cruiserweight Boone Pultz. It is part of a doubleheader at the Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas with Roger Mayweather and Rafael Pineda fighting for the International Boxing Federation welterweight title vacated by Simon Brown.
Duva and King have feuded for a long time, but both promoters realized this was the most lucrative match for both Holyfield and Tyson, and the one fight fans demanded.
It is also the match both fighters, mindful of history, wanted.
Last May in New Orleans, after being named the IBF's Fighter of the Year, Holyfield said: "As far as history goes, a Holyfield-Tyson fight now will be like another Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier in 1971. We're the best two guys out there and at the top of our game.
"I hope we can live up to the standards that Ali and Frazier set. When people come to see me fight, they know I'm going to fight hard. Same for Tyson. You know we're going to perform."
Holyfield acknowledged that if Tyson had fought him before losing his title to Douglas, Tyson would have had a better chance of winning.
"I'm a lot stronger now, and my techniques are better, too," said Holyfield, 28, and unbeaten as a professional. "The big thing is how my confidence has grown. I didn't know how it would be to fight bigger men, like Douglas and Foreman, but I found out I could handle them."
Landing Holyfield-Tyson is a major plum for Caesars Palace sports director Rich Rose. In recent years, boxing's extravaganzas have either gone to Donald Trump in Atlantic City or to Steve Wynn at The Mirage in Las Vegas.