During the past few months, there are two things Don King has insisted he would never, ever do: One was to accept anything less than a 50-50 purse split for Mike Tyson against HTC Evander Holyfield. The other was to let Tyson get away.
Yesterday, King gave in on one to make sure the other did not happen. How else to explain his sudden aboutface in the Tyson-Holyfield negotiations? It was only two weeks ago that King rejected the offer of $15 million for a Holyfield fight from Main Events, saying, "Mike Tyson's the attraction here, not Holyfield. Tell them to come up with $25 million and we got a deal."
Yesterday, King agreed to allow Tyson to take half as much as Holyfield, who will get a whopping $30 million for the scheduled Nov. 8 showdown. It all goes back to King's philosophy of life: Hold out for your best deal, but when your back is against the wall, just get the money, any way possible. There can be no doubt that Tyson had indeed put King's back against the wall.
Since June 28, Tyson had spent much of his time in the company of Harold Smith, who permanently borrowed $24 million of Wells Fargo's money to promote fights in the late 1970s and early 1980s, for which he later served four years in jail. But even such disparate characters as Bob Arum and Bill Cayton had to acknowledge that as a promoter, Smith was a fighter's best friend.
"The fighters all loved Harold," Cayton said. "I believe he's reliable and honorable in his dealings with fights. He delivered to every fighter exactly what he promised them."
In 1987, when Smith was on the verge of release from Boron State Prison in California, Cayton's partner, the late Jim Jacobs, expressed affection for Smith because of his dealings with Wilfred Benitez, who was managed by Jacobs and Cayton. "Harold was a pleasure to deal with," Jacobs said. "He'd offer you $200,000 for a fight. You would come back and say, 'How about $400,000?' And Harold would say, 'OK.' No hassles."
Of course, he wasn't playing with his own money back then. Recently, Smith had been educating Tyson about how pay-per-view money is collected and counted; how much a
promoter's expenses for a show should be; and how much of a gross purse a fighter such as Tyson should be taking home. According to sources, Tyson was leaning strongly toward dumping King and taking on Smith as an adviser unless King came up with the one thing Tyson really wanted: a shot at Holyfield and a chance to regain the title.
And call King what you will, but he is a survivor. He felt the heat of Smith breathing down his neck and he knew that this time, Tyson was serious. So he did the only thing he could do to stay in the boxing business, or at least until Nov. 8 -- he made the Holyfield fight, on Holyfield's terms.
"The thing that couldn't be done has been done. I have snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat," King said.
King has no part in the promotion except for whatever financial arrangement he and Tyson have worked out. The fight will be telecast not by KingVision, but by TVKO. And worst of all, if Tyson loses, King will have no options on Holyfield.
Now he just has to hope that his fighter comes through and keeps him in the game a little longer.
* CRUISE CONTROL: If George Foreman decides to continue fighting, HBO has a tasty tidbit on the menu for his Sept. 7 "comeback" fight -- Boone Pultz, 31, a cruiserweight who never has weighed more than 190 pounds and was KO'd by the dreaded Magne Havnaa. For this, the Rev. George pockets $5 million. Lord have mercy.
* A DIFFERENT RING: Former heavyweight contender Earnie "The Acorn" Shavers is a minister and author living in Phoenix. Shavers' book, surprisingly, is not about his career in the boxing ring but about his experiences with the wedding ring.
His book, "Choosing and Loving Your Wife God's Way," aims to explain the secrets of a happy, healthy marriage. How did such a feared puncher become an expert on matrimony?
"I did a lot of research," said Shavers, who wed his third Mrs. Shavers in November. "In my first two marriages I made every mistake a man could make. That's how I learned enough to write the book." Just think, if Tyson had read it, Robin still might be around.