It will take nothing short of a miracle for the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson heavyweight title bout to go on as scheduled Nov. 8.
What it will take is for Tyson to come up squeaky clean before the Indianapolis grand jury that will decide if he should be indicted for the alleged rape of an 18-year-old Black Miss America pageant contestant.
Even if his innocence is proven later in court, a Tyson indictment for rape means the Nov. 8 fight is off. Period.
The consensus from a cross-section of fight promoters, television executives and sponsors, most of whom would not speak for the record, is that a heavyweight title match involving one contestant who is under indictment for rape is unpromotable, pure and simple. Although TVKO's Seth Abraham gave USA Today the old "innocent until proven guilty" line and promoter Dan Duva is saying publicly that he is proceeding with the assumption that all is a go for Holyfield-Tyson, in the background he is
making contingency plans for the very real possibility of life without Tyson.
"It's a real mess," a beleaguered Duva said yesterday. "We have to be prepared, and we are preparing."
Indianapolis plans to convene the grand jury within two weeks and to have the matter "resolved," meaning either indict Tyson or drop the charges, by Labor Day. That would give Duva about two months to try to sell a fight that must net a minimum of $50 million, a record, just to cover the guaranteed purses. And the problems a Tyson rape indictment present may make that impossible, no matter how much time a promoter has.
For one thing, you can't hold any news conferences involving Tyson, because he will be both unavailable, by orders from his attorneys, and unwilling, by his very nature, to answer questions about the incident. No news conferences mean less coverage, and that translates into fewer pay-per-view sales. Already, the first news conference, scheduled today, has been canceled.
"The purpose of that was really to help
the gate, and that's almost sold out," Duva said. "So we don't lose much there."
Where they do stand to lose, however, is in sponsorships. How many sponsors will want their names attached to an event that features an accused rapist? Duva already has lined up Budweiser and is negotiating with Chevrolet, 7-Eleven and Coca-Cola. "Sponsors are the most gun-shy people alive," said Kevin Monaghan of NBC, which has dropped its boxing telecasts because of its inability to attract sponsors. "[If Tyson gets indicted] you can kiss those guys goodbye."
And what about the pay-per-view network, TVKO, which is a subsidiary of the publicly owned Time Warner? Will its executive board and stockholders want to televise a fight with an accused sex offender? Consider that CBS summarily dropped Pee-wee Herman, who is accused not of rape but of exposing himself in an adult movie house.
"But Pee-wee Herman doesn't generate $100 million worth of gross income," said a rival TV executive. "We're talking about a lot of money here. Some outfits might be willing to overlook things like this."
And some might not. How about women's rights groups such as NOW, which undoubtedly will organize protests against the site, Caesars Palace, and local cable companies, bringing pressure on them to drop the fight. And what about ordinary law-abiding citizens who find it distasteful that an accused sex offender is allowed to fight for the heavyweight title and a $15 million purse while awaiting trial? Conceivably, a good many of those people might have been inclined to buy the pay-per-view telecast of the fight, and now will not.
"There would be no way in hell that this fight could go on," said a boxing source. "The pressure from all those groups would shut everything down. It would be so enormous that it would be uneconomic to do the fight."
Ironically, the only case bearing a resemblance to this one also involved Duva, when his unbeaten junior middleweight, Tony Ayala, was arrested for rape four months before a scheduled title shot. On the advice of his counsel, Ayala pulled out of the fight to help prepare his legal defense.
He was convicted and is serving a 35-year prison sentence.
"His lawyers felt it would look insensitive for him to be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars while a woman is claiming he raped her," Duva said. "Tyson's attorneys may decide it's in his best interests to go ahead as if nothing has happened."
But the whole thing may be out of his hands. Even if the sponsors don't pull out, and TVKO decides the money is more important than its image and the protests and boycotts never take shape, there is always Nevada Athletic Commission rule 467.887, which reads: "(A) license may be suspended if the holder is arrested on a charge involving moral turpitude."
The operative word, of course, is "may be suspended," and considering the closeness between Tyson and commission member Dr. Elias Ghanem -- he's Tyson's personal physician -- a suspension is not a definite. But right now, it looks like there are an awful lot of factors working against Holyfield-Tyson happening as planned.
Probably too many.