Let's stop ducking the issue: Team Evander wants no piece of Tyson and never will

October 24, 1991|By Wallace Matthews | Wallace Matthews,Newsday

In the murky pond that is professional boxing, there are many different types of ducks. There are lame ducks, like Bill Cayton trying to enforce his contract with Mike Tyson. There are sitting ducks, like Tommy Morrison hung up on the ropes against Ray Mercer. There are ducks that go quack-quack-quack, like Don King near a microphone.

And then, there is the kind of duck that Evander Holyfield and his camp are trying to pull on Mike Tyson. Make no mistake about it, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and his "think tank" are indisputably ducking the No. 1 contender.

Friends, we have been looking in the wrong places for our villains, for lack of a better term. It's easy to point a finger at Caesars Palace and fun to dump on TVKO and, of course, no one wants to exonerate Don King of anything short of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.

But the Real Deal, it seems, is this: The Holyfield camp wants no part of a Mike Tyson fight. Never did. If they really wanted it, they would have found a way to make it happen. Not only didn't they do that, it was Dan Duva, Holyfield's promoter, who threw in the towel on Tuesday's meeting at 8:30 p.m., which is early morning by the hoursboxing people keep.

Consider the facts: In July, Team Evander -- Duva and manager Shelly Finkel -- announced they were on the verge of signing for a rematch with George Foreman, whom Holyfield had decisioned in April. They previously had made a $15-million offer to King for a Tyson fight, which had been summarily rejected. Never, thundered King, would he allow Tyson to accept such a paltry offer, especially since the charisma-less champion was getting $30 million.

But behind the scenes Tyson was pressuring King to make the Holyfield fight at any cost, and backing up his pressure by cultivating a friendship with Harold Smith, who was very interested in replacing King as Tyson's latest Svengali. At the last minute, after Holyfield's camp had done everything but dip its pens into the inkwell for the Foreman fight, King got the message and went back to Team Evander, suddenly happy to take the fuzzy side of the ice cream cone. Their bluff called, Duva and Finkel had no choice but to sign the Holyfield-Tyson fight.

Then came Tyson's wild night in Indianapolis and subsequent rape charge. Here's our out, thought Duva and Finkel. But no-no-no, because King immediately sent out word that Tyson had every intention of going through with the fight and if Team Evander had other intentions, a lawsuit would follow.

"I hate having to go through with this fight," a member of Team Evander told me at the time. "I detest Tyson and King and I hate having to try to hype a fight with them under these circumstances. They make me sick, but I have no choice."

Privately, another member of Team Evander was confiding to friends that he feared the Tyson fight and doubted Holyfield's ability to win it. This member believed Holyfield would be better served by fighting Foreman again, for between $15 million and $20 million, and then picking off the lesser contenders out there for $8 million to $10 million a pop. Instead, they were committed to going for the big score against the world's toughest fighter.

As the fight neared, Holyfield's camp grew resigned to the match, but their statements were remarkably tame, almost conciliatory, to Tyson. Just another fight, they said. "One bag of sugar ain't no sweeter than another," trainer George Benton said.

Even Holyfield seemed unexcited about the prospect of fighting Tyson. Last week in Houston he told me, "I keep thinking, 'What does Evander Holyfield gain from this fight?' I'm already the heavyweight champion of the world. I ain't getting anything more from this than a victory."

It was almost as if it was an inconvenience to have to fight Tyson, even with a $30-million paycheck attached.

Then came word that the fight was being postponed because of a rib injury Tyson had suffered Oct. 8. And instead of shock and outrage from Team Evander, I could almost hear the sighs of relief blowing in from Houston. I called Lou Duva with the news Friday night, woke him out of a sound sleep; he reacted as if a waiter just had told him he'd have to take capellini instead of linguini.

Same thing with Dan Duva, who rather than pledging he would do everything possible to find an alternative date, went into a chest-puffing speech about not letting Tyson and King dictate terms to him. Finally, it seemed, they had found the exit door they had been seeking since July.

At Tuesday's meeting, everyone knew going in that the three dates mentioned -- Jan. 10, 17 and 20 -- were no good for one reason or another. Plus, Duva was holding his trump card -- Holyfield's professed aversion to fighting in cold weather.

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