NEW YORK -- Mike Tyson seemed ready last night to break with Don King in what some people might consider a case of the sinking ship leaving the rat.
Tyson, who may never fight again, was expected for dinner in Los Angeles by Harold Smith, the colorful former promoter who said he would offer this food for thought:
"Forget about Evander Holyfield and forget about boxing. Your only fight now is the one for your life in Indianapolis."
Tyson faces up to 63 years at a Jan. 27 trial there for rape charges.
Asked yesterday if Tyson was leaving King, Smith replied: "Not yet."
King, not available last night for comment, reportedly dismissed the prospects of losing Tyson as "just a rumor, and nothing new."
Smith insisted he would not manage Tyson, but he'd act as a consultant, and advise him to "resolve his problem with that little girl."
"I would have immediately postponed the fight [when Tyson was indicted]," Smith said. "The public should never have had the perspective that he thinks boxing is his priority. If he believes he is innocent, win the trial. If he's found guilty, he's going to have to walk the rope -- just like I did."
By 1981, Smith had become King's biggest promotional rival, but his boxing career was interrupted by a prison term for embezzling $21 million from Wells Fargo. His record with fighters, however, was excellent. Unlike King, he was never accused of shortchanging them.
Still, Holyfield's manager, Shelly Finkel, believed that "at the end of the day, Tyson will be back with King," but added that it was obvious the promoter was "having problems" with the fighter.
Finkel said King had "great resources." He wouldn't elaborate, but King's lawyers were acting on Tyson's behalf in Indianapolis. Jose Sulaiman, the WBC president, always could warn the fighter to stay with King or forfeit his status as Holyfield's mandatory challenger.
Tyson apparently was displeased that King tried to make him fight Nov. 8 with what was diagnosed as torn cartilage in the left rib cage. And at Tuesday's meeting, when January dates were being rejected, King argued that Tyson would be able to fight Dec. 13. The New York Daily News learned yesterday that a second opinion, by an independent doctor, said not only would Tyson not be able to fight Dec. 13, he might not be ready in January.
"When I saw Mike at the airport [Wednesday in Los Angeles], he moved around like he had real problems," said Smith.
King is now talking of matching Tyson with Riddick Bowe in January and Smith sneered, "He wants to get the last one in."
It was Smith who is believed to have convinced Tyson last summer to pressure King into dealing with the Holyfield camp in the first place. There were rumors then that Smith would supplant King.
But Smith said that he was "for the first time, going to let it all hang out" and tell Tyson how much he dislikes King.
"I hold King personally responsible for Muhammad Ali's condition, forcing him to take that  fight with Larry Holmes," said Smith. "Ali was never the same after that fight, but King has no feeling for fighters. Fighters are pieces of paper and pieces of meat."