Major fight promoters were wasting no time in realigning the heavyweight division after their main attraction, former champion Mike Tyson, was convicted in Indianapolis late Monday night of raping a teen-age beauty pageant contestant.
The promoters were insisting that there is life in boxing after Tyson, who once fascinated fight fans with his devastating power and menacing style.
"This verdict means absolutely nothing to boxing," said promoter Bob Arum, rival to Don King, who promoted Tyson's major fights the past few years. In some ways, it helps boxing, because it eliminates someone who is perceived as being a bad apple in the mix."
But Tyson's presence meant lucrative matches for pay-per-view promoters. TVKO had guaranteed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield $30 million and Tyson $15 million to meet last November, but a rib injury to Tyson forced a postponement, and the fight could not be rescheduled before Tyson's rape trial began Jan. 27.
Said Seth Abraham, president of Timer-Warner Sports, the parent company of TVKO: "Obviously, Tyson's situation has a profound effect on the heavyweight division, and that connects with the lighter divisions. As the heavyweight class goes, so goes boxing."
Kathy Duva, wife of Dan Duva and spokeswoman for Main Events Inc., their promotional firm, said Tyson's importance is being overstated.
"Tyson was the man of the '80s, representing excess, overdrive and being out of control," she said. "Holyfield is the fighter for the '90s, a decent, hard-working guy who fosters a much better image outside the ring.
"And what people fail to realize is that Holyfield's two fights with Buster Douglas and George Foreman made more money than any fight in which Tyson was involved."
Holyfield had envisioned a match with Tyson as defining his place in heavyweight history. When the fight first was proposed, he said: "As far as history goes, it would be like Ali and Frazier. We're the two best in our sport, just like Ali and Frazier were in the '70s. People know they'd see a great fight."
Tyson remains free on $30,000 bond pending sentencing March 6. There is a chance he could remain free after sentencing while his conviction is appealed.
As long as the appeal process goes on, Tyson will be removed from the heavyweight equation. Holyfield's management team of Dan Duva and Shelly Finkel is considering three alternate opponents.
The most logical choice is unbeaten Riddick Bowe of Fort Washington, ranked No. 2 by the World Boxing Council, which threatened to strip Holyfield of his title if he failed to fight Tyson, No. 1 challenger.
But TVKO reportedly is pushing for Holyfield to fight former champion Larry Holmes, who scored a major upset of Ray Mercer Friday, or staging a rematch with George Foreman, who lost a 12-round decision to Holyfield last April.
Arum serves as promoter for Holmes and Foreman, and envisions a meeting between the two over-40 fighters as a bigger attraction than Holyfield against any of the three.
"There are a lot of possible combinations," said Finkel, "and they're all very interesting. "We're going to talk to Arum today [Tuesday] about both Holmes and Foreman. And then we'll see what we can arrange with Rock Newman [Bowe's manager-promoter].
"Then we'll decide which fight is best financially for Evander. We're looking at a title fight in May or June in Las Vegas, either at Caesars Palace or The Mirage."
Yesterday, Newman was in Las Vegas, negotiating with Steve Wynn, president of The Mirage.
"I'm relieved that we're, at least, getting a little closer to a title fight," said Newman. "Trying to negotiate the past few months, I've felt like we were on a plane, stuck out on the runway, and we can't go back to the airport without further orders."
But Newman said Holyfield-Bowe has more appeal than a Holmes-Foreman match.
"Larry and George are two legends," Newman said, "but you're still lacking electricity. There is no explosive potential like there was in Hearns vs. Leonard or Foreman vs. Holyfield. But Bowe provides that ingredient if he fights Holyfield."