LAS VEGAS -- Nine days of hell.
That is how Jay Larkin, Showtime's vice president for programming, remembers the round-the-clock negotiations last March for his cable television company to gain exclusive rights to former heavyweight Mike Tyson's ring comeback just prior to his release from prison.
"We went at it at least 18 hours a day, only taking time to go home and shave. We laid the foundation of the deal," said Larkin, who was joined by Showtime president Matt Blank and Roy Langford, vice president for business affairs, in the talks with promoter Don King, Tyson co-managers Rory Holloway and John Horne and a team of lawyers on both sides.
"It was exhausting, but we finally reached an acceptable figure" -- a reported $20 million advance on a six-fight deal spanning 30 months. "But we didn't close the deal until the day Tyson was released from jail."
The fruits of the labor will begin to take shape at the MGM Grand tomorrow night when Tyson launches his comeback in a scheduled 10-rounder against 22-to-1 underdog Peter McNeeley. Tyson will receive a record purse of $25 million, eclipsing the $19 million Buster Douglas was paid to fight Evander Holyfield in 1990.
MGM chairman Kirk Kerkorian led a team of hotel executives that won the bidding to be the host of Tyson's fights with a $15 million advance on a six-bout package.
Not too surprisingly, the losers in the Tyson sweepstakes -- Home Box Office and MGM's main casino rivals -- Caesars Palace and The Mirage -- have claimed, alternately, that they never had a chance to make a legitimate offer or that the winners were fiscally irresponsible.
King's rivals questioned Tyson's judgment, wondering why he didn't choose to be an independent operator in seeking the best deals.
As Lou DiBella, HBO's vice president for boxing said: "Mike Tyson was playing poker with a full house and decided to play solitaire."
To which Larkin countered: "While everyone else was posturing, we were negotiating. And the guys who didn't get a piece of the pie now say it was rancid. The bottom line is that now we're No. 1 and HBO is boxing's Avis."
Whether Showtime paid Tyson too much money is open to debate. But projections made while Tyson was still in jail showed pay-per-view revenues at Showtime rising almost 100 percent to $396 million on the assumption Tyson would make two appearances in 1995.
Cynics claimed Showtime was bidding against itself since King and Tyson had a running feud with HBO executive Seth Abraham over the use of boxing analyst Larry Merchant on Tyson's fights before he was imprisoned.
"Merchant did nothing but totally downgrade everything Mike did," John Horne told KO magazine. "We felt he was bitter because Mike left Bill Cayton for King. We told Abraham, 'We don't care what you do with Merchant, but we don't want him working Mike's fights.
"But Seth Abraham stuck with Merchant instead of Tyson and HBO lost the biggest thing in sports history."
Abraham, however, insists HBO made a strong offer to Horne and Holloway to regain Tyson's services. As he told Newsday, "Our deal was for six fights and he [Tyson] could have earned in excess of $200 million provided he kept winning. It would have made him the richest athlete in the world between the guarantee and the moneys on top."
In any case, boxing fans have been willing to pay up to $1,500 for ringside seats to Tyson's first fight in four years. With more than 15,000 tickets already sold, it will guarantee a live gate of $15 million.
But that is small change compared with the anticipated revenue from pay-per-view at $40 to $49 a pop. Optimists like King talk of a possible $100 million payoff, but that would mean some 2 million viewers, or 700,000 more than the record audience that viewed Holyfield vs. George Foreman in 1991.
And Las Vegas will be a major benefactor of Tyson's return to the ring. His fight is expected to generate $7.8 million in spending by tourists.
Who: Mike Tyson (41-1, 36 KOs), Brooklyn, N.Y., vs. Peter McNeeley (36-1, 30 KOs), Medfield, Mass.
What: Scheduled 10-round heavyweight fight.
Where: MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas, estimated 16,000 seats.
When: Tomorrow night.
TV: Showtime Event Television pay per view, 9 p.m., estimated cost, $40-$49.
Also: Bruce Seldon (32-3, 28 KOs), Atlantic City, vs. Joe Hipp (30-3, 19 KOs), Yakima, Wash., for Seldon's World Boxing Association heavyweight title.
Julian Jackson (51-3, 47 KOs), St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, vs. Quinoy Taylor ( 25-3, 21 KOs), Dallas, for Jackson's World Boxing Council middleweight title.
Miguel Gonzalez (37-0, 29 KOs), Mexico City, vs. Lamar Murphy (18-0, 13 KOs), Miami, Fla., for Gonzalez's WBC lightweight title.