While a few souls await word of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson's threatened retirement, a great many more, having seen a parade of champions renounce the ring only to hurry back, ponder other issues. For instance, should I lay out $40 to see this awesome man-child knock out some poor creature in 91 seconds or should I take the wife bowling? How exciting would the World Series be if the whole thing could end in the first inning of Game 1?
Listen to Kevin Rooney, Tyson's tough little trainer, and you would think that Tyson hardly exerted himself at all when he demolished Michael Spinks on June 27. Rooney says his fighter has been operating at only 50% of his potential. Fifty percent. "He does things in the gym nobody has seen in the ring yet," says Rooney. "Someday he's going to put it all together; then you'll really see something." Maybe we'll see the referee start counting during the national anthem. "I just hope that some fighter will come along who will be competitive enough to bring out the best in Mike," says Rooney.
At the moment, the heavyweight division consists of the 22-year-old champion and nobody else. Frank Bruno, the British glass jaw, is considered the No. 1 contender almost by default. If Tyson and Bruno meet in London on Sept. 3—a date that is momentarily on hold while Tyson supposedly weighs retirement—Bruno will do well to remember the battle cry of all heavyweight contenders from his country: God Save the Queen and God Help Me. Bruno is no stranger to American fists; he has been knocked out by James (Bonecrusher) Smith, who lost a 12-round decision to Tyson in March 1987, and by Tim Witherspoon.
After Bruno, the division falls off even more steeply. The WBA lists Tyrell Biggs as its No. 2 contender. Tyson knocked Biggs out in seven rounds last October in a fight that Tyson says he prolonged just to inflict as much pain as possible. Next in the WBA rankings are Pinklon Thomas (KO'd by Tyson in six) and Trevor Berbick (KO'd in two). Both the WBC and the WBA list one Jose Ribalta among their Top 10 challengers. Tyson knocked him out in 10 rounds in August 1986, when the future champion was still a bit green.
Tyson's three fights in 1988, against Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs and Spinks, have earned him $37 million. Now the question is whether Iron Mike will be facing far leaner paydays as he disposes of opponents with zero marquee value. Bill Cayton, for one, doubts it. Cayton is Tyson's manager, although at the moment the two are speaking only through their attorneys. Though the champion seems to have no stomach for this particular battle, at the urging of his wife and mother-in-law he is suing to break his contract with Cayton, which runs through 1992. No matter how much Tyson earns, the money may be tied up in escrow until the suit is resolved.
Says Cayton, "Mike has taken on an aura of invincibility, but that makes him even more attractive. People want to see him; they want to be able to tell their grandchildren that they saw the great Mike Tyson. Based on the calls I'm getting from around the world, he's very much in demand. Japan [site of Tyson-Tubbs] would welcome him back, eagerly. He's being sought for a fight in Italy. Promoters are calling me from France."
Certainly Tyson can take his show on a world tour and fill stadiums. If his fight with Bruno comes off, 40,000 British fans will flock to Wembley Stadium, though not with any expectation of a Bruno upset; they will pay just to see Tyson. As for television, HBO and Tyson have a seven-fight contract that guarantees the champ $26.5 million.
Fighting in the U.S., though, could be a financial letdown. The Las Vegas Hilton has staged 19 world-title bouts, including four of Tyson's, in the last 30 months. "We'd love to have Tyson back," says John Giovenco, the president of the Hilton Nevada Corporation. "But if Mike doesn't have a credible opponent, people will pay less to see him."
Bob Halloran, director of sports at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, is of the same mind. "If Tyson announced tomorrow that he's going to fight, we'd certainly be interested," says Halloran. "But after Spinks, the price is obviously going to be reduced. You had this tremendous buildup of two undefeated fighters, and it turned out to be a washout. If someone came to me now and said Tyson is going to fight X and would you pay $11 million or $12 million, I'd say, "Whoa.' "
Finding a credible opponent for Tyson is a concern. Carl (the Truth) Williams, 21-2 with 16 KOs and ranked sixth by the WBC, looked dreadful in defeating Berbick in 12 rounds just before the Tyson-Spinks main event, and another Top-10 contender, Donovan (Razor) Ruddock of Canada, hasn't impressed anyone. The most intriguing of these unalluring possibilities is Evander Holyfield, the unbeaten former cruiser-weight champion, but he has yet to fight a heavyweight. Holyfield, who appeared lackluster in winning a decision over Carlos DeLeon last April, will step into the land of the giants on July 16 when he fights James (Quick) Tillis at Caesars in Lake Tahoe.
"I have to go back to camp and work even harder," Holyfield said a few hours after watching Tyson dismantle Spinks.
Lou Duva, Holyfield's comanager and chief strategist, knows he would have a problem selling a Tyson-Holy-field fight anytime soon. "Hell, you can't sell anybody right now," says Duva. "Not after 91 seconds. So first we go after Tillis. Then, in October, we're looking for either Michael Dokes or Pinklon Thomas. I've got to find a guy who is credible, and one who has the right style not only for Evander to win, but to win impressively. Evander absolutely has to win impressively; he can't just win."
And after all of that, should Duva's strategy work, there will be Tyson glaring across the ring from the other corner. Then the bell will ring. Then....