ALL THE KING'S MAN

Ignoring commitments and logic, Mike Tyson put his fate in Don King's hands
November 07, 1988

Hardly had Actress Robin Givens departed from heavyweight champion Mike Tyson's life than Don King, hair at attention as always, came swooping in from the wings. Battered by eight months of matrimonial misadventures, Tyson was obviously in no condition to repel the fast-talking promoter's assault. Two weeks ago, King reportedly signed Tyson to an exclusive four-year promotional agreement and also was granted a limited power of attorney by the fighter. Both the promotional agreement and the power of attorney may well be worthless.

The immediate victim of King's gambit was Bill Cayton, Tyson's beleaguered 70-year-old manager, who has a drawerful of multimillion-dollar title-defense contracts and, for the moment, no heavyweight champion willing to fulfill them. "He can't deliver the fighter," boasts King. "I can." For that, King wants a hearty slice of the financial pie.

Last weekend King, Cayton and Tyson were all in Las Vegas, where Tyson caused a brief stir when he told a press conference that he had joined King to copromote Saturday's Julio Cèsar Chàvez-Josè Luis Ramírez lightweight championship fight at the Hilton Center (page 36). Tyson was beaming as he announced his new title, which was little more than an honorific—all promotional activities for the fight had long since been completed. But the co-promoter ploy was one more rivet joining the champion and King.

"Brilliant" was Cayton's dry comment on King's latest maneuver in the Tyson tug-of-war. "Just brilliant. What I don't do is provide a swashbuckling life-style as an inducement to sign illegal contracts. I feel very sad that Mike appears to have gone from a manipulative situation [his relationship with Givens] to another, far more manipulative situation. I sincerely wish that Mike would retreat for a while to the one place he felt peace and contentment, at home, in Catskill, New York, where he can think things out."

For his part, Tyson seemed quite content at King's elbow, where he has been permanently moored for nearly a month. "Hey, I don't want to talk about me," said Tyson, laughing last Thursday. "I'm a promoter. I want to talk about my fight [Chàvez-Ramírez]. Hopefully I'm going to make a few dollars. Not that making money is a problem. My problem is in having money."

If he follows the schedule that Cayton has laid out for him, Tyson will have a lot more of that problem, given the amount of money—$50 million—that he stands to gross over the next 12 months. Three fights have already been negotiated: $6 million to fight British heavyweight Frank Bruno in Las Vegas in late January or early February; $10 million to take on Adilson Rodrigues in Rio de Janeiro on Feb. 12; and another $10 million to fight Francesco Damiani in Italy in late May or early June. Three other fights have been penciled in: Carl Williams for late April; Evander Holy-field for late September; and George Foreman in Tokyo in December. "I say $50 million in one year, and I am being conservative," says Cayton. "There is no telling how much money this young man can earn in the next four or five years."

Therein lies the rub: $50 million without King, but less with him, for King doesn't work for nothing. He was paid $3 million, for example, to "copromote" the Tyson-Spinks bout in June, which barely required the services of a promoter. King's only real duty was to put together the undercard, which may have taken him all of two days and cost him an estimated $500,000.

If King succeeds in his bid to be Tyson's sole promoter for four years, he will receive millions in fees for services Tyson could often receive for free. For example, the Bruno fight is expected to wind up in the Las Vegas Hilton, which would foot the bill for the promotion as part of its live-site fee. The Damiani fight in Italy and the Rodrigues fight in Brazil are also expected to come with built-in promoters. In each case the fight sponsors are likely to say, understandably, "Hey, we're giving you a promoter for free. You want King, you pay him." Tyson's payday would be reduced accordingly; for example, if such an arrangement had been in force for the Tyson-Spinks bout, Tyson would have had to pay King's $3 million out of the $20 million he grossed that night.

But King may have overstepped himself. New York State boxing regulations prohibit a fighter from signing a promotional deal without his manager's consent. Cayton has said that he plans to file a complaint with the New York State Athletic Commission and that he may file suit against King to void the contract and collect damages. If King is suspended from promoting fights in New York, other state boxing commissions may take similar action.

Why would Tyson, whose encyclopedic knowledge of boxing history must certainly include a chapter on fighters who have been financially exploited, decide to embrace King? Before the Spinks fight Tyson spoke of a void in his life: "Jimmy Jacobs [his comanager, who died last March of leukemia] used to come to me and say, 'Do you have any problems, and what do you want to do about them?' He made me feel like I was making the decisions. Now nobody does that." Of his choice of King as the one to fill the void, Tyson said in an interview with Larry Merchant of HBO after the Chàvez-Ramírez fight, "Don King has helped me through a great deal of pressure. When I was going through the stress [his marital difficulties] Bill Cayton didn't care to put two cents in. No one else cared to help. So no one can tell me anything bad about Don King.... I'm saying Don King's been nothing but good to me."

Tyson clearly misses Jacobs. But, though Cayton is the last remaining link with Jacobs and Cus D'Amato, Tyson's late trainer, mentor and surrogate father, Tyson seldom passes up an opportunity to insult the man who oversees his finances. Cayton's troubles began when Tyson married Givens. "She and her mother [Ruth Roper) poisoned his mind against me," Cayton has said. At Roper's insistence, and with Donald Trump chiming in as Tyson's much-ballyhooed (mostly by Trump himself) "adviser," Cayton agreed to have his share of Tyson's purses reduced from one third, the going rate for boxing managers, to 20%, and his take of the champion's outside endorsements cut even more drastically. Trump claimed last week that Tyson owes him $2 million, to be paid to charity, for helping to rework the contract with Cayton. Recently Cayton said that Givens called to apologize to him for the things she had said about him. According to Cayton, Givens indicated that everything she said about him was based on lies told her by King.

"I think Don has sold black to Tyson," says Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight champion who had a love-hate relationship with King when King was his promoter. Cayton is white, 70, well-educated. King is 57, black, an ex-convict, and from the streets. It's no contest. Thrust by his own celebrity into a world he sometimes has difficulty adjusting to, Tyson may need a father figure more than he needs a manager; he's simply not comfortable with Cayton. To him, Cayton, with his reserved, almost formal manner, is a swim in an icy pond in December; the boisterous King is Saturday night in a honky-tonk.

Fortunately, despite reports that King had been granted free access to Tyson's many millions, Tyson's money remains under Tyson's control. King's limited power of attorney appears to be very limited; in fact, it seems to carry so little legal weight that it may constitute no more than an attempt by King to further cement his relationship with the champion. Under the terms of the three-page document, King isn't empowered to make deals or to sign anything on Tyson's behalf. Curiously, in one clause Tyson acknowledges that Cayton is his manager but at the same time states, "I expect him [King] to promote [my] future fights." Is Tyson implying that he wants Cayton not to seek the best deal—a manager's primary responsibility—but to take whatever King has to offer?

Another provision of the power-of-attorney designation says that King "shall be liable only for willful default, and not for errors of judgment." Which means if King screws up, he can be held legally liable only if it can be proved that he committed fraud. It is fortunate for Tyson that the power of attorney can be withdrawn with the stroke of a pen, because King's past activities don't inspire confidence that he always has the fighter's best interest at heart.

First there was the 900 Number Debacle. Before Tyson knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in Atlantic City, King talked Tyson into getting involved in something called the Don King Telephone Network, which was in direct conflict with the many closed-circuit and pay-per-view TV contracts that had been signed for that fight.

King's plan was to set up a 900 number that callers could dial for a live, blow-by-blow report of the fight, for $3.40 a round. Tyson was to receive about $50,000—a pittance considering that Tyson's gross purse for the fight was $20 million. King worked out the 900-number scheme as part of a 10-year deal with Robert H. Lorsch, the president of Teleline, a Beverly Hills, Calif., based entertainment company. Teleline operates 900-number lines offering messages featuring such characters as Mighty Mouse and the Smurfs.

"Everyone was excited about the idea," says Lorsch. The number was to be 1-900-909-KING. "Don was to deliver Mike Tyson and told us he could. Based on his representation, we went out and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the event. Then the rights never materialized. When the crunch came, things started to unravel."

The deal was squelched by Cayton, who learned of it when the telephone people arrived in Atlantic City to set up their equipment. He called King and told him that the phone hookup was in conflict with every television contract they had. "You and Mike will be sued by all 40 of the closed-circuit and pay-per-view people for millions of dollars if this goes on," Cayton told him. King agreed to cancel the 900 number.

According to a party to the subsequent negotiations, King wrote Lorsch a letter attempting to call off the deal. The source says that Lorsch replied, "That's interesting, but we are going ahead with it." Cayton hired David E. Wood, a Los Angeles lawyer, who persuaded Lorsch to drop the blow-by-blow broadcast in favor of a 900-number call-in-your-pre-diction contest plus recorded messages from Tyson.

"Representations made to us about Don King's ability to produce the rights turned out to be false," says Lorsch. "We ended up backpedaling to protect our investment. Don King is a unique entrepreneur. I believe his heart is in the right place, but often his enthusiasm leaves innocent parties in problem situations."

"If I hadn't found out about it [the King-Lorsch deal] and got Mike out of it," Cayton said last week, "instead of being in Las Vegas enjoying himself, Mike would be in a court somewhere being sued for millions of dollars."

At about the same time as the 900-number fiasco, King visited a New York City Rolls-Royce dealer. Tyson had already purchased three cars there. King loudly proclaimed that he wanted to buy the heavyweight champion two more as gifts. King bought the champion an ivory Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible, which had a sticker price of $183,500. King paid slightly less than that. A day later King purchased for Tyson a black Rolls-Royce limousine, sticker price $198,000. He paid for the cars with a check drawn on Don King Productions, had them registered to Mike Tyson personally, not Mike Tyson Enterprises, and arranged for them to be delivered to the fighter's home in Bernardsville, N.J.

King bought the minimum amount of liability insurance for the cars: $15,000 on each. When Cayton learned of this, he promptly increased the liability insurance on each car to $6 million. "One accident and Mike would have been working for someone else for the rest of his life," says Cayton.

As it happens, the two Rolls-Royces weren't even gifts from King. Since saying that they were, King has told Cayton, more quietly, that he expected Tyson to pay for the cars; Tyson has said that, indeed, he expects to pay for them.

Then there were the Great Josè Ribalta Rematch Negotiations. In August, King talked Tyson into an October fight with Ribalta, whom Tyson had already stopped two years before in Atlantic City. Ignoring the fact that Tyson had an Oct. 8 date to fight Bruno in London (this was before Tyson broke his hand, which forced postponement of the Bruno fight), King had Ribalta and his manager, Luis de Cubas, fly to Los Angeles to meet with Tyson.

"He can't do that," said Thomas Puccio, Cayton's lawyer at the time. "Only Bill Cayton can legally make a match for Tyson. There is an excellent chance that we may bring suit against King."

There was no need. When Tyson returned to his Bernardsville home, his mother-in-law, Ruth Roper, who until then had looked upon King as an ally, explained to Tyson the facts of contract law. Roper, who ran the circus until Tyson and Givens filed their divorce petitions last month, also raised questions about the Ribalta agreement with King, who soon thereafter scrapped the deal. Now King, showing his customary regard for other people's deals, looms as the promoter of the upcoming Bruno fight, although British promoters Mickey Duff and Jarvis Astaire, who have had Tyson and Bruno under contract for months, may have something to say about that.

"Tyson says he's mad at Bill Cayton," says Holmes. "Why? Cayton and Jimmy Jacobs, until he died, made Tyson the richest athlete in history. I wish I'd had Bill Cayton when I was fighting. I would have a lot more money. Now Tyson has to decide: Does he want to bite off his nose to spite his face? Does he want to stay with Don King and know that the dollars are not going to be so great? Or does he want to stay with Bill Cayton, the guy who has been with him from day one and has brought him millions and millions of dollars?

"If he stays with King, he has got to know that those millions are going to get cut down. I think he's making a great mistake. But it's his life and his career, and only he can make that decision. If he's happy with King, then tell him to go for it."

PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSEHappily affirming their partnership, Tyson and King took the sun together in Vegas. PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSEThe cool Cayton was never the champ's chum. PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSETyson, King and Muhammad Ali shared center stage before the Chàvez-Ramírez fight. PHOTOCRAIG MOLENHOUSENot content with his own shoes, King appears determined to fill Cayton's as well.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)