Men with money came to Atlantic City last Friday night to vie for a piece of Mike Tyson's future. They also came to watch Tyson defend his heavyweight title against Carl (the Truth) Williams. As it turned out, they only had to interrupt their plotting and scheming for 93 seconds. That's how long Tyson took to knock out Williams in a fight that lasted two seconds longer than Tyson's dismantling of Michael Spinks in the same arena a year earlier.
As Williams succumbed, a Seattle lawyer holding an $18 million bid for Tyson to fight George Foreman in Taiwan was sitting in one section of the Convention Center. Seated nearby were a few Japanese promoters with similar wealth and ambitions. Evander Holyfield, the No. 1 heavyweight contender, was also in the audience; Lord knows how much Tyson will make for fighting him. Scattered about the hall were assorted journeyman heavyweights, each worth about $4 million to the champ.
All week promoter Don King had spoken grandly of how Israel, Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong all wanted to host Tyson fights. King even claimed that Mandunga Bula, the fellow who helped to put together the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman title bout in Zaire, had invited Tyson to fight Foreman there. Like Tyson, King has been known to give the Truth a beating.
If Tyson hopes to keep getting asked to fight the world over, someone had best come up with a handicapping system—like handcuffing him for the first five or six rounds—or these early knockouts are going to put a serious crimp in his earning power. Williams went so quickly, folks got mad at the referee, Randy Neumann. Even Williams protested after Neumann, himself a former heavyweight fighter, wrapped him in a protective hug after Tyson had almost decapitated him. Less than an hour later, the 13-1 underdog proved he was still woozy: He asked for a rematch.
July 30, 1989
The decisive left hook came 77 seconds into the fight. Tyson fired it from hip level, after slipping a Williams jab. Dropping his right, a flaw in his style that had been noted by Tyson's new corner team, Williams twisted his body down and into the rising punch. It caught him flush on the right cheek.
Williams toppled. His first effort to rise failed. He pushed himself up by the count of eight and swayed back against the ropes. Neumann lifted Williams's gloves and brushed them clean against his shirt. "Are you all right?" Neumann asked. Williams didn't answer. Neumann released Williams's hands, and they fell back against the fighter's hips. Neumann repeated the question. Williams's response was a glazed stare. He was unable to raise his gloves, as he would later claim he had. Quite correctly, Neumann signaled a cease-fire.
For their brief meeting, Tyson, who's 37-0 with 33 knockouts, earned $4 million and Williams, who's 22-3, $1.2 million. But the fight did not sell well. The 16,000-seat Convention Center was rearranged to accommodate only 11,000 seats, and many were either given away or remained empty. "Still, there is a tremendous amount of interest in Mike around the world," says Bill Cayton, Tyson's estranged manager. The Chinese government has offered $25 million for Tyson to fight Foreman in Beijing. An official with China's sports ministry telephoned Cayton seven days before the Williams fight to confirm the offer.
"I told him that there was no interest on our part in having Mike fight in China now or in the future," says Cayton. "I think it would be very unpatriotic."
Bill Wheeler, a Seattle attorney who has been handling the Chinese negotiations, said that during the spring, King had spoken favorably of a fight in Beijing. Three days before Wheeler was to have met with King's lawyer in Chicago, the student rebellion in China exploded. Wheeler then offered the fight to Taiwan. Daniel Tu, of United Pacific International, a firm that is a part of Taiwan's huge China Trust Company, told Wheeler that his group would pay $18 million for a Tyson-Foreman fight, to be held in January or February.
Last Friday afternoon Wheeler said, "I told Cayton about the new offer, and he is agreeable. I have a meeting scheduled with King. I think everything can' be worked out." On Sunday, Wheeler was accusing King of trying to cut him out of the deal.
The difficulty is that King, the promoter, has the fighter; Cayton, the manager, has the binding contract. Neither can operate without the other. Tyson won't fight unless King is involved. Pay-per-view companies, HBO and the foreign television networks won't deal with Tyson without Cayton's signature on all agreements.
"Realistically, I can't deliver Tyson," says Cayton. "But I try to protect the fighter. That is my duty [as a manager], even if the fighter doesn't want it. King can't do a thing without my approval and my signature. Legally he has nothing. But he has the fighter's heart, mind and soul."
Since last October, HBO has been negotiating to sign Tyson to a lifetime contract. Tyson suggested the deal, and HBO senior vice-president Seth Abraham has proposed a series of three Tyson fights a year on HBO, with Tyson free to do a pay-per-view bout—Holyfield would be the first—every 18 months. HBO would produce the pay-per-view fights and own the rights to the delayed broadcasts of them. Tyson's purse for each bout would depend upon the caliber of the opponent. There would be an "A" pool of the top three contenders, a "B" pool for Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in the rankings, and a "C" pool for 7, 8,9 and 10.
Trouble is, most of Tyson's prospective opponents belong in an "F" pool, no matter where they are ranked. For example, King has been shamelessly trying to peddle Jose Ribalta as a worthy foe. In a preliminary to the Tyson-Williams fight, Ribalta was handed a 10-round decision over Jeff Sims, who hadn't fought in 40 months. After two rounds Sims was huffing like an overweight businessman on an exercise bike. Still, he knocked Ribalta down in the sixth and appeared to have won at least six of the 10 listless rounds. Following the Ribalta bout, Abraham was grinning. "I think we no longer have to discuss him," he said.
After disposing of Williams, Tyson made no secret of his feelings about his future. Charging across the ring, he leaned over the ropes and shook his right fist in Holyfield's direction. Tyson later offered to fight Holyfield for nothing in the Convention Center's basement. "The guy who comes back up with the key will be the champion," he said.
So, when will the two square off for pay? Probably not until after Tyson stops off in Taiwan to pick up that $18 million. When people are offering that kind of money to fight a 40-year-old fat man, serious boxing can wait.