When world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield got home after a hard day's work at a Houston gym last Friday night, he had a message on his answering machine from his manager, Shelly Finkel: Call me! Moments later, Holyfield learned that he had just lost, for the moment and possibly forever, a $30 million payday. "Tyson is injured. The fight is postponed," Finkel told him.
Fifteen hundred miles away, in Las Vegas, challenger Mike Tyson, trying to ignore the hot pain of cartilage torn away from one of his ribs, switched on a television set to watch World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Ray Mercer battle Tommy Morrison in Atlantic City (page 74). It had been a bad day for Tyson all around. That morning in Indianapolis, Marion County Superior Court Judge Patricia Gifford had denied a motion filed by Tyson's attorneys to delay the start of his rape trial, scheduled for Jan. 27.
Earlier on Friday evening in Atlantic City, Seth Abraham, president of Time Warner Sports, had received word of Tyson's injury and of the need to postpone the Nov. 8 bout. Abraham, whose pay-per-view service, TVKO, has the live television rights for Holyfield-Tyson, picked up his telephone and canceled a series of commercials for TVKO's telecast of the bout that had been scheduled to air during college football games the following afternoon. A record 2.1 million homes had been expected to order the fight, pushing the gross for the event to more than $100 million. TVKO's profit was projected to be $4 million to $10 million.
In West Paterson, N.J., promoter Dan Duva was at a neighborhood 7-Eleven, checking to see whether the store had received its allotment of the chain's official Holyfield-Tyson coffee cups, when Tyson's promoter, Don King, called Duva's house. King left a message with the babysitter for Duva to call him back. By the time Duva returned home, his wife, Kathy, and their lawyer, Pat English, had already returned King's call. Kathy gave Dan the bad news.
At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, a three-hour conference call began. Abraham and two aides, Duva, Finkel and two representatives of Las Vegas's Caesars Palace, where the match was to be held, agreed during that call to focus their efforts on rescheduling the bout. Their target was the weekend of Jan. 17. Tyson won't be ready to fight before mid-January, and all the parties were eager to schedule the bout before the start of his trial, lest they risk his being convicted and their losing the fight forever.
But as SI went to press, sources in both the Holyfield camp and at TVKO were saying that the Jan. 18 date was unlikely, primarily because of a pay-per-view conflict with a pro wrestling extravaganza. Finkel also said that despite a promise by Caesars matchmaker Rich Rose that "We will put heat blowers in every corner of the ring," the weather in Las Vegas in January, when nighttime temperatures routinely dip into the 30's and 40's, is a major reason why his fighter is reluctant to consider that date. "I hate cold weather," said the champion. "I just can't see me fighting outdoors in January."
Last Saturday morning in Las Vegas, Tyson described how he became injured. "My left side was hurting earlier—perhaps from straining or stretching or not warming up...but I continued to box and train," he told reporters. "Then I started doing sit-ups and heard the crack. It was excruciating pain, and I just went down."
Gerald Higgins, a Las Vegas orthopedic surgeon, offered a more technical analysis. On Oct. 8, said Higgins, Tyson sustained a costal condra separation—he separated a rib from the surrounding cartilage and muscle. Tyson was put on an anti-inflammatory drug and ordered to take it easy for a few days. On Oct. 16, after Tyson had resumed sparring, the injury became even more painful, and Tyson returned to Higgins's office.
At this second examination, Higgins could feel a breach caused by the separation of cartilage from rib. He urged Tyson to postpone the fight, but the challenger was defiant. "I can beat the guy," Tyson told King. "I'll spot him the injured ribs."
"You're out of your mind," said King. "The doctor says 'Mike, you can't fight.' "
Tyson went back into the gym on Thursday, but even during a light workout the pain was too severe. He reluctantly agreed to the postponement. Higgins thinks Tyson will need six to 10 weeks to heal completely, which would barely allow him the customary four weeks of sparring before a Jan. 18 fight.
On Oct. 9, one day after Tyson's first visit to Higgins, Tyson's lawyers filed a motion to have not only the trial postponed but also a series of routine pretrial proceedings. The defense claimed that because the transcripts of the grand jury minutes were late—a rule, not always observed, requires that the minutes be available within 10 days of an initial hearing—the defense could not adequately prepare for trial. The prosecution thought otherwise, and pointed out to Judge Gifford, in a response to the defense motion, that the minutes would be available this week. Gifford gave the defense three more weeks to file a motion to dismiss the case, but she denied the motion to postpone the trial. Her ruling was issued last Friday morning—only hours before the public disclosure of Tyson's injury.
Sources close to the case regard the timing of those two events with a good deal of skepticism. "If Tyson fights in January," says one source, "he can find the basis to file for a continuance because of reasons like 'I haven't met with my lawyers, I'm training, I'm hurt, I'm tired.' "
But with the fight now only a remote possibility for mid-January, will Tyson's lawyers try to convince Judge Gifford to postpone the trial and not set a date until after the fight, whenever that might be? Lawyers defending rape cases routinely seek postponements on the theory that the passage of time between the alleged rape and the trial never benefits the prosecution: Witnesses' memories fade and the woman herself might lose the stomach for the tortuous legal fight. That scenario enrages at least one person close to the investigation. "The judge should say now that this trial will not be changed because of the date of the fight," says the source.
Adds one lawyer involved in the case, "It will be up to the judge to decide whether to delay the trial so that Tyson's multimillion-dollar payday can occur."
Not a chance, say criminal lawyers in Indianapolis. Gifford is unlikely to authorize an appeal of her own order. Moreover, getting a postponement of a trial of this magnitude is not easy.
Tyson's lawyers will also face a formidable adversary when the trial begins. Earlier this month, the prosecutors added Greg Garrison, a prominent Indianapolis criminal lawyer in private practice, to their team. Given to cowboy boots, suspenders and oratory, Garrison was an Indiana prosecutor for 18 years, who won numerous convictions in capital cases. "Adding Garrison to the case will raise the emotional level and intensity level considerably," says Stephen Goldsmith, the Marion County prosecutor for 12 years before leaving the office in 1990 to run for mayor of Indianapolis.
If convicted, Tyson could spend 63 years in prison. Says Holyfield, "It's up to the court. I can't fight him if he's in jail. But it won't bother me if I don't fight him. I want to fight the best man available, and if he's not available, then we will find the next best guy and fight him."
But not with a $30 million payday.