NEW YORK -- Surprise, surprise. Evander Holyfield chose The Bully over The Belly.
In an announcement that shocked much of the boxing world, baffled and bemused George Foreman and enraged Bob Arum, representatives for the undisputed heavyweight champion reached agreement yesterday for a scheduled 12-round fight between Holyfield and former champion Mike Tyson Nov. 8 at Caesars Palace.
The fight is expected to be the richest in boxing history, and it will have to be to pay the fighters their guaranteed purses: $30 million for Holyfield and $15 million for Tyson, with hefty percentages of pay-per-view television receipts tacked on. The purses for both are the highest ever paid to a champion and challenger, as well as the highest amounts paid to any athletes for a single performance.
"We just locked up a deal," said Bob Hirth, attorney for Tyson's promoter, Don King, following face-to-face negotiating sessions Tuesday night and yesterday afternoon, sandwiched around lengthy telephone conversations. And Shelly Finkel, Holyfield's manager, needed to get the approval of his fighter, who is in Hawaii judging a slam-dunk contest.
"Evander said, 'Everything being equal, I want Tyson,' " Finkel said. "Now the papers have been executed and everything's in place."
According to Hirth, the agreement was signed by Dan Duva and King. All that is needed are the fighters' signatures. "All approvals from everyone concerned have been gotten," Hirth said.
But as of yesterday morning, the Holyfield camp, led by Finkel and promoter Duva, maintained they were "very close" to a deal for a Holyfield-Foreman rematch; in fact, Finkel even told that to Foreman and his promoter, Arum, yesterday afternoon the same time Duva was in Hirth's midtown office finalizing the deal with King.
"It wasn't done yet," insisted Finkel, who said just before midnight Tuesday that Holyfield-Foreman was a virtual lock. "There were still a lot of details to be worked out."
But, in fact, the Tyson and Holyfield camps had reached an agreement in principle by 7:30 Tuesday night after a one-hour meeting at the Parker Meridien Hotel. King, who had insisted for months that Tyson needed purse parity or at least a 55-45 split to agree to a Holyfield fight, shocked the Holyfield camp by accepting the $15 million offer to Holyfield's $30 million -- a two-thirds to one-third split -- plus 40 percent of net receipts, after expenses, above $48 million. Holyfield gets the remaining 60 percent. Industry sources have said Holyfield-Tyson could generate $100 million worth of gross income.
In exchange, King agreed to take no part in the promotional profits of the fight, nor would the Holyfield camp hold options on Tyson's future fights should he regain the title. Also considered crucial to the deal is that the fight telecast would be handled by TVKO, with which Main Events, Holyfield's promotional outfit, has a long-term deal.
"Don gave in on everything we wanted," Finkel said. "Once we took Foreman away, what could he do? He had to make this fight. It's obvious."
In recent days, King was under increasing pressure from Tyson to get him another shot at the title he lost by KO to Buster Douglas on Feb. 10, 1990. Knowing that, the Holyfield camp went through the motions of pursuing a rematch between Holyfield and Foreman, who lost a decision to the champion on April 19. As late as yesterday morning, Foreman still was being led to believe he would be Holyfield's next challenger. When Arum found out Holyfield would fight Tyson instead, he blew his stack.
"Finkel has some nerve to call King a creep," Arum said. "They can all go ---- themselves. We had a deal [Tuesday]. We shook on it. They used us."