Canadian promoter Don Arnott only seems to be half-joking when he says his two homes and life savings are at risk in the carnival-like, $1 million-plus heavyweight tournament, a pay-per-view television event to be held at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Miss., on Dec. 3.
Heretofore mainly a promoter of low-budget, kick-boxing tournaments in his native British Columbia, Arnott, with financial partners Trevor Wallden and Helena Lines, is gambling that fight fans will buy into his three hours of non-stop heavyweight action, featuring a pair of former champions in James "Bonecrusher" Smith and Tony Tubbs and familiar title contenders Tyrell Biggs and Bert Cooper.
"We tried something like this two years ago in Vancouver with a bunch of area heavyweights, offering a top prize of $10,000," Arnott said. "Everyone loved the idea, but obviously this is a much bigger risk."
In "The People's Choice World Heavyweight Superfights," calls to 1-900-93 FIGHT determine the opening-round pairings of the 16 fighters in a series of three-round bouts. There is a charge for each call.
Fans also can select the 16th contestant from a list of seven promising American heavyweights. The ultimate winner of five fights will earn an accumulated purse of $1 million.
"This isn't a tough-man tourney involving a bunch of barroom brawlers who don't know a thing about fighting," said Arnott on a visit yesterday to the headquarters of United Artists Cable, which will carry the event locally. "I prefer calling it an Olympics for professionals."
The tournament has an international flavor. Heavyweights will represent Romania (Daniel Dancuta), Norway (Magne Havnaa), Ukraine (Yevgeni Sudakov), Dominican Republic (Leonsio Bueno), Australia (Craig Peterson), plus England's Joe Savage, the self-proclaimed bare-knuckles champion of Europe, with a perfect record of 41 knockouts.
Savage, 30, has been barred for life by the British Boxing Board for engaging in unsanctioned fights. Known as "The Incredible Bulk," he dreams of making an impact here.
"This is the kind of fighting I enjoy," said Savage, sporting a colorful array of tattoos on his body. "You don't have to deal with all the hype, rubbish and politics of promoters like Don King, Dan Duva and Bob Arum. You just go out bombing, and let the better man win."
For Tyrell Biggs, the 1984 Olympic super-heavyweight champion, who lost on a seventh-round knockout in his 1987 title challenge against Mike Tyson and was stopped by Riddick Bowe in a non-title bout two years ago, this tournament offers a chance for redemption.
The Philadelphia native, who has overcome drug problems, quit fighting after losing a decision to Mike Hunter in January.
"I started selling cars in California and discovered I was pretty good at it," said Biggs. "But when I heard about this tourney, I decided it was a perfect opportunity for me to make money and get back in the title picture. I still believe I can beat just about anyone out there."
The three-round format perfectly suits him, Biggs says.
"That's how I fought as an amateur when I compiled a 108-6 record and won an Olympic medal. Heck, if my fight with Bowe had ended in the third round, I probably would have become heavyweight champ, not him."
Originally, the field included more able heavyweights, but former champion Michael Dokes and Italy's Francesco Damiani withdrew.
"Managers of fighters like Damiani, who are in the world rankings, don't want to risk their man losing to an unranked fighter," said Arnott.
"Bill Cayton considered putting Tommy Morrison in the tournament. But he realizes that if Morrison suffered another loss like his recent one to Michael Bentt, he'd be dead as a contender."
* During yesterday's news conference, Biggs and Savage met with Baltimore youngsters who participate in Project RAISE. The Baltimore Mentoring Institute's project connects adults with city public school children who are usually from low-income families. RAISE seeks to make a difference in the lives of children who are growing up in difficult circumstances.
FACTS AND FIGURES
What: The People's Choice World Heavyweight Superfights
Where: Casino Magic, Bay St. Louis, Miss.
When: Dec. 3, 9 p.m.
TV: Pay per view, $24.95 a subscriber
Promoters: Don Arnott, Trevor Wallden and Helana Lines, all of Nanaimo, British Columbia.
Format: Sixteen heavyweights, including former champions Tony Tubbs and Bonecrusher Smith, will engage in a series of three-round fights. Each victory will earn $20,000, with the ultimate winner accumulating $1 million, plus $20,000 bonuses for first-round knockouts.