Heavyweight plot thins, as McCall saves himself for Tyson's return


Promoter Don King loves to end his lengthy monologues and diatribes against his imagined enemies with the uplifting slogan "Only in America!"

But the current lowly state of professional boxing's heavyweight class warrants a more precise motto: "Only in Hollywood."

Where else could you have an obscure, newly crowned champion (Oliver McCall) promising to keep his one-third share (World Boxing Council) of the title under lock and key until a high-profile prisoner (Mike Tyson) is freed next spring to challenge him?

As a subplot, you have Michael Moorer, a reluctant dragon who owns the other two parts (World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation) of the fragmented heavyweight crown, making his first title defense against 46-year-old former champion George Foreman in Las Vegas on Nov. 5.

It's enough to have die-hard fight fans wishing for the return of Chuck Wepner, Joe Bugner and Tex Cobb.

It was McCall's upset of Lennox Lewis in London last month that ostensibly put the WBC under wraps pending Tyson's anticipated release in May after being imprisoned three years on a rape conviction.

King, who holds promotional rights to McCall and Tyson, has no intention of relinquishing his interest in the heavyweight crown, a trophy he monopolized for three years until Tyson's stunning knockout by Buster Douglas in 1990.

"Oliver will make two or three title defenses, and by that time Tyson will be out of jail," King said.

McCall, who had served for years as a sparring partner to a number of former champions, including Tyson, will not be taking great risks with the likes of Peter McNeely (ranked No. 25 by the WBC) and untested Frans Botha on his dance card.

"My father [trainer-manager Lou Duva] loves to take on almost any white heavyweight who can fight a lick," said promoter Dan Duva. "But he swears McNeely is only a four-round fighter."

Duva, who lost significant promotional weight when Evander Holyfield and Lewis were toppled from their thrones this year, still has control of Moorer, who whipped Holyfield, later diagnosed as having a noncompliant left ventricle, a so-called "stiff" heart.

"We would love to have Moorer fight a unifying championship match with McCall, but that won't happen," said Duva, alluding to King's ties with the new WBC king.

It also is unlikely that Moorer will fight former champion Riddick Bowe any time soon, despite Bowe's recognition as the most legitimate challenger. Bowe's outspoken promoter-manager, Rock Newman, has managed to alienate himself from Duva and King.

Bowe had been promised a spring title match with Lewis, but when the British boxer lost to McCall, it put Bowe, in Duva's words, "in a deep, cold place."

Duva now insists a Moorer-Bowe fight is both "makeable and marketable."

"We've worked with him in the past," he said of Newman. "We gave Bowe the shot to dethrone Holyfield in the first place, and we had also arranged his tentative fight with Lewis.

"But the trouble of dealing with Rock is that he won't subjugate his ego or ambition for the benefit of his fighter. He has to remember we're the promoter; he's just the manager."

In essence, the chaotic heavyweight picture is as much a result of warring cable network executives as power-hungry promoters.

"In boxing, everyone looks out for their self-interest," said Ross Greenberg, HBO senior vice-president. "Before everyone can find a common interest, there are always so many obstacles to overcome. Right now, everyone is playing a high-stakes poker game, and it's really pathetic."

King made a vendetta of his war with HBO after its president, Seth Abraham, failed to heed his request that commentator Larry Merchant not be allowed to work any future Tyson fights. But King found a willing partner in Showtime, which has staged pay-per-view events of his multi-championship cards featuring Julio Cesar Chavez.

When McCall's hand was lifted in triumph, King bellowed, "Oliver struck the blow that liberated us all. A black man from the ghetto took on a $20 million corporation [HBO] and won."

Showtime, of course, wants to maintain friendly relations with King, anticipating a huge pay-per-view market when and if Tyson returns to the ring.

And so Showtime boxing producer Jay Larkin supports King's plot to keep McCall's share of the title in mothballs until Tyson is freed.

"King isn't doing anything with McCall that wasn't done with a lot of other fighters," Larkin said.

King had planned to stage McCall vs. McNeely in Boston on Dec. 3, but he could not secure that date at Boston Garden. Larkin now sees McCall making his first defense in January, with Botha a possibility.

In the meantime, Bowe remains the odd man out. With HBO backing, he will fight unbeaten contender Larry Donald on Dec. 3.

"Bowe has the public behind him, and we'll try to put him in a series of fights against quality opponents in 1995," said Greenberg.

In the meantime, King is enjoying his renewed role in the battle for boxing's biggest prize. But King faces a federal trial in January for insurance fraud.

Asked how the possible imprisonment of King would weigh on the future of McCall and Tyson, Larkin said, "If things don't go well for Don, we have contingency plans."

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