Suitors get in line, eager for piece of Tyson

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Early tomorrow morning, Mike Tyson apparently will be leaving the Indiana Youth Center in style, whisked from the prison walls in a limousine.

The former heavyweight champion may be accompanied by spiritual adviser Muhammad Siddeeq, who reportedly will be on hand when Tyson -- joined by another ex-champion, Muhammad Ali -- recites Islamic prayers outside the Indianapolis prison where he has served three years for rape.

But who will be Tyson's fellow passenger on his ride -- erstwhile promoter Don King or an aspirant to King's position?

"That's a multimillion-dollar question," said Butch Lewis, former manager of Michael Spinks and one of Tyson's many visitors during his imprisonment.

"At least six guys think they have a chance to promote or manage Mike," said Lewis, listing Rock Newman, Shelly Finkel, Bob Arum and Bill Cayton as boxing power brokers who either visited or sent emissaries to woo Tyson. "Check with President Clinton. He probably tried to see Tyson, too."

Added Newman, who has been hyping a proposed showdown $$ between former Brooklyn, N.Y., buddies Tyson and Riddick Bowe to Madison Square Garden: "Everyone wants a piece of Mike. They're going to be all over him like vultures on a T-bone steak."

No wonder. Arum has estimated that a single fight -- Tyson's proposed match with George Foreman -- would be worth $250 million in gross revenue.

But King, who lured Tyson away from Cayton in 1988, appears to remain in the driver's seat.

"I feel I'm tighter with Mike than I've ever been," King said before leaving for an anticipated reunion with Tyson outside the prison gates.

"Anyone who doubts that he'll fight for me is wishful thinking. The only prayer they've got is if I go to jail," said King, who faces a trial for insurance fraud.

"Mike will become boxing's first billionaire. I've already been deluged with calls from Brazil, France, England and South Africa."

In the next breath, King said: "We have not even discussed boxing with Mike. People who get caught up in marketing fights become mercenary and lose sight of the significant fact that Mike had his freedom taken away from him.

"Next to life, liberty is the biggest thing. I think the public recognizes Mike was innocent, but he's not bitter or hostile. He's back on the high road."

King managed to keep close ties during the past three years with Indiana prisoner No. 922335 through two of his employees, Rory Holloway and John Horne, neighborhood chums from Tyson's days in Catskill, N.Y., whom the fighter has appointed as his co-managers.

King also can guarantee Tyson quick access to a piece of the heavyweight crown. He holds promotional ties to current World Boxing Council champion Oliver McCall, who defends his title against Larry Holmes April 8.

On that same Las Vegas show, Tony Tucker and Bruce Seldon, two more heavyweights allied with King, will fight for the vacant World Boxing Association crown.

And King has not been reluctant to exploit the prison experience he and Tyson share.

"I did four years [for manslaughter]; Mike did only three," King zTC recently told Newsday. "Categorically, he will adjust. He made the time serve him. By me doing those four years, he had a tutor that understood."

If he had to make a bet, Lewis said, he would wager that King's persuasive powers will win back Tyson.

Said Lewis: "The last time I visited Mike in jail, I told him, 'If you got King in the ring, he'd stand no chance. But in his own arena, you're just as much a sitting duck.' Don is enough of a magician to steal a guy's underwear without him knowing.

"I really think Mike will try to be more independent. In fact, he told me, 'If I'm going to fight George Foreman first, I'll have Butch Lewis with me.' But right now, he's like a one-man conglomerate. He can make stocks soar on Wall Street by signing an exclusive deal with a cable-TV company or gambling casino."

Arum, King's archrival, also has preached the wisdom of Tyson's remaining a free agent.

"Tyson doesn't need King," Arum said. "He can make $20 million fighting nobodies. But his biggest payday is with Foreman [an Arum ally], who won't fight Mike if King is involved. I wouldn't be looking to sign Tyson to a million options. Just let me have him for that one fight."

Cayton, who, along with the late Jim Jacobs, guided Tyson to the undisputed heavyweight championship at 21, said King has not yet gained a stranglehold on Tyson.

"I don't think Mike has made a deal with any promoter," Cayton said. "And, if he goes back to live in the Catskills, I think there's a definite chance he'll be reunited with [former trainer] Kevin Rooney. I know he put out feelers to get back with him."

The other question surrounding Tyson is whether he again can become the merciless warrior who terrorized the heavyweight division for four years before his stunning upset by Buster Douglas in 1990. Emotionally and physically, Tyson may be quite different.

A Reuters report described Tyson as "a penitent and humble convert to Islam who reads the Koran daily." Promoter Newman also said Tyson has become so enamored of Mao Tse Tung that he has a tattoo likeness of the late Chinese leader on one of his biceps. On the other biceps are the words "Days of Grace" -- the title of a book by the late Arthur Ashe that has had a profound effect on the fighter, Newman said.

As for Tyson's physical condition, Newman told Reuters: "The guy is in awesome shape. I'm telling you -- he is well-muscled, he's cut, he's rippling with muscles."

It seems likely that Tyson, who is reportedly at about his fighting weight of 215 pounds, will work out for three months before returning to fight in early June against the likes of Peter McNeeley or Francois Botha.

"A lot of people try to make the comparison between Tyson and Ali, who was off three years when he was fighting against going in the service," said trainer Angelo Dundee, who was Ali's principal cornerman.

"But there's a big difference. When Ali was out of the ring, he always carried his boxing gear with him. He'd train at colleges where he lectured or come to the Fifth Street Gym in Miami and spar with guys like [former champion] Jimmy Ellis.

"But when you're incarcerated like Tyson, it's a different story. He was restricted to running, shadow boxing and calisthenics. It's just not the same.

"But Mike's always been a hard worker, and he's a heck of a fighter. He's just not a banger like Joe Frazier. He's got a lot of ways to beat you."

Said Eddie Futch, who trained Frazier and Ken Norton and is currently working with Riddick Bowe: "Heavyweights mature later than most fighters. They peak at 28 or 29. Tyson [who is 28] could be better than he's ever been, if he's wiser and smarter."

Arum said that Tyson showed signs of decline in his non-title fights with Razor Ruddock in 1991.

"Defense was one of his great strengths. He was always difficult to hit," the promoter said. "But he became a different fighter after losing his title. He was looking for quick knockouts and getting hit a lot by guys like [Frank] Bruno and Ruddock. I'm not sure he can recapture those defensive skills."

Then there is the perspective offered by Foreman, 46.

"I took off 10 years, came back and won a title," Foreman said. "Mike's just been off long enough to go 'round the world on a freighter."

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