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Supporting cast polishes Tyson star; New lineup in camp seeks peace, not war


LAS VEGAS -- In the aftermath of Mike Tyson's horrific, ear-biting run-in with heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield on June 29, 1997, a riot broke out in the MGM Grand's casino.

Gunshots were reported and more than 40 people were injured as gambling tables were overturned and looted.

As a consequence, the MGM ended its contract with Tyson's promoter, Don King, and Tyson's boxing license was suspended indefinitely by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

But nothing is forever in professional boxing, especially when the sport's biggest attraction is involved. And so, after an 18-month exile, Tyson will be back in the same ring Saturday night when he meets lightly tested Francois Botha in a 10-round nontitle bout.

"Mike Tyson has a profound impact on boxing," said MGM Grand senior vice president Don Welsh, a transplanted Baltimorean.

"The bidding for this fight was very aggressive and competitive. Obviously, if we didn't do it, someone else would have. But our security force is making sure what happened in the casino the last time will never happen again."

Tyson also has been reunited with Showtime, which controls the pay-per-view telecast. The rematch with Holyfield created $90 million in pay-per-view revenue, a good reason to forge a new four-fight package with the former champion, who was guaranteed $30 million in launching his second comeback.

"Win or lose," said Showtime executive Jay Larkin, "the public has an almost insatiable appetite to see Tyson in the ring."

But it was not all of Don King's horses and men who put boxing's Humpty Dumpty together again. King, his two proxy managers, John Horne and Rory Holloway, and trainer Richie Giachetti, are no longer with Tyson, who is suing both King and Horne for mismanaging his financial affairs.

Horne and Co. fostered an atmosphere of hostility that only further damaged Tyson's negative image. They have been replaced by a new supporting cast, including promoter Dan Goosen, manager Shelly Finkel and trainer Tommy Brooks, who, were both formerly associated with Holyfield.

There seems to be far less static in the Tyson camp these days, with the peace being disturbed only occasionally by outbursts from holdover cheerleader Steve "Crocodile" Finch.

"There was some weird things going on before, but that's over with now," Finch said.

Finkel has made an effort to have Tyson work more amicably with the media, although questions about his pending trial, Feb. 5, for allegedly assaulting two Maryland motorists, and his ongoing problems with the IRS have been ruled out.

Finkel, 52, a soft-spoken New Yorker who made millions booking the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney before turning to boxing and managing the likes of champions Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Mark Breland, is a patient problem-solver, unlike the bellicose King.

"I first got to know Mike through Breland, one of his buddies from Brooklyn, when they were going through the trials for the 1984 Olympics," Finkel said. "After he was suspended in 1997 and fired King, we kept up a continuing dialogue until it got done."

Finkel has witnessed a human side to Tyson that he seldom reveals to the public.

"During our training in Phoenix, Mike visited youth groups, prisons and hospitals, but kept the media away so it wouldn't be perceived as a publicity stunt," Finkel said.

"Occasionally, he lets his guard down. There was an incident Tuesday with a New York TV guy who asked him why he uses the 'F-word.' Mike cursed him out. He's not going to go out of the way to be someone he's not."

Goosen, who reportedly gave Tyson a $2 million loan for the privilege of promoting his next two fights, also tries to soften Tyson's image.

"When I first got involved with Mike, I'd heard all the negative stuff and didn't know what to expect," he said. "But he worked out at our gym in Denver for a month and our relationship grew. A lot of things he says will shock people, but I admire him for speaking his mind. Like his T-shirt says, 'Be real.' He won't hide his feelings to please somebody."

A former stationery salesman, Goosen didn't get into boxing through the usual channels. As the California native tells it: "One day I looked in the Yellow Pages under 'boxing promoter' and it was a real short list -- Don King and Bob Arum -- and I thought, 'Hey, there's plenty of room for another.' "

Working with his brother, Joe, under the banner "Ten Goose," Goosen enjoyed a measure of success promoting middleweight Michael Nunn and the Ruelas brothers, Gabriel and Rafael, all of whom became world champions.

Now working as the chief operator for America Presents, Goosen may have struck a motherlode in his partnership with Tyson.

"It all began to fall in place at [sports columnist] Jim Murray's funeral in Los Angeles last August," Goosen recalled. "There were hundreds of sports VIPs, but I saw Tyson sitting by himself in a rear pew.

"It reminded me of a high school dance where everyone is afraid to talk to the prettiest girl. I didn't want it to be a business meeting, but I said, 'Mike, maybe we can talk some time. And he said, 'Yeah, maybe we can.' "

Three days later, Finkel called to tell Goosen that Tyson was willing to work with him.

Brooks, the last piece added to the equation, has been pleasantly surprised by Tyson's complete cooperation during the past two months of intensive training.

"This isn't the old Mike Tyson physically or mentally," he said. "He's got something to prove to himself and the world."

Instead of the sycophants who surrounded him in the past, Brooks is blunt and direct in speaking his mind.

"Mike is in this position because he has no friends," he said. "He's really trying to find his identity."

Brooks has gone back to basics, while preaching to Tyson that his old bullying tactics will not work against fighters who refuse to be intimidated.

"Guys Mike fought in the past would get hit one good shot and look for a soft spot to land. So he fell for the bull that he was Superman and could knock down walls.

"But Holyfield pulled the covers off him and gave him a real beating in the first fight."

Brooks admits believing Tyson should have been banned for life for biting Holyfield's ears.

"It was a cowardly act, but he paid for it with a $3 million fine and a long suspension. Looking back, I believe he was just totally frustrated against Holyfield. He got no help from his trainers. You back a rat into a corner, and he's going to do something."

Now, the new Team Tyson is attempting to turn the rat into lovable Mickey Mouse.

But as Tyson recently reminded everyone: "I still run the camp. I'm the cash cow. I have guys like Finkel around me so I won't give all my money away."

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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