Donald Zuckerman, a rock 'n' roll promoter, is taking a shot at boxing with Henry Tillman, one of nine U.S. fighters to win Olympic gold medals in 1984.
Tillman, without fanfare, won the 201-pound-class Olympic title, upsetting world champion Willie deWit of Canada.
"I've only been in the game three years. I felt they deserved the attention," Tillman said of the publcity showered upon such gold-medal teammates as welterweight Mark Breland, super heavyweight Tyrell Biggs and light flyweight Paul Gonzales. Light heavyweight Evander Holyfield's controversial disqualification in the semifinals was a much bigger attention-getter than Tillman's achievement.
Breland, Biggs, Holyfield and lightweight gold medalist Pernell Whitaker turned pro in November in New York's Madison Square Garden to a roll of publicity drums and disappointing national prime-time television (ABC) ratings. Olympic featherweight champion Meldrick Taylor and Virgil Hill, the middleweight silver medalist, played non-TV roles on that card.
The 24-year-old Tillman quietly turned pro Dec. 7, knocking out Uriah Grant in the second round at Houston. He served as his own manager, but had the counsel of Mercer Smith, who taught the former Los Angeles street fighter how to box in the California Youth Authority facility at Chino.
Then Tillman met Zuckerman on an airplane, and now he will be managed by Zuckerman and backed by him and several other men, most of them in the music business as agents, managers, promoters, or all three.
They do not intend to let Tillman's pro career proceed without fanfare.
"First the cruiserweight, then the heavyweight championship of the world," Zuckerman said.
"I'm looking forward to a real nice outcome," Tillman said quietly.
"Rock 'n' roll goes jock," crowed one of the backers, Jerry Brant, who added, "I was the first one to bring the Rolling Stones to the United States."
It was at a restaurant owned by Brant in Manhattan's Chelsea section that Tillman was introduced recently to some New York boxing writers.
"We're naive in boxing, but we're not (naive) in promoting," Brant said.
Tillman will campaign as a cruiserweight, a class in which the limit is 195 pounds, before campaigning as a heavyweight.
"We feel the competition is weaker than in the heavyweight division," said Smith, who will continue to train Tillman. Tillman had only had 44 amateur fights.
It is not known where or when Tillman will fight for Zuckerman, et al, but it is known that Madison Square Garden is interested in using Tillman, who has moved to New York, in some club shows at the Felt Forum. Zuckerman appeared interested.
Zuckerman and his partners also do not want to get Tillman tied up with options to such promoters as Don King and Bob Arum.
"We're going to stay away from the pro promoters," Brant said.
"Don King called me and said, 'Hey, I hear you're signing Henry Tillman,' " Zuckerman said. "He never made a proposal, but he wanted to sign us for an unspecified period of time."
Said Bobby Good, the matchmaker for King, "I think he's overestimating Henry Tillman at this stage. I think he's just in the development stage. Don feels the same way."