The emergence of Mike Tyson, hard-hitting, soft-talking phenom, has been timely. Never mind Don King or HBO, this is the man who renders the much-ballyhooed heavyweight tournament both credible and profitable.
Consider what he did several months ago when he loaned his marquee value to one of the first tournament bouts, International Boxing Federation champion Michael Spinks vs. Steffen Tangstad. Going into the fight, Spinks had sold just $10,000 worth of tickets, according to co-promoter Don King. With the addition of Tyson, King sold out the Las Vegas Hilton, a gate of $1.3 million.
What's in a name? About $1.29 million.
And now that he's fighting for a title, Trevor Berbick's World Boxing Council crown on Nov. 22, well, suddenly this tournament to consolidate the three heavyweight champions is something more than a modest proposal. In fact, it's barely a heavyweight tournament anymore. It's the Mike Tyson show, with the undefeated 20-year-old knockout sensation redirecting boxing's attention back to a long-bloated division.
Whether Tyson can breeze through this tournament is anybody's guess, although Las Vegas linemakers like him. But in the meantime, he's making a lot of people happy. Even prospective opponents are heartened by his addition.
Says the ever-quirky Berbick of what a Tyson fight will mean: "It will mean, I'll get a bigger payday next fight. Yeah, a bigger payday."
Says World Boxing Assn. champion Tim Witherspoon who, eventually, will fight the winner of the Tyson-Berbick fight: "I'd rather fight Tyson than Berbick because, first of all, it's probably worth more money."
It's worth money and, for once, prestige. Unless, of course, Tyson loses.
More heavyweights: Berbick, who upset Pinklon Thomas for the WBC title, is more than just an opponent for Tyson. Berbick is as tough as they come and can hit, too. His only downfall has been his inconsistency. He once lost to S.T. Gordon, in as listless a fight as was ever staged, and then claimed he had been drugged. "You never know who you got when you got Trevor Berbick," Don King says.
Say this for Berbick: He's not exactly running scared. "I love this Tyson," he says. "Usually I have to chase these guys. But he'll be there. I love that."
As to Tyson's bull-necked strength, Berbick said: "So what. Ain't nobody stronger than me."
As to the future, well, Berbick said it wasn't Tyson's anyway. "Pinklon Thomas is going to come back and beat all these guys," he says.
Still more: The heavyweight tournament will eventually conclude with the WBC-WBA winner meeting IBF champion Michael Spinks next May. Meanwhile, Don King is busy trying to resurrect some old favorites. Thomas, who disappeared after losing his title in March, fought and won in Puerto Rico last month and has been matched with Oscar Holman on the Nov. 22 card and again with Buster Drayton on the undercard of a Dec. 12 promotion in Madison Square Garden.
So, too, has Greg Page, one-time WBA champion, who has lost five of his last seven fights, including a recent embarrassment in the Forum when he quit in his corner between rounds. King is giving Page one more chance. Actually two. If Page gets by Wimpy Halstead on the Nov. 22 undercard, he gets to fight Olympic champion Tyrell Biggs on the Dec. 12 card. So Kings says.
Yet more: Headlining that Dec. 12 card is a return match of Witherspoon and Tony Tubbs. Witherspoon had defended his WBA title against Tubbs once, but the WBA mandated a rematch when traces of marijuana were discovered in Witherspoon's post-fight drug test. So they will fight again. Word is the two will be just as blubbery this go-around as last.
Carl King, Witherspoon's manager, says his fighter was properly embarrassed when he came in a roly-poly 234 for Frank Bruno. "Now he's very conscious of his weight," King says. "He'll be 220 for the fight. He was 219 when he fought (Larry) Holmes."
Still, reports from a New York press conference indicate the diet has yet to begin. One writer said Witherspoon appeared 10 pounds heavier than when he fought Bruno.
As for the well-named Tubbs, a jump suit did little to disguise his girth at a recent press conference in Los Angeles.
Boxing Notes Don King is as extravagant as he is flamboyant when it comes to boxing cards. Here's the other fights on his Dec. 12 promotion in New York: Julio Cesar Chavez defends his WBC super featherweight title against former WBA lightweight champion Juan LaPorte, and, as of now, WBA lightweight champion Edwin Rosario is scheduled to fight Juan Nazario. King had hoped, in addition, to get WBC lightweight champion Hector Camacho in there. But Camacho was bruised in a dirt-bike spill.