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Today Is the First Day of Rest of Tyson's Life : Boxing: Promoters, religious leaders are courting former champion, who spent last three years behind bars.

March 25, 1995|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INDIANAPOLIS — Leech alert!

At dawn this morning, Mike Tyson was to be released from the Indiana Youth Center, where he has spent the last three years. Waiting outside, figuratively or not, is a gantlet of promoters, cities, stadiums, networks and boxers seeking to sign him to fight.

"The first thing you prepare Mike for is the onslaught of people coming at him," says promoter Butch Lewis, a periodic visitor. "The leeches and so forth."

Tyson isn't expected to say anything but to go directly to the airport and fly to his home in northern Ohio.

Says the Rev. Charles Williams, president of Indiana Black Expo, another liaison who claims he got it from one of Tyson's managers: "All he's doing is getting in a car, getting on a plane and leaving. It's as simple as that."

It wasn't supposed to be quite as simple as that. Other "spokesmen" have said Muhammad Ali will greet Tyson at the gate; that Tyson would visit a nearby Muslim mosque to give thanks; that Hakeem Olajuwon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would be there (a spokesperson for Kareem Productions in Los Angeles said the former Laker will not); that promoter Don King will present Tyson a new Rolls-Royce.

Even religious leaders have been courting Tyson. A local high school teacher who claims to be Tyson's spiritual adviser says the fighter has become a Muslim. Tyson has been visited by representatives of two sects, the American Muslim Mission and Minister Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, but reportedly put off by the infighting, hasn't chosen either.

Williams, a Baptist, says Tyson has not become a Muslim. (When Tyson was baptized in 1988, the Rev. Jesse Jackson helped officiate.)

Tyson will turn 29 in June. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail after being found guilty of the rape of Desiree Washington, a beauty pageant contestant.

Four years of the sentence were suspended and Tyson served half of the other six, with one day off for good behavior for each day in jail.

He never admitted raping Washington or got his high school equivalency degree, either of which might have shortened his sentence. He has told friends he still doesn't believe he committed rape.

Tyson's fortune has reportedly been squandered, with most of what remained going for his legal bills. He made an estimated $60 million to $70 million in purses, but an unidentified associate of Tyson told Newsday: "He's not with great resources at this point."

Tyson's financial future, however, is no problem, what with having his pick of $100-million fights. Although there was speculation he was slipping when he lost his title to little-known Buster Douglas and won an uninspiring decision over Razor Ruddock, Tyson, alone among heavyweights, retains the aura of a great fighter.

Boxing has been in decline in his absence, especially the glamorous heavyweight division. In the five years three months since Tyson was rocked by Douglas, five new boxing organizations have been formed to join the old three.

Eighteen new champions have been crowned, among them guys named Herbie Hide, Michael Bentt, Lionel Butler, Jimmy Thunder, Danell Nicholson and Tim Puller. Two old warriors, George Foreman, 46, and Larry Holmes, 42, are still active. Foreman even has two of the titles and is considered the most attractive (read: biggest money), if not the most legitimate match for Tyson.

Foreman is trying to pressure Tyson into coming his way, announcing he'll retire at the end of the year whether he has fought the former champion or not.

Riddick Bowe is panting for a shot at Tyson and has joined with New York's Madison Square Garden to try to put together a $120-million purse. The bout would be scheduled for March 8, 1996, the 25th anniversary of the first Ali-Joe Frazier fight, which was held at the Garden.

Tyson has said he wants to take control of his career and has been advised by people throughout boxing merely to hire a lawyer he can trust since he no longer needs promotion.

It appears, however, that Tyson will retain his former promoter, King. Tyson has appointed two co-managers, Rory Holloway and John Horne, both close to King.

The bombastic King has been subdued during Tyson's absence, perhaps to accommodate the fighter's desire for more independence.

However, King also has problems--a May 22 trial on charges of wire fraud and insurance fraud.

All in all, it's not much different from the boxing world that Tyson left. He's just three years older and more in demand.

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