Bob Arum, who has long questioned Mike Tyson's sanity and depicted him as the poster boy for what is wrong with boxing, is in serious negotiations to become Tyson's new promoter.
The agreement, for three fights at around $80 million, with an option for a fourth, is contingent on Tyson's winning tonight's comeback fight against Danny Williams at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., and the ironing out of several issues.
Arum says a deal could be finished by next week. Shelly Finkel, Tyson's manager, is not so hopeful.
"Bob is a lot farther down the road than I am," Finkel said.
Arum has gone far enough to talk about promoting a Tyson nontitle fight Nov. 13 against an undetermined opponent, to be followed, in the best-case scenario, by a match against one of the men holding the four heavyweight titles.
Because of his outrageous behavior in the past -- familiar lowlights include biting Evander Holyfield on both ears and attempting to break Francois Botha's arm in the ring, and biting Lennox Lewis on the thigh at a news conference, along with various profanity-laced tirades -- Tyson has not been able to get a new boxing license in Nevada.
Arum said he may talk to Staples Center President Tim Leiweke about playing host to a Tyson fight.
"California might have a different viewpoint," Arum said. "Tim might welcome a new Tyson. Nevada may have a change of heart."
Leiweke is in Europe, but Staples Center spokesman Michael Roth said, "Bob Arum has been a good and valuable partner and we are always very interested in talking to him."
So what turned Arum from one of Tyson's biggest critics into a potential partner?
The chance to make millions. With Arum's main cash cow, Oscar De La Hoya, insistent he will retire at year's end, Arum has been looking for a lucrative replacement. Asked about signing with Arum, Tyson said, "That's a possibility. If he gives me a good price, maybe."
Tyson, the former two-time heavyweight champion, is $38 million in debt.
Tyson, who hasn't fought in 17 months, now portrays himself as wiser, kinder, gentler, a man who kisses babies, jokes with talk-show hosts and engages in public workouts.
Arum says he's interested only as long as Tyson is sincere about his transformation.
"I've been told the guy has really changed, become mature," Arum said. "He is supposed to be a totally different person and, if that's true, he deserves a second chance."
Arum was first told about the mellow Tyson by Freddie Roche, Tyson's trainer, who once fought for Arum. That intrigued the head of Top Rank Boxing enough to send his matchmaker, Bruce Trampler, to observe the metamorphosis. Trampler came back echoing Roche.
Arum has been through this before. In the first half of his career, George Foreman had a negative image as a former street thug with a surly manner, the last guy most would want to endorse a product. A decade later, Foreman came back as not only a still-effective fighter, but as a master salesman. His endorsement of a grill made it a household staple across America and beyond.
"I took a chance on him," Arum said of becoming Foreman's promoter in the second half of his career, "and I found he had become a tremendous human being."
Arum acknowledges this story could have a different ending.
"Could I be wrong about Tyson?" Arum said. "Yeah, of course. What am I, an idiot? I understand that. If it's all a camouflage, if the old Mike Tyson appears, I will have made a terrible mistake. If, for example, after [tonight's fight], he carries on about eating children and all that other stuff he has said in the past, then we are back to square one."
But if not, despite the fact Tyson is 38, has struggled with the training regimen and hasn't fought a serious opponent in two years, Arum thinks his $80 million could be a good investment.
"Tyson still has a tremendous punch, according to Freddie," Arum said. "If Tyson gets into shape, considering the heavyweights around today, there is no reason he can't knock out all of them."
This Week's Fights
MIKE TYSON (50-4, 44 KOs) vs. DANNY WILLIAMS (31-3, 26 KOs)
* What: Heavyweight nontitle bout
scheduled for 10 rounds.
* When: Tonight.
* Where: Freedom Hall Arena, Louisville, Ky.
* TV: Pay-per-view ($44.95), 6 PDT.
* Other bouts: Nelson Dieppa, Puerto Rico, vs. Ulises Solis, Mexico, 12, for Dieppa's WBO junior-flyweight title; Randy Griffin, Louisville, Ky., vs. Julio Garcia, Las Vegas, 12, for the vacant NABO middleweight title.
ERIK MORALES (46-1, 34 KOs) vs. CARLOS HERNANDEZ (40-3-1, 24 KOs)
* What: The WBC and IBF super-featherweight (130 pounds) championship is a
unification bout scheduled for 12 rounds.
* When: Saturday.
* Where: MGM Grand Garden, Las Vegas.
* TV: Pay-per-view ($39.95), 6 p.m.
* Other bouts: Champion Rafael Marquez (31-3, 28 KO) vs. challenger Heriberto Ruiz (31-2-2, 14 KO) for the IBF bantamweight championship; champion Ivan Calderon vs. challenger Roberto Leyva (22-3-1) for the WBO light-flyweight championship (both 12 rounds).