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Grudge Match—Tyson vs. King

The former heavyweight champion of the world and the world's most notorious boxing promoter are battling in court over millions of dollars.
Geoffrey Gray
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

One night near dawn last spring, Mike Tyson and Don King were together again on the 15th floor of the Peninsula Hotel in New York, haggling over their future. They were in a roomy $1,810 a night suite, filled with faux Chinese furniture with views overlooking the spires of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. His electrically charged, trademark Afro starting to fade at 72, King was pushing another promotional contract at the bankrupt Tyson. There would be a $5 million signing bonus, a possible title, perhaps another fortune and, of course, a settlement to one of the biggest civil lawsuits in sports history that the fighter and promoter had filed against each other. The trial was only a couple of months away. A fresh, tribal tattoo shielding his face, the 37-year-old Tyson picked up the phone for advice and called his friend in Los Angeles, the entertainment manager Jeff Wald, and put King on the speakerphone. Wald, in bed with his wife at the time, remembers a shouting match. He recalls asking King why he had stolen so much money from Tyson, to which King responded, "I'm gonna stick a shotgun up your ass if you mess with my fighter!" It had been nearly five years since King and Tyson had been together, talking business.

They have been locked up in a bitter grudge match since Tyson first fled as the marquee attraction in King's stable of fighters and filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the promoter (in cahoots with Tyson's friends-turned-co-managers, John Horne and Rory Halloway) had conspired to bilk him for at least $100 million in purse money and earnings over the years. The charges included such minute details as the rights to Tyson's likeness being used in action figure dolls. Never to be outdone, or outflanked, King filed a counter suit against Tyson dismissing all charges. He seeks $110 million.

It hasn't been easy for Tyson to take his case to trial. In Tyson's first deposition, King unexpectedly turned up during the proceedings while Tyson's lawyers quizzed their client under oath. King sat down across from Tyson (out of camera view) and began to shoot the fighter menacing stares and intimidating faces, according to people in the room. Furious, Tyson jumped at King and, while lawyers and court bailiffs were able to keep Tyson from socking him into the nearest emergency room, Tyson did manage to dump a pitcher of water onto King's Afro.

"He persuaded me that I could trust him," Tyson told his lawyers. "I depended totally on Don King in taking care of all my financials."

Tyson's admission captures the beginning of one of many turbulent chapters in the story of a troubled boxing legend who earned history's honor of becoming the youngest, perhaps most devastating, heavyweight champion and then placed his future into the weathered hands of boxing's most notorious promoter. Years after that initial liaison, Tyson's script has turned into a tale of blown opportunities and kingdom squandered. For King, the case against Tyson represents one last challenge in court against all odds and accusations.

The groundwork for this tangled web was laid early on in their relationship.

Only three months after co-promoting his first fight, a 22-year-old Tyson signed away powers of attorney privileges to "Daddy" Don. "I authorized him to look out for me and my money and to make sure we don't have no tax problems. I would do anything he told me to do," Tyson said in a deposition.

After only one year under King's financial stewardship, the fighter claims his millions went to keep King's boxing operations, Don King Productions (DKP) afloat, supporting undercard fighters, King's family, lawyer and staff, and, ultimately, King himself. According to King's former employees, Tyson didn't have a clue what he was paying for, or didn't seem to care that he was being ripped off.

"It was comical," says Joseph Maffia, who was then head comptroller for DKP. "We used to joke and laugh about it in the office all the time. The motto was: When in doubt, CBMT!"

That's King lingo: Charge Back Mike Tyson.


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