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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

(continued from page 2)

"There's a lot of jealousy and envy in the world," King says. "They're trying to force Tyson under their subjugation!"

The fight was on. Again. More controversy, more chaos was to come. Only a week after checking out of the Peninsula, Tyson flew to Florida with Rowe to meet with King again. King's bodyguard, Isadore "Izzy" Bolton, was escorting Tyson's entourage from the airport to King's home when, looking in the rearview mirror as he drove down I-95, he noticed that Tyson's car had disappeared. Backtracking, Bolton found an irate Tyson standing on the median. He tried getting the fighter into his car and claims that Tyson socked him twice and broke bones in his face.

A few weeks later, Tyson woke up in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn at 5:30 a.m. looking to fly to Phoenix and spend time with his kids and pigeons. As Tyson was leaving the hotel, two apparently drunk men from Philadelphia approached him and asked for his autograph. When Tyson declined, one claimed he had a weapon in his pants. Tyson dropped them both, a move he said was made in self-defense. If found guilty on assault charges, Tyson could face another prison sentence. Ten days later, Bolton, who had never reported Tyson's assault to police, filed a suit against Tyson. He could face prison time in that case, too.

Two weeks later, Tyson filed for bankruptcy. "I have not fought recently, I have no other income," Tyson declared in his bankruptcy filings. "I am still unable to pay my bills."

Tyson vs. King would have to be postponed. "It was a huge setback," says attorney Kinsella. "We had no choice."

Tyson is now out of shape and doesn't like to train anymore. But there are hints of another comeback. The folks at the Everlast Boxing company report that Tyson has recently ordered new sparring gloves, three pairs of boxing shoes and a 250-pound heavy bag. Is Tyson squaring down to face Roy Jones Jr. for a lucrative finale that would cap two illustrious careers? Can he engineer his mind and body back to fighting shape and mount one of the most heroic campaigns of all time?

Tyson doesn't like to say. "I don't stress," he told me. "It's a waste of time. You die too young that way. Never stress about anything you can't change."

When we spoke, Tyson was checked in at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, awaiting negotiations to fight Bob "the Beast" Sapp, a 390-pound, 6-foot-7-inch failed National Football League lineman and former funeral home corpse carrier. In only six months, the failed Sapp had become a lucrative star in an increasingly popular Japanese sport called K-1, a brutish, martial arts amalgam of karate, kung fu, tae kwon do and kickboxing.

A Tyson-Sapp matchup, albeit embarrassing, would be a big moneymaker. Tyson seemed only to be toying with the idea.

"It might be nice," he says. "But under Marquis of Queensbury rules, I don't really feel like getting kicked in the head."

On the phone Tyson didn't want to talk about his future, his legal battles, his waning public image or the maelstrom in his mind. It was 4:30 a.m., and Tyson said he was up thinking about the first bout between the great Jewish lightweight Benny Leonard ("one smart nigger!") and "Lefty" Lew Tendler, a Jewish southpaw from Philadelphia, in 1922. He wagered that Arnold Rothstein, the famed Jewish gambler and underworld mastermind, was backing Leonard and that the renowned gambler from Philadelphia, Maxie "Boo Boo" Hoff, had a piece of Tendler. He imagined that poor Jews from the East Side had wagered a couple of weeks' pay on Leonard; the same with Tendler.

"I would have loved to have been there," Tyson says. "It must have been off the hook!"

What about the fight against King? Can Tyson reclaim his fortune? Again, he doesn't like to say. He prefers to discuss the great ghosts of the ring like Kid Gavilan, who died recently, half-blind and penniless, buried in an anonymous grave without a headstone. "It doesn't make him any less of a man," Tyson says about Gavilan's grave. "Life's so ironic. On a gravestone, you know that dash?" Tyson says, referring to the line that separates the years of one's birth and death on a tombstone. "That dash -- it's so small, but really, that dash is everything."

Geoffrey Gray is a writer living in Manhattan who often covers boxing for The New York Times.


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