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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.

A shy, soft-spoken CPA, Maffia is likely to be a primary witness in Tyson's approaching trial. He was also a witness in the government's blown attempt in the mid-1990s to prosecute King. He first testified against King in front of the U.S. Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations. Maffia is tired of testifying, he says, and prefers to let the numbers speak.

According to a copy of a 1998 ledger from DKP, for instance, Maffia's own $4,000 Christmas bonus from DKP was charged to Tyson. Although Maffia and King's other employees never technically worked for Tyson, the fighter also claims he covered an additional $28,000 in holiday bonuses for King's late matchmaker and public relations man, Al Braverman, King's executive director, Dana Jameson, King's limousine driver, Yusef "Captain Joe" Shah, and King's wife, Henrietta. Records show that Tyson even paid for a number of DKP's office supplies, extraneous purchases and charitable and political donations: $6,200 worth of turkeys from W&W Meats in Cleveland; a $15,000 donation for Father George Clements, not to mention bearing part of a $1,500 donation to Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton, an old friend of King's who also once went undercover for the FBI in one of the agency's many bungled attempts to convict King for virtually any crime it could find. Dozens of other entries were also billed to Tyson, everything from traveling expenses for King employees to the rent on a condo in Manhattan.

"Mike just didn't seem to care," Maffia says. "Maybe in his mind he figured he was making $10 million to $20 million a fight, so if some went missing, it wasn't really worth fighting for.

"We bombarded Mike with the bills and contracts," Maffia says. "It's not like we sat down with him like any other accountant might to a client and explain: This is what you're paying us for and why. He was never given the opportunity to read anything that was put in front of him."

"I'd sign anything he asked me to," Tyson told his lawyers about King. "I believed in him…"

The stakes in this case could not be higher. A dramatic courtroom showdown should decide the fate of both enigmatic boxing legends. "Only in America!" as King might say. With one jury decision, Tyson looks to score his biggest payday yet and, in a twist worthy of Shakespeare, the bankrupt fighter looks to retire the plum promoter in his place.

"It's a character fight," says Dale Kinsella, the lead attorney for Tyson. "A lot of fighters have sued Don over the years, and a win for Mike could mean sweet justice."

But so far, the trial of all trials, like so many hyped promotions in boxing, has been only a tease. Lawyers were to begin picking jurors for the case last September and now, after a number of bizarre events that have plagued Tyson since he checked out of the Peninsula last spring, it's unclear when Tyson's day in court may come. A new trial date has tentatively been scheduled for the third week of April or until the depths of Tyson's financial morass have been navigated and untangled.

But making sense of Tyson's earnings and spontaneous spending sprees could take a while, and already Tyson seems to have lost interest in the merits of his claims. He rarely calls his lawyers. He seems detached and resigned. Asked about his chances in court, Tyson told me recently, "I don't really know nothing about that, man. That's something that I be handling in a totally different arena."

Unlike the fighter, King has been following the case against Tyson at every turn. An avid reader of Shakespeare's tragedies, King's favorite tome is The Merchant of Venice, he says, a tale of revenge, money lending and betrayal. He understands the reversal-of-fortune plot line that lays ahead in the case. He insists he isn't worried.

"I didn't do nothing wrong," King told me recently over dinner in Las Vegas, where he was promoting a three-title-fight card. Any allegation of fiscal treason, he added, misses the point. "It's not really a problem of whether I'm right or wrong," he says. "Who really wins? Nobody really wins. It leaves only a lot of bruised feelings. It leaves divisiveness in the community. It leaves people being anti when they should be pro."

King has come a long way from running the numbers game amid the pimps, grifters and low-life thugs of the Cleveland ghetto, and doing four years time in state prison for pistol-whipping an old friend to death over a $600 bet. He is the first black promoter to be elected into the boxing hall of fame and the only nonathlete that Sports Illustrated magazine named as one of the world's 40 most powerful sports figures. He is also probably the only man to be convicted of manslaughter and have the privilege to "meet and greet" a number of sitting U.S. presidents. King attributes this success to the country's tolerance for second chances ("My country tis a thee!") and the opportunities inherent within free enterprise ("My magic lies with my people ties!").

King seems to carry a kitschy fondness for manifest destiny, and in that gambling, good-luck, gold-rush way, he is a relic of a more brazen and fearless America. Put simply, he's a gambling man who likes to win -- and he's good at it. Within King's office compound off Interstate 95 in Florida, a small coaster on his grand mahogany desk reads: "When you're the lead dog, the view never changes."

Often in his bouts, however, when King steps into the ring, chest out and head high and waving miniature plastic flags, he is heckled by fight fans. They might hold grudges for the fates of "Terrible" Tim Witherspoon, who publicly criticized King for shackling fighters with onerous "multi-fight contracts," who protested King's drug-infested stables and, strapped for cash, came back to King again and again and eventually fought for the heavyweight championship for a meager $90,000. There's Muhammad Ali, who, instead of taking King to court on a $1 million claim, settled with a suitcase filled with $50,000 cash. And there's King's first fighter, Earnie Shavers, who was often spotted on the casino floors of Las Vegas at King's boxing shows begging for money.

It may be unfair to hold King responsible for the fallout fates of his fighters, but a striking number of them have pressed legal action against him. All the suits have carried similar allegations: that King overcharged them for training or travel expenses; or that King shortened the net gross of the promotion by deducting hundreds of thousands in "off the top" expenses; or that King convinced them to sign exploitative contracts that consisted of little more then a dotted line and a blank page.

Asked why hundreds of fighters had sued him, King says, "You find a lot of guys that don't got a problem until somebody tells them they got a problem and then when once they got a problem, they don't understand what the problem is. But they think that in the end they can get something for nothing. That's the mentality."

If the Tyson case does go to trial, King is confident of victory. "I've weathered the storm of several indictments and, under the worst of conditions and under the worst of odds, I've come out from under them OK," he says. "It's because of this country. I love this country, man! Go into a courtroom, [seek] redress for your grievances, and get some justice!

"When you look at the record," he adds, in a vague summary of events with Tyson, "you had two or three urchins from the ghetto -- me included -- who came together, rose to an occasion where you could go out and make more money then you ever dreamed of in your whole life, and everyone gets paid, and everyone spends, and one person tries to keep more money [King], and the other [Tyson] gets mad at that person [King] for trying to keep his share, because they want to drown in their own tears. And then they come up with ideas that you must be taking something from them. I find this all the time. But hey, it's better than sitting on the stoop."

Just mentioning King's name seems to presume guilt, he says, and it's hardly fair given his competition. "There's worse in boxing then me," King once told Joe Spinelli, a former FBI agent, cited in Jack Newfield's Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King. "I just play by the rules that exist. I'm just a 24-hour-a-day guy. Nobody can outwork me. That's why I'm on top. Nobody can outwork me and I play by the rules. The problem is, you don't like the rules."

Even King's enemies praise his conviction and in his company seem to feel the giddy effects of his uproarious personality. Promoters Cedric Kushner and Lou DiBella remember a time when King came to New York and, despite both having pending lawsuits against King, he invited them to dinner at The Palm. After finishing a spread of lobster and steak with King, Kushner remembers scurrying home to call DiBella on the phone, saying, "How fun was that!" Of King, fight manager Shelly Finkel says, "A master negotiator." Jeff Wald: "He'll sit [at] a table for thirty or forty hours -- outwork you to death." Vice president of HBO sports Xavier James: "There's only one like him." King's son, Carl: "He's the best. Bar none."

King makes no delusions about his motivations. In June, at a press conference before a recent boxing match King promoted, Rich Neiderman, director of boxing operations at the Orleans Hotel and Casino, told reporters in Las Vegas, "We'd like to thank Don King for bringing us this great championship fight card. Hopefully, next time we'll make some money." (Laughter.) King took the podium for nearly three hours. He was hilarious, poetic and often seemingly delirious. "A lot of people extol me and my family, but fighters make more with me then they do with the honest guys!" he said, then chuckled. "Like me or dislike me, I get the money."

In boxing, stealing from a fighter has become so engrained into the lore of the sport that few are willing to give cries of theft any attention. As one television network executive told me about Tyson's case, "Nobody could give two shits." Accusations of robbery are almost expected, if not shrugged off as cliché in an industry governed without enforceable rules or regulations. There is no union, no pension plan or guaranteed benefits for either fighter or promoter. There is only chaos -- "a world of amorphous Jell-O," as Bert Sugar, the cigar-chomping fight historian, says. It's the last frontier for unfettered American enterprise, a no-holds-barred landscape where a fighter like Tyson can go broke after earning more than $300 million -- and a promoter like King can develop a reputation for such genius, and fiscal chicanery.

Tyson had been warned about King. The bald, nearly blind, paranoid boxing sage Cus D'Amato told him that when the championship would come, there would be others coming to earn his trust and test his financial naïveté. In a story often told, D'Amato adopted Tyson, the ghetto thief from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, arrested 38 times between the age of 10 and 13. Plagued with an awkward combination of great physical strength and a wispy, almost feminine voice, Tyson spent his fabled youth sleeping between the walls of abandoned buildings, mugging older women, sticking up delis and getting tied to his bed and beaten by his brother and sister who could not control his behavior. Tyson was the kid who held the gun because the other thugs could be tried as adults.

He was uncontrollable.

"Our walls were plenty dirty," says Teddy Atlas, who first trained Tyson under D'Amato. "If there's a leak in the roof, you know, the spill doesn't just stay in the kitchen."

Atlas is a rugged disciplinarian, a doctor's son who carries a scar that runs down the side of his face from a knife fight and is now one of boxing's leading analysts. Atlas doesn't take on fighters anymore, he says, because of a tendency to lack in character. He ended his relationship with Tyson when he escorted the then 16-year-old fighter into a back alley behind D'Amato's gym, above the Catskill, New York, police station, and stuck the cold, steel butt of a loaded 38-caliber pistol into Tyson's ear.

"Right or wrong, I had to take a stand," Atlas says now. "Nobody else would."

The incident happened hours after Atlas learned that Tyson, his hard-hitting champion-to-be, had sexually propositioned Atlas's 11-year-old niece. It wasn't the first time D'Amato or Atlas or Tyson's financial backers had heard complaints about Tyson fondling girls in high school or suggesting lewd sexual favors and flying into a rage when he was rejected. Instead of disciplining Tyson, Atlas says, D'Amato often overlooked Tyson's mistakes, snuck him into the gym at night and sacrificed his morals to fulfill his last selfish dream before his looming death: having the youngest heavyweight champ, even if it meant the champ couldn't control his emotions or his behavior, and struggled with self-confidence and depression.

"You have to believe in your teachers," Atlas says. "All Mike's teachers turned out to be liars. It reaffirmed to him that he wasn't worth anything."

When Tyson signed with King, left King, then came back to King after serving three years in an Indiana prison for a rape conviction he still adamantly denies, Atlas wasn't surprised. In part, Atlas says, Tyson was always fascinated by King's aura, his street charisma, and the way he could talk and appeal to black fighters. But Tyson's decision to keep coming back to King is based on something different -- namely, Tyson's fear of confronting himself.

 

"Mike was always looking for an excuse; he needed to create those trapdoors so down the road he could escape. Don King offered those trapdoors," Atlas says. "Mike knows that when the time comes, when it's time to go into those rooms -- the rooms inside yourself where all real men must go -- he's not a gangster. He's holding a toy gun in those rooms. King just gave him the ammunition he needed to escape himself.

"Don't be fooled," Atlas says. "Don King wasn't the one that made Mike who he is. The writing was on the wall with Mike when we got him. Don King only speeded up the process. Don King only lifted up the top of the can. Don King let all the demons out."

Then Tyson signed with King, he didn't seem interested in spreadsheets and international rights, even if they were his own. But without knowing anything about it, Tyson claims he paid King's family members salaries and large consultancy fees for doing virtually nothing whatsoever. One alleged recipient of such payments was Carl King, a stepson of Don King's and also an exclusive boxing manager to King's fighters, an inherent conflict of interest. Carl King was never allowed to handle any of Tyson's affairs, but records show he received consultancy fees from Tyson in excess of $300,000 over the years, along with King's wife, Henrietta, whom Tyson inadvertently paid more than $1.5 million for allegedly decorating Tyson's homes. King's daughter, Debbie, also earned a dubious salary of $52,000 a year, plus expenses, for running the Mike Tyson Fan Club.

After three years under King, Tyson didn't even know he had a fan club. When the fighter found out, his longtime chauffeur and assistant, Rudy Gonzalez, says he and Tyson went to the Fan Club office within King's training facilities in Orwell, Ohio, to see what Tyson had been paying for. When they entered, they saw crates filled with thousands of unopened envelopes from fans, as well as photographs and underwear from women.

Sitting on the floor, opening some of the yellowed mail, Gonzalez, who will also likely be a key witness for Tyson, remembers the then heavyweight champ reading a letter from a woman in the Midwest. Her child had been dying of cancer. She wondered if Tyson could give the kid a call. Gonzalez remembers getting the number, dialing, and passing the phone off to Tyson who, after only a few minutes, hung up, cursed King and started to cry. The call was a year too late.

"Mike never really knew how important he was until then, that so many people had reached out to him," says Gonzalez, who authored the 1995 memoir The Inner Ring. "Mike never really knew he was somebody who had the power to change lives. He was an elephant in chains, the biggest freak act in Don King's circus, and when he didn't want to perform anymore, they tried to take him in the back and shoot him."

He says the case against King is the most important fight in Tyson's career. "This is Mike's chance to rectify his public image and show people the mental and psychical torture he went through," says Gonzalez. "It's a victory everyone wants to see."

But one King defense attorney, Peter Fleming Jr., says, "The only thing Mike is really interested in here is if he got what he signed for, and he did. The reason Mike doesn't have any money isn't because of Don. It's because Mike spent it all."

If Tyson had his way now, many say he would prefer to forget about his boxing future and his feud with King and simply tend to his more than 1,000 pigeons, many of which he buys online. He would rather read about historic gangsters (another passion) and come back to the streets and poverty of his youth, they say, come back to Brooklyn and talk shit with old friends, smoke pot and sign autographs for bums on brown paper bags.

Over the years Tyson has spent money (once more than $400,000 a year on pet supplies) and he has stolen money (often snatching the wallets of his personal chefs for sport) and he has lost money (say, millions in tax penalties). But there are few who can say Tyson has been greedy. He is unusually benevolent, known to hand off the rolls of cash in his pockets to the tune of $20,000 and more to derelict fighters and the homeless. Even as an incorrigible teen, Tyson once walked into an ice cream parlor upstate in Catskill with a friend, ordered a $1 cone and left a $2 tip.

"Why did you tip so much?" his friend asked.

"Cause I could see he was afraid of me," Tyson said. "So I wanted him to know I'm a good guy."

In many ways, wealth has also made Tyson uncomfortable. Even under the $700,000 Russian sable mink quilt he kept in his Ohio manse, a home so big he used custom-made Rolls-Royce golf carts to transport himself to the bathroom, Tyson could never fall asleep in his own bed. When Gonzalez would wake him up in the morning, he says he often found the young heavyweight champ curled up in a corner of his bedroom on the floor in a sleeping bag, or on a couch with his legs dangling off the arms, or in the back of his Mercedes stretch limousine parked in his garage. And when Tyson commissioned designer Gianni Versace to build a $2 million diamond bathtub for then actress wife Robin Givens (a Roman tub shipped to Tyson's New Jersey estate in an armored truck), Tyson was soon spotted chipping away at the tub's encrusted jewels with a kitchen fork. "The shit cuts my ass," he said.

Some say what Tyson wants more than $100 million back from King is simply a bed he can sleep in, a tub he can ease into, a regular life. Others say, amid the mutiny of emotions at war in Tyson's mind, there is no room for tranquility. He's Mike Tyson! A force of raw chaos that novelist Joyce Carol Oates defined as "a prehistoric creature rising from the crevice of our own subconscious," a nihilistic state neither he nor anyone can attempt to govern. His moods swing from rage to tears. He bites ears and gently feeds pigeons. He comes off ill-educated, though commands an accurate, insightful knowledge of boxing history from the woolly days of bare knuckles and tights. It's true. He is a historian minus the tweed.

"Mike secretly thinks he's conning everybody," says one of Tyson's confidants. "In my ear, he once told me he considers himself one of the greatest con men of all time."

Then again, others say Tyson is faking it. Tyson even claiming himself a con man is Tyson's true con. Sure, in the Indiana prison, as inmate No. 922335, Tyson could spout off about the lessons of Machiavelli, Voltaire and Dumas to visiting reporters (and still can), but Tyson's detractors also point out that he failed his general equivalency diploma exam. He knows only what's been told to him, they say, and passes off memorable quotes as his own. He hides not only beneath his contradictory tattoos (on Tyson's torso is mild-mannered tennis star Arthur Ashe; on his right bicep is communist chairman Mao Tse-tung), Tyson hides in history, too.

"Mike doesn't know who he is," says Atlas. "He's a chameleon."

Gonzalez disagrees. After living with Tyson for more than seven years, he says, the fighter doesn't possess the mental tools to adapt in society like a chameleon might. "Mike is a Frankenstein," he says. "A product engineered by others, desperately trying to communicate with the world any way he knows how."

Whoever Tyson is, his predictability is his unpredictability, the ultimate attraction for Pay-Per-View voyeurs and the source of his perennial curiosity. He once confessed to a team of psychiatrists: "I have no self-esteem and the biggest ego in the world!"

In other words, anything can happen.

Expect the unexpected.

Still, who could have suspected that only months before trial Tyson would consider settling with King? The prospect seemed unthinkable. It's not entirely clear if Tyson had even planned to meet with King in the Peninsula. He had been scheduled to meet with his then manager Shelly Finkel and sign a contract to fight an opponent of his choice. This fight would also have settled an onerous rematch clause that Tyson had signed with the British heavyweight champ, Lennox Lewis, who had devoured Tyson in less then eight rounds in 2002. Soundly beaten, Tyson did not want a match with Lewis anytime soon; discouraged by the prospect of losing millions in lucrative Pay-Per-View revenue that Tyson has always been able to attract, regardless of his fighting form, Lewis's legal team proposed that Tyson satisfy his rematch clause by fighting a low-caliber opponent in a co-feature with Lewis, with Tyson receiving $7 million in pay and Lewis's promotional team sharing the Pay-Per-View revenue. The presumption was that the two would fight each other again at some point, should Tyson's skills and physical condition improve somehow.

Under what conditions Tyson came to meet with King at the Peninsula Hotel may be unclear, but what is clear is that after only a two-week period in New York, King gave the fighter and his associates more than $2.5 million in cash and gifts. Looking to settle, King floated the fighter more than $500,000 in cash, along with a cash payment of $20,000 to be delivered by junior lightweight champ Zab Judah, according to a confidential schedule of expenses prepared by King's lawyers. The records also show that King purchased a number of cars for Tyson and his associates, including a Rolls-Royce ($330,000), a Bentley ($284,658), a purple Aston Martin ($275,382), a Hummer ($50,000) and three Mercedes-Benzes ($303,000.) On one of Tyson's shopping sprees for clothes on Madison Avenue, King took care of $34,000 worth of designer clothes from Versace, along with more than $100,000 in Tyson's private jet expenses and more than $6,000 in hotel bills for Jackie Rowe, an old friend of Tyson's who has taken on the burden of handling the fighter's business affairs.

Checking out of the hotel, King also flew home with a bill from the Peninsula for more than $55,000, including a number of late-night dips into the minibar by Tyson and his entourage, room service three times a day and trips to the hotel massage parlor.

Still, Tyson had not inked a settlement.

King had no deal.

"Finally, it was Mike who conned Don!" says Warren Flagg, a former FBI agent who investigated King throughout the 1980s and now works as a private gumshoe in Manhattan. After Lewis's attorney, Judd Burstein, heard about King's purchases for Tyson, he retained Flagg's services. Failing to sign the rematch contract with Lewis, Burstein slapped both King and Tyson with a tortuous interference claim in federal court. He seeks a whopping $385 million.

"This was vintage King," Burstein says. "Sequester somebody, then barrage them with a combination of bullshit flattery, racial pride, intimidation and cash."

To push the drama further, King has called Burstein "an insidious insect" (a claim Burstein says he takes as a compliment coming from King) and a "scheister lawyer" (a claim Burstein says only confirms suspicions that King is an anti-Semite). King says those charges are unworthy of comment. Again, not to be outdone, he has filed a counter suit against Lewis.

"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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