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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 6)

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.

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