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Boxing: Angry Tyson `down to last few millions' as King attempts to heal the rift

Whatever happens in the end, the falling-out between Mike Tyson and Don King is consuming the world of boxing.

John Carlin and Ken Jones report on a day of claim and counter-claim.

Mike Tyson, once the richest sportsman in history, is struggling to pay his bills, according to a report in yesterday's New York Post.

The former heavyweight boxing champion owes $7m (pounds 4.3m) in unpaid taxes and is down to only $4m in ready cash, the Post said, adding that one source who has been in close contact with Tyson over the past week claims his liquid assets actually amount to no more than $150,000.

Tyson, who has earned about $110m in the ring since his release from prison three years ago, is reported to blame his financial embarrassments on his boxing promoter of the last 10 years, Don King, and his co-managers, John Horne and Rory Holloway.

According to numerous reports Tyson, feeling cruelly betrayed, wants to break his contracts with King and his co-managers and is seeking to switch his allegiance to the Los Angeles music entrepreneurs Irvine Azof and Jerry Wald, who have links with Michael Jackson. King having apparently failed him in the role of protector and surrogate father, Tyson is said to be seeking to form a partnership with Magic Johnson, the retired basketball star.

Confirming that tensions do indeed exist in Tyson's relationships with his associates, Horne and Holloway issued a joint statement saying, "there is sometimes a frustration and misunderstanding that can occur in the best of friendships and business relationships, and that's how we categorise this."

In a separate statement, Don King said: "I love Mike and he knows it, but there are often outside forces and individuals that will try to capitalise on Mike's frustration that comes from his lay-off as a result of the suspension."

King's enduring love seems generous in the light of the widely reported beating he received from Tyson outside the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles on Saturday night. According to various sources close to Tyson he is more frustrated with King than he is with the decision of the Nevada State Athletic Commission to ban him from boxing for a year for biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's ear in the ring last summer. People who have spent time with Tyson over the past few days say the fighter's moods have range from angry to near inconsolable.

The matter of dumping King is a bit more complicated. Sources say Tyson, while enraged at King, is reluctant to release any information that might jeopardise the promoter's chance at an acquittal when he is retried by the government for mail fraud starting on 17 March.

Instead, Tyson is expected to use the documentation of King's alleged rip-offs as leverage to obtain a release from his promotional deal, which commits Tyson to fight four more times for King. "Mike's totally embarrassed by what Don did to him," a source is quoted as saying. "But he doesn't want to do anything that could make him responsible for Don going to jail."

Tyson is said to have been appalled to discover that King and his co- managers had been creaming off a far larger share of his winnings than is customary in a relationship between a professional boxer and his handlers. A lawyer for a rival boxing promoter, called by Tyson for outside advice, told the Post it was "embarrassing" to learn how little the boxer knew about his financial affairs. The lawyer said he was shocked to learn from Tyson that he took home only $11m before tax from the $30m purse for his re-match against Evander Holyfield in June. King, the lawyer said, took 30 per cent, Horne and Holloway took 20 per cent and then Tyson coughed up the $3.5m fine imposed on him for his bad eating habits by the Nevada Commission.

Tyson's suspension, depriving him as it did of six months' work, cost him his place at the top of Forbes magazine's 1997 list of the world's highest paid athletes. It may be that Tyson fears a repeat of what happened in his "first" career, when he saw a $75m fortune depleted to the point that, while he was still in prison, his managers were forced to cash in a $2m trust to pay Alan Dershowitz, Tyson's appellate lawyer.

The Nevada commission will be deciding this summer whether to reinstate Tyson's boxing licence, but he is now seeking to make his money in the field of entertainment. Tyson is expected to announce today that he will be appearing next month at a professional wrestling bout in Boston. He is due to receive $3.5m for playing the role of "guest referee" at Wrestlemania XIV, a pay-per-view event, on 29 March.

However, even if Tyson is low in cash he does own three lavish homes, including a 70-acre estate in Ohio, the sale of which would go some way to restoring his bank balance to health.