Fresh threat to the rule of King

Harry Mullan says Tyson's release may not be beneficial to the ring master
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The Independent Online
RIDDICK BOWE'S shambolic though sometimes entertaining press conference after his defeat of Herbie Hide in Las Vegas last weekend was dominated by much ritual bad-mouthing between the new World Boxing Organisation champion and his first challenger, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, whom he faces at the same venue on 11 June.

The Cuban giant, 6ft 7in even without his trademark black Stetson, was "restrained" from attacking Bowe on the podium while Bowe cowered in mock fear as security men, the MGM Grand logo prominently displayed on their jackets, crowded into camera shot to wring every last sliver of publicity.

Ever since Muhammad Ali drove Joe Frazier to distraction over 20 years ago, such knockabout stuff has become routine, although it must be said that Bowe - a funny man - and Gonzalez, who loves his role as the professional bad guy, do it better than most. But in the midst of all the chaos the significance of a throwaway line by Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, may have gone unappreciated. "We have a bona fide genuine offer on the table of a combined purse of $160m for Bowe to fight Mike Tyson at Madison Square Garden, New York, in November 1995," he said. "We will be driving down to see Tyson in prison this week and we will talk to him in a very respectful and accommodating way to see if we can't get this fight put together."

The amount mentioned is mind-blowing but just about believable. It would be the most dangerous and therefore the most appealing match Tyson could take, and would afford him a short cut back on to the world heavyweight title scene. Television receipts around the world and massive spin-offs would conceivably push the total takings to around $200m, which leaves a profit margin comfortable enough to satisfy even Don King. Except that Don King isn't part of the deal.

In fact King barely rated a mention at the conference and that in itself is proof that his hold on the heavyweight division is much weaker than in his heyday a decade ago. Bowe operates without his involvement under Newman's shrewd direction. George Foreman, the real world champion, works with Bob Arum and has sworn never to deal with King, and the other potentially major player, Lennox Lewis, has thus far avoided him.

That leaves King with Oliver McCall, the current World Boxing Council champion, and the winner of the forthcoming match for the vacant World Boxing Association title between Tony Tucker and Bruce Seldon, who are both his fighters. None of that trio are likely to generate vast revenue so the re-emergent Tyson is crucial to his future as boxing's arch manipulator.

When Tyson walks through the prison gates this Saturday all the world's hustlers will be waiting for him in the car park. Despite the evidence produced by King's former accountant, the gloriously named Joe Maffia, of misappropriation by King of Tyson's earnings, there is still a chance that his will be the stretch limo into which the ex- champion steps. Rory Holloway, his official manager, was very much part of the King entourage in the wild months before Tyson finally overstepped the line. But if Newman's offer of $160m is as bona fide as he claims then Tyson can make vast amounts without King.

Foreman has already demonstrated dramatically that it is possible to get to the very top without him while the super- middleweight champion, Roy Jones, is so resolutely independent that he has never given King or anyone else a single option on his services. Given the precarious state of Tyson's finances and the potentially expensive civil action by his rape victim Desiree Washington, those ex- amples could be powerful influences on his ultimate decision.

There may yet be an even more dramatic twist: the hot rumour in Vegas was that friends of Tyson had approached his first manager, Bill Cayton, from whom King seduced Tyson after the death of Cayton's partner Jim Jacobs. The story does not, so far, stretch to Cayton resuming the management role, only to his being asked to enquire of Kevin Rooney whether he would be interested in training the fighter again but it is an intriguing development. Rooney developed and refined the style which made Tyson unbeatable, and the consensus of informed opinion is that Tyson's decline commenced the day he dumped Rooney.

The prospect of the pair getting together again would reduce even further the odds against Tyson reclaiming his championships within a year - and if he does so without King's backing the once omnipotent promoter would find himself on the ropes.

But for all his flaws and faults he remains the world's best at what he does. Losing Tyson for three years was, in a peculiar way, the best thing that happened to King in that it made him work that much harder at putting on the kind of shows the public want to watch. King may be down but - with or without Tyson - he should never be counted out.