Tyson promoted as the unifying force

Harry Mullan weighs up the big fight facing a king of the heavyweights
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IF you are still not clear why the boxing business is so keen to kill the fatted calf for its prodigal son Mike Tyson, reflect on the following. This Saturday, within an hour of each other in the same arena in Las Vegas, two men will be announced as "heavyweight champion of the world".

Oliver McCall defends his WBC title against Larry Holmes while Tony Tucker and Bruce Seldon meet for the vacant WBA version. Two weeks later, a couple of hundred yards along the Strip, George Foreman defends his IBF title against Axel Schultz, and on 17 June Riddick Bowe puts up his WBO belt against unbeaten Cuban Jorge Luis Gonzalez. The game is collapsing into anarchy, and needs Tyson to do what he did almost a decade ago - reunify the championship, and restore its credibility.

Considering the quality of the opposition, that should not be too demanding a challenge for him, or for the arch-manipulator Don King who was this week confirmed as his promoter. There had been speculation that Tyson's new-found faith in Islam would prevent him doing business with a non-Muslim, thus driving him into the arms of the sport's only prominent Muslim promoter Murad Muhammad, but given the terms of the deal King signed with Tyson before his three-year incarceration, that idea was never a starter.

Clause six of that document - described by Tyson's former manager Bill Cayton as "inquitious, a slave contract" - provided that in the event of Tyson leaving boxing the contract would be "frozen" to be reactivated whenever the former champion decided to return to the ring. It is a common ploy for boxers who are unhappy with their management to go into temporary retirement and sit out the unexpired portion of their contract, but that option was never open to Tyson. There is no escape clause, short of death - and even then, Don probably holds the TV rights to the funeral.

The reality is that, however strained their personal relationship may be, Tyson needs King to smooth his path to the championship. The WBC and WBA titles are now in his gift, since he either manages or promotes all four of Saturday's principals and he can quickly and easily move Tyson into a challenge for both versions. As WBC and WBA champion, Tyson would be in an irresistible bargaining position with the two champions who remain outside King's orbit, Foreman and Bowe.

It is difficult to see either of Saturday's fights as anything more than eliminators for the right to face Tyson, and it is absurd to regard any of the four as a world champion when the title belongs to Foreman by right of succession, and when Bowe is generally accepted as the best heavyweight currently active. McCall won his WBC belt from our own Lennox Lewis, who had been proclaimed champion in a Mexico City boardroom. Despite that less than auspicious start to his reign, Lewis had gone some way to consolidating his position with three successful defences before McCall smashed him to defeat inside two rounds at Wembley last September.

It was a stunning result for the American, who was once Tyson's chief sparring partner, but I suspect it was the kind of performance he can summon up only once. But the ancient Holmes is unlikely to have enough left to produce a George Foreman-type upset. This is the same Holmes who said, after losing for the second time to Mike Spinks in 1986, "It's over. This is it. I know I can't win no more. There's no sense in chasing ghosts." Two years later Holmes was back in the ring, getting himself butchered in four rounds by Mike Tyson and saying much the same kind of thing afterwards.

Since then Holmes has fought creditably against Evander Holyfield and defeated a collection of lesser lights, but he is very much fighting from memory these days and one hopes that McCall will convince the old champion, as painlessly as possible, that 45 is too old to be chasing ghosts.

Another veteran of the Tyson era, the 38-year-old Tony Tucker, is favoured to beat Bruce Seldon for the WBA title which that organisation obligingly stripped from Foreman. Tucker was IBF champion in 1987, losing a tough re-unification 12-rounder to Tyson, and will probably be "the opponent" again in the first of Tyson's title fights this time around, to allow McCall to fit in a nice little earner against Frank Bruno in the summer.

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