It was a spectacular naivete that allowed Don King, HBO and the Las Vegas Hilton to draw up a tournament, complete with brackets, to determine the one heavyweight boxing champion. What could they have been thinking?
Whatever, it was wishful. Their title unification series, plagued by dropouts, is threatened anew, just as it nears completion. On Aug. 1, World Boxing Council/World Boxing Assn. champion Mike Tyson is supposed to meet International Boxing Federation titlist Tony Tucker in the final bout of the ambitious series. Except Tucker, who just won the vacant title in a bout with Buster Douglas, might not be there.
"It's not Tucker," says King, "as much as its Cedric Kushner and Jeff Levine, his promoters. Suddenly they want to get as much as the fighter."
King has offered Tucker, the newly crowned champion, $1.2 million to get into the ring with Tyson, plus $500,000 in promotional considerations to the fighter's promoters. Suddenly they want a million. "I'm not giving them any more," King insists, "and in fact, I may give less. My offer is dwindling."
King seems to be holding all the cards in this one. For one thing, he knows he has the IBF's top-ranked Tyrell Biggs on tap for a non-title fight. Tyson was going to fight Biggs eventually, anyway. Why not now? If Tucker doesn't want to fight, fine, King has an Olympic hero ready to step in. And Tucker can unify the title down the line if he wants.
Tucker is probably ill-advised in his holdout. The IBF had previously stripped Michael Spinks of his title when he bolted the tournament to fight Gerry Cooney. If Tucker thinks he can avoid Tyson, not make a mandatory defense (which would have been Biggs) and fight the Spinks-Cooney winner, then he doesn't know the IBF.
In the meantime, King remains mystified. "Nobody knows who Tucker is," he rants. "Here's a guy who never made more than $15,000 until he fights Buster Douglas, whom he almost didn't beat and now he wants $2 million. This is a crazy business."
Olympic Distress Story: After six years, beginning with his stint as a convict in the Chino Youth Authority and including his reign as Olympic heavyweight champion, Henry Tillman has dumped trainer Mercer Smith to go with an East Coast boxing outfit.
"He was like my son, he even had his own room at my house," Smith was saying. "Man, I just feel like killing somebody."
Tillman, the last man to beat Mike Tyson (in the Olympic box-offs), had evidently become disenchanted with Smith's leadership, believing it cost him his last two defeats, including a try for Evander Holyfield's light-heavyweight title. "A lot of people were talking to him, including his fiancee," Smith said, "trying to make me a scapegoat."
So Tillman has joined up with Lou Duva and has already been matched on the undercard of today's Greg Haugen-Vinny Pazienza card in Providence against Woody Clark. However, Smith wonders how much progress he will make in the Duva stable, which already includes heavyweight contenders Tyrell Biggs, Holyfield and Francesco Damiani. "Where does that put Henry. He'll be 27 in August. How much time does he have?"
Smith, who was a youth counselor at Chino, running a boxing team there, now goes back to work. He never got too many paydays with Tillman. He'll be a group supervisor elsewhere in the Youth Authority.
John Montes fights Eric Martin, June 29, at the Marriott Irvine for the state super-lightweight title vacated by Andy Nance. . . . Former bantamweight champion Albert Davila gives Frankie Duarte a rematch--10 years later. The two local heroes fight June 27 at the Forum. The ABC televised fight--tape delayed locally--should land the winner another shot at the bantamweight title, either with WBC champion Miguel Lora or WBA titlist Park Chan-Yong. . . . Promoter Dan Goossen is thumping Michael Nunn for a middleweight match with former champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Goossen figures it's automatic now that the undefeated Nunn, a wily boxer, is ranked No. 4 by the WBC. But Hagler's promoter, Bob Arum, scoffed at such a match. Arum figures to know by this week whether Hagler, who is still sulking after his loss to the immediately retired Sugar Ray Leonard, will fight again. In any event, Arum would like to set aside Sept. 10 for a middleweight title unification series, three bouts in one night, including one with Tommy Hearns, who would drop down from light-heavyweight. Hagler-Hearns would be his first preference. He admits that "Nunn would certainly figure in," though certainly not with Hagler. Nunn, meanwhile, is scheduled to headline at the Country Club in Reseda July 2.
What's doing at the Olympic Auditorium? Despite a decent match last week, the venerable fight house pulled in a gate of just $9,000. Fans wary of mismatches? Also, the Olympic lost out in the bidding for a WBC super-lightweight bout when it came in too low for a fight between champion Tsuyoshi Hamada and top-ranked challenger, and Olympic house fighter, Rene Arredondo. Another house fighter, Azabache Martinez, is scheduled to headline June 18 against Alfredo Lane. . . . Speaking of house fighters, how about Providence's Vinny Pazienza? The brash lightweight contender sells out the Civic Center almost every time he fights, including today when he challenges IBF champion Greg Haugen. One might think Haugen had taken too many punches to agree to fight Pazienza in his backyard but consider this: The champion gets 40% of all money spent by Pazienza fans. Including an incredible $700,000 gate and another $400,000 from NBC, that means Haugen will pocket more than $400,000 just to be the villain.
Don King and HBO are working on a Julio Cesar Chavez-Edwin Rosario fight for September, at either the Forum or Madison Square Garden. That would put Rosario's WBA lightweight title at risk against the WBC super-featherweight champion. . . . Former featherweight champion Bobby Chacon, whose recent troubles have all been with the law, is going to try a comeback in Tucson, Ariz. Chacon was denied a California license at the commission's most recent meeting, partly because of a loss of ring skills but mostly because of his troubles with the court and promises he made to the commission. He is scheduled to serve a six-month sentence beginning July 6 for a parole violation in a wife beating case, which is three years old. Chacon hasn't fought since November, 1985, but Arizona Commissioner Johnny Montano said Chacon "looked in good shape, sound, with good reflexes" when he went to see him at a recent workout. Montano said he was aware of the California commission's recent decision. The bout, with Ramon Flores, would be sometime later this month if Arizona licenses him.
Carlos Zarate, who retired in 1979 after stablemate Lupe Pintor took his bantamweight title, is on a 10-victory comeback streak. He's scheduled to continue June 19 in San Jose vs. Tony Montoya. . . . The Michael Spinks-Gerry Cooney fight sounds like it is dying a box-office death. Newsday reports the fight is floundering even in Cooney country; fewer than 300 tickets had been sold at midweek at Nassau Coliseum. However, Joe Gagliardi, who has the California and Texas closed circuit rights, says these things have a way of happening at the last minute. Gagliardi had 40 sites for the Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvelous Marvin Hagler, just 14 for this June 15 bout. Most people in Southern California will watch it on pay-per-view cable television anyway. . . . Word on Spinks-Cooney undercard slow in coming. Two bouts announced so far: Razor Rudduck vs. Carlos Hernandez and Livingstone Bramble vs. John Kalbhenn.