Tyson-Spinks Is More Than a Fight, It’s History

The Washington Post

Neither Mike Tyson nor Michael Spinks needs money, but they will have to make do as financial heavyweights after they reap millions for their championship fight June 27 in Atlantic City.

Tyson, 21, the champion, will make at least $20 million and possibly more than $22 million for what he hopes will be a short night’s work. Spinks, 31, will pick up the paycheck of his life as well, a guaranteed $13.5 million.

If all goes according to plan, plenty of money also will be available to spread among the fight’s promoters, among them entrepreneur Donald Trump; boxing’s Barnum, Don King; and Shelly Finkel, the closed-circuit promoter who mediated during negotiations between the Tyson and Spinks camps. Trump, King and Finkel all have been exuding confidence while touting the event as the greatest extravaganza in the history of the sport.

“This is the biggest fight in history,” Finkel says.

Trump calls it a “monster.”

King credits “the dynamism of a Donald Trump” in bringing off the fight.

Everything points to Tyson-Spinks generating more money by far than any fight in history -- about $70 million.


It promises to be bigger “in every way,” says Finkel, than the record-setting $57 million Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler bout of April 1987.

Leonard, having added to the profits on his Hagler fight by holding the Washington area closed-circuit rights, has jumped back into the promotion business. Along with his lawyer, Michael Trainer, Leonard bought the Washington area closed-circuit rights for Tyson-Spinks.

“We’ll do very well; I have no qualms about that,” says Trainer, as happy as everyone else with a piece of the Tyson-Spinks action.

Tyson’s $20 million-to-$22 million payoff for this fight comes in addition to a $26.5 million, seven-fight deal he has with HBO through 1989. Tyson is a human money machine. In his last Atlantic City fight, in January when he knocked out former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, he made $5 million of the $26.5 million and another $5 million for site money and foreign TV rights. In Tokyo in March, he made millions more, for dispatching an inept Tony Tubbs in two rounds. Tyson’s earnings have spiraled upward as fast as his career.

After Tyson turned pro only 3 1/2 years ago, he was paid for his first three fights by his co-managers, Bill Cayton and the late Jimmy Jacobs. Tyson was given $500 for his first pro fight. Quickly, however, Cayton and Jacobs made their investment pay off handsomely.

After Tyson knocked out five nobodies, they parlayed his modest accomplishment into almost $2 million in television contracts. That quickly, Tyson and his backers were making big money. Less than two years ago, Tyson received $135,000 for fighting Marvis Frazier, who got $250,000. Tyson knocked out Frazier in 30 seconds and hasn’t been paid less than an opponent since.

Now 34-0 with 30 knockouts, Tyson has become the most talked about--and marketable--heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali.

What’s more, Tyson is making money faster than former heavyweight champions dreamed of. After paying taxes and expenses, he is expected to clear about $9 million from his fight with Spinks, while Spinks will clear about $5 million. Their payoffs will come from about $40 million remaining after taxes and expenses come out of the $70 million that the fight is expected to generate.

The $40 million or so comes from $25 million in closed-circuit and pay-per-view; the record $11 million paid by Trump for rights to the site; $3 million from HBO for rights to broadcast the fight on a delayed basis; $2 million from foreign TV rights; and $1.25 million from a fight sponsor, Pepsi.

The fight will be seen at as many as 2,000 sites, about 700 more than Leonard-Hagler. Finkel expects 1.5 million people to see the fight on closed-circuit and pay-per-view. At an average of $35 a ticket, that would be a gross of $52.5 million or a net of about $25 million. Finkel has about 50 major exhibitors, or licensees, among them Leonard-Trainer.

The live gate--ringside seats sold for $1,500--will produce a record $12.3 million, which won’t quite cover Trump’s site fee of $11 million plus $2 million in expenses. But Trump will make plenty more in his casinos around the time of the fight. Tyson-Holmes, for example, generated $15 million more than usual in the casinos.

The Tyson-Spinks fight would have been big, but not as big as now, had the two fighters met last year, within HBO’s heavyweight unification series. It would have been a fitting windup to that series. But Spinks, former International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion, was withdrawn from the series by his manager, Butch Lewis, so Spinks could fight Gerry Cooney last June. Stripped of his title by the IBF, Spinks went on to knock out Cooney, looking very impressive and raising his record to 31-0. HBO went on to sue Lewis.

Similarly, Tyson made himself still more marketable by disposing of Holmes. With that, Lewis and Cayton opened negotiations on Tyson-Spinks. The talks were often tedious, but the outcome never in doubt with so much money at stake.

“We’ve been in the trenches for a long time,” Lewis says.

Added King: “It’s been a fight inside the ring and outside the ring.”

Now that Tyson-Spinks is about to happen, King happily added during a recent news conference in Atlantic City, “The excitement is in the air. There’ll be no trains, no planes, and no room in this whole city. It’ll be boxing history.”

King, who has promoted Tyson’s recent fights, hopes he’s just warming up with Tyson. Though he denies trying to move in on Cayton following Jacobs’ death, King has been trying to strengthen his position in the Tyson camp. Of Tyson’s career, he says, “We intend for it to go much, much further.”

King promoted Tyson’s quick knockout of Tubbs in Tokyo, and would like nothing better than to continue globetrotting with Tyson. He’s called Tyson “the vehicle that will take us to exotic climes.”

Tyson-Spinks has been billed as “Tyson vs. Spinks: Once And For All.” But the whole truth is that it won’t be “once and for all” should Spinks win, and maybe not even if Spinks can just do well. Spinks simply is the only fighter around with a reasonable chance of beating Tyson, and that means big money for everyone involved.