Biggest Money Could Be Ahead for Tyson : Despite Lack of Endorsements, Boxer Could Make $100 Million in HBO Deal

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Times Staff Writer

One spring night in 1987, Mike Tyson’s co-manager, Jim Jacobs, was in a Las Vegas hotel room discussing the young boxing champion’s future before an upcoming bout against James (Bonecrusher) Smith.

Tyson, 20, had recently become history’s youngest heavyweight champion, and no one then could imagine anything but a golden future him. Already he was commanding up to $2 million per fight but was, Jacobs said then, on his way to endorsement riches no other athlete had approached.

“Mike will, if he continues as he has, make more money than any athlete in the history of this country,” Jacobs boasted that night.


Tyson went on to defeat Smith in a decision, and is en route to fulfilling Jacobs’ prophecy.

But it is not the way Jacobs, who died of pneumonia in March of 1988, envisioned it.

Tyson, who has suffered through a well-publicized divorce from actress Robin Givens and unflattering characterizations of his personal life, is no longer the fresh-faced, glib, happy-looking athlete from the days of 1987 and 1988. Today, you rarely see the gold-toothed smile.

Perhaps also lost are long-term, potentially multimillion dollar deals that might have bumped Tyson’s endorsement earnings to tens of millions of dollars per year, some close to the situation say.

In 1988, Tyson earned about $35 million in boxing purses and made millions more in endorsement deals with Pepsi, Eastman Kodak and Nintendo, a video game manufacturer.

“Mike’s deal with Diet Pepsi was a three-month deal that ended about two weeks after the (Michael) Spinks fight,” a former Tyson aide said.

“After that, he was going to sign a one-year Pepsi deal that could have earned him about $10 million. It was a huge deal. Then, just before the Spinks fight, the stuff came out about Mike hitting Robin and that was the end of Pepsi.


“In a very short time, all the endorsement deals were dead.”

They still are. But as Tyson prepares this week to fight Carl (The Truth) Williams Friday, one of the side topics has been the opening of negotiations between Home Box Office and the two factions that manage Tyson for a lifetime deal with the champion. Presently, there are three fights left--including Friday’s--on HBO’s seven-fight, $26.5-million contract with Tyson. The duration of the deal would be for the remainder of Tyson’s boxing career. The figure discussed is $100 million, should Tyson continue to win for another 10 years.

But gone are the deals with Fortune 500 corporations in the aftermath of Tyson’s personal problems: accounts of Tyson throwing furniture at Givens and her mother, taking swings at Givens, screaming obscenities from the roof of his home, early morning street fights, and Tyson turning his back on old friends such as Steve Lott.

Lott, who worked for Jacobs, took Tyson into his apartment and looked after him when he was an up-and-coming prospect, known to no one outside New York boxing circles.

When Givens told Tyson to fire Lott, Tyson told his ex-trainer, Kevin Rooney to do it. Rooney refused, and also was fired.

Because New York newspapers reported the circumstances in considerable detail, Team Tyson’s image gradually eroded.

Last week, Tyson told Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stan Hochman: “I don’t like the fight game anymore. I don’t like this business anymore.”


He has recently criticized another ex-friend, former light-heavyweight champion Jose Torres, for writing about Tyson’s alleged sexual preferences in his book, “Fire and Fear.”

Another book, “Blood Season,” by New York Times boxing writer Phil Berger, is a look at a young athlete often incapable of handling the spotlight of the heavyweight championship. Tyson is shown to be at times compassionate with still-remaining old friends, and to have an almost teary-eyed affection for pet pigeons.

And the dark side: Screaming obscenities from the roof of his New Jersey mansion, on the night of a furniture-throwing, window-breaking rampage that terrorized his wife and mother-in-law.

The confusion in his life is largely of his own doing, those who know him say.

When Jacobs died, co-manager Bill Cayton became his manager. When Jacobs was alive, he ran the boxing end of the enterprise and was closer to Tyson. Cayton was the inside operator. With Jacobs gone, and forced to choose between Cayton and King’s overtures, Tyson aligned himself with King.

Cayton, however, has a manager’s contract with Tyson that doesn’t expire until February, 1992.

And by joining forces with King--who has no legal standing with Tyson--the fighter has lost money. Because of the tug of war over Tyson, the fighter did not compete in matches Cayton had organized--$10 million for a bout against Francesco Damiani in Italy and another $10 million to fight Adilson Rodrigues in Rio de Janeiro.


British promoters Jarvis Astair and Mickey Duff both said last February that by fighting Frank Bruno at the Las Vegas Hilton instead of London’s Wembley Stadium--as Cayton had set it up--Tyson lost $3 million, not to mention 14 first-class tickets on Concorde flights.

So why did Tyson join forces with King? Without Tyson, King is out of the heavyweight business for the first time since Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay. Had King allowed Tyson to fight Bruno in London, as Cayton had arranged, he would have been frozen out of the promotion.

“King put a heavy race trip on Mike,” said a source. “He told him he’d been manipulated by white people all his life. King is a great salesman, and he convinced Mike that Cayton was managing him poorly.”

King denies the assertion. At the height of the acrimony between the two, he called Cayton “Satan in disguise.” Cayton and King have sued each other, although Cayton this week said: “Presently, we have peace. The lawyers are talking.”

Both men were at the head tables at Wednesday’s news conference, with King, as always, serving as master of ceremonies. He introduced about 20 people, all but Cayton. “Mr. Steve Hyde (A Trump Plaza executive) will introduce this next young man later,” King said, when he came to 70-year-old Cayton.

The factions might resume their battle after Friday, however.

If Tyson beats Williams--he’s a 12-1 favorite--then a Tyson-Evander Holyfield match would seem to be in the offing, but King has been quiet about such an enterprise.


Holyfield already has a promoter, Dan Duva, who says that for this fight he might step aside and allow King to promote it--providing he doesn’t have to give up an option on Holyfield in the event he wins. If Tyson should lose to Holyfield, King would be out of business.

“I would be opposed to Mike fighting anyone but Evander Holyfield,” Cayton said Wednesday. “But if that’s what Mike wants I would not stand in his way, although as his legal manager I could prevent such a fight.

“Tyson-Holyfield is a big fight now and it will not get any bigger. In fact, it could disappear. One of them could lose a fight. One of them could get hit by a bus. Mike has an opportunity to make $20 million for that fight and it should be put together right now. I’ve always believed a $20-million fight in hand is better than 10 $20-million fights in the bush.”

On Wednesday, midway through the news conference, while King talked, Tyson put his head on the table and pretended to fall asleep. He seemed eager to leave. King kept talking. Tyson yawned and stretched. King kept talking.

Finally, at 1:10 p.m., Tyson, seated next to the podium, rapped King on the arm with his elbow while he was in mid-sentence. No one could hear what he said, but the intention was clear.

King finished talking in 30 seconds.