The first big fight of the 1990s should be set up tonight, barring the biggest upset of the 1980s.
Mike Tyson, undefeated heavyweight champion, figures to make about $20 million in early 1990 in a showdown with Evander Holyfield, providing Tyson beats Carl (The Truth) Williams tonight in Atlantic City's Convention Hall.
Holyfield did his part last week at Lake Tahoe, knocking out Adilson Rodrigues, and stretching his unbeaten mark to 22-0. Tyson, who has been anywhere from a 10-1 to 20-1 favorite to beat Williams tonight, is 36-0. Williams is 22-2.
Promoters would like to hold Tyson-Holyfield early in 1990, with Donald Trump owning first refusal rights for his Trump Plaza Hotel in Atlantic City as the site.
Tyson, surly and uncommunicative with the media all week, weighed 219 1/4 at Thursday's weigh-in; Williams was 218. Tyson will make $4 million; Williams will earn $1 million.
In his last appearance here, in June of 1988, Tyson knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds. Tyson seemed sloppy and out of control at times in his last fight, a fifth-round TKO of England's Frank Bruno in February.
Williams has been seldom seen since a May of 1985, when he boxed competently but lost a 15-round Las Vegas decision to then-champion Larry Holmes. His purse that night: $175,000. Since then, he has fought only seven times, winning all except a TKO loss to Mike Weaver in 1986. He fought on the undercard of Tyson-Spinks, but was unimpressive in a 12-round decision over Trevor Berbick.
He's tall (6-foot-4), has a long reach (85 inches), a world-class left jab and is one of the better athletes in the heavyweight division.
While Tyson has been skipping the interview sessions and barring reporters from his workouts, Williams has been filling notebooks in the press room.
--"I want to be a heavyweight champion that a little kid could look up to, with a straight face."
--"I'm not going to let Mike intimidate me, like he does everyone else. Other guys get in there and think: 'Oh, wow--I don't wanna get KO'd . . . this is on TV and my girlfriend's watchin'. "
--"Tyson is the ultimate puncher, and my job is to go into the lion's den and take the meat right out of the lion's mouth."
Can he? Williams and Tyson have two common opponents, Holmes and Berbick. Williams went the distance with both. Tyson knocked out Holmes in four rounds and soundly defeated Berbick. All along, boxing purists have said that Tyson will one day lose to a classic boxer, a man who keeps the tiger at bay with a long, strong left jab, frustrates him into making foolish mistakes, and then knocks him out. The truth, however, is that Williams doesn't appear to be that man.
Can he recover, for example, when Tyson hits him on the chin, as he surely will? He didn't when Mike Weaver hit him on the chin. In 1986, Weaver knocked him down three times in one round and the fight was stopped.
Williams was ahead on points at the halfway point against Holmes in 1985, and nearly closed one of the champion's eyes with his jab. But Holmes won the last three rounds convincingly. Two judges scored it 146-139, and one had it 143-142.
Said Carmine Graziano, Williams' trainer, of his fighter's chances: "Carl should have to check his brains at the door, so it'll be even."
Graziano was only slightly more serious when he said Williams' jab would turn the fight around early.
"Physically, we concede Mike will get the best of it," he said. "But Carl has the best left jab I've ever seen. His jab is poetry. It's so quick, you only see it going back.
"By the third round, Carl will be in control. Remember what (Sugar Ray) Leonard did to (Roberto) Duran in their second fight? That's what Carl will do to Mike. We think Mike is the kind of guy who will not perform well when things aren't going his way."
There's only one certain winner tonight, promoter Don King.
If Tyson wins, King will make several million promoting Tyson-Holyfield. But if there is an upset, King still wins.
To get this fight, Williams had to grant King options to promote his next three fights--if he wins.