In Las Vegas, heavyweight champion George Foreman leaned forward in his chair and whispered the words he thought could settle the strike.
Not that strike. Foreman was talking about his personal picket-line march against promoter Don King, who possibly stands in the way of Foreman versus Mike Tyson and the biggest payday in boxing history.
"Butch Lewis might be the missing piece," Foreman said. "We don't want to see this go down the drain."
Every stalemate needs an arbitrator. Baseball turned to William J. Usery. Foreman has turned to Lewis, a veteran promoter and now, perhaps, a middleman.
As Foreman spoke on Feb. 17, the wheels already were in motion in Indianapolis. There, that same day, Lewis was staring through a glass partition at Tyson in the Indiana Youth Center, where the former heavyweight champion is finishing a three-year rape sentence. Tyson is scheduled for release March 25.
Lewis and Tyson met for three hours.
"We talked about a zillion things," Lewis said. "Mainly focusing on the clock ticking pertaining to his release."
At one point, Lewis asked about Foreman's demand that King step aside for this proposed fight, not knowing how much, if at all, King will be tied to Tyson once he gets out.
Lewis said Tyson smiled and offered, "I appreciate Big George letting me know. It will work itself out, but right now I'm not focusing on anything but my freedom."
Lewis said he did not push the matter but left optimistic.
"Hopefully, I can be instrumental in this long-awaited fight," he said. "We, in boxing, need to have this happen for the sport itself. And it's certainly good business for George and Mike. And it's something fans are dying to see."
Lewis said he later spoke with King and suggested the 10,000-watt promoter step aside and allow this fight to happen.
"I told him just to put it in his computer and sleep on it," Lewis said. "Don't kick and scream about it now."
There are clocks ticking here. Tyson's alarm is set for March 25. King is facing a May 22 trial in New York for insurance fraud. Foreman's clock is biological. He says a fight with Tyson must occur before the end of the year, at which point Foreman, 46, plans to retire.
There are intelligent people in the sport-- no, really --who are convinced Tyson has changed in prison and will no longer take marching orders from King.
Lewis has paid a dozen visits to Tyson in jail and is among those who believe Tyson is not only reformed but his own man.
"I feel he can be a little more in control of his own destiny," Lewis said. "I'm not saying who that will include or not include. Let him come out, give him a chance, you'll find a much more mature Mike Tyson."
Lewis said the 28-year-old Tyson appears serious about his religious conversion to Islam. On his most recent visit, Tyson refused an offer of juice because he was observing Ramadan, a holy period that requires Muslim followers to fast from sunrise to sunset.
"It's been a strong force in his life, no question," Lewis said. "It has had a positive effect in his maturing, from where I sit."
Lewis does not believe Tyson's new-found religion will make him more passive in the ring.
"It has not affected his will, or his desire to be a professional boxer," Lewis said. "That's how he makes his living."
The bottom line: Can Foreman, through Lewis, make this fight happen?
"The old man has been making very few mistakes," Lewis said of Foreman. "He's the manager, promoter and fighter. Who better to design the program than himself."
Oscar De La Lawsuit: As promised, manager Shelly Finkel followed through with plans to take legal action against Oscar De La Hoya, recently filing a multimillion dollar suit against the fighter in New York.
Finkel maintains De La Hoya owes him $97,000 for money given to the fighter prior to the 1992 Summer Olympics. Finkel assumed De La Hoya would retain his services after winning the gold medal in the Barcelona Games. When De La Hoya did not, Finkel demanded his money back.
Trainer Eddie Futch, still working his magic at 83, enjoyed one of his most satisfying nights in a corner Feb. 18, when he coached light-heavyweight Montell Griffin to an upset majority-decision victory over James Toney.
Reflecting a few days later, Futch said, "It really made me happy, especially when people said I was insane to put him in there in the first place."
Few gave Griffin much of a chance against Toney, a former two-time world champion, but Futch said Griffin stuck to the game plan.
Futch instructed Griffin not to throw a right unless Toney first threw a left. That was to counter Toney's best offense--his counter punch.
Griffin defied the order once, in the third round, and Toney unloaded with a right that staggered Griffin and nearly ended the fight.
"Once he got hurt, he realized how important it was," Futch said.
Ever wonder why Larry Donald suddenly dropped his assault lawsuit against Riddick Bowe for punching Donald at a December news conference at the Forum? Well, turns out Donald has been invited to fight on the under card of Bowe's March 11 fight against Herbie Hide at the MGM Grand. . . . Gerald McClellan (31-2, 29 KOs), one of the sport's biggest punchers, moves up to challenge Nigel Benn (39-2-1, 32 KOs) on Saturday for Benn's World Boxing Council super-middleweight crown in London.
Flyweight Mark Johnson proved last Monday he is deserving of a title shot. Johnson (22-1, 15 KOs) won his 21st consecutive fight with his third-round TKO against Leon Salazar at the Forum. Johnson is so frustrated he said he is willing to drop four pounds and challenge World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez for his 108-pound titles.
Former heavyweight champions on the comeback include Lennox Lewis and Michael Moorer, who will tentatively fight on the same May 13 card at a site to be determined. Lewis, who lost his WBC title to Oliver McCall last fall, is scheduled to meet Lionel Butler and Moorer, dethroned by George Foreman in November, expects to meet Tim Fuller.
And, in Palm Springs on March 5, local heavyweight Jeremy Williams (20-1, 17 KOs), coming off a ho-hum victory against Everton Davis in January, meets Jesse Ferguson (20-13, 14 KOs) at the Palm Springs Riviera.
Pernell Whitaker, seeking his sixth world title, must not be too concerned about his March 4 fight against Julio Cesar Vasquez in Atlantic City for Vasquez' World Boxing Assn. junior-middleweight title. Monday, Whitaker has scheduled a three-round sparring session with Geraldo Rivera at New York's Broadcast Boxing Club.