When Mike Tyson was residing in the Indiana Youth Center, the craftiest promoters in the boxing business, not to mention every con artist he ever met, tried to romance the erstwhile “baddest man on the planet” away from Don King. They all went down in flames to the humiliating accompaniment of King’s cackling laughter.
Who ever would have believed that World Wrestling Federation impresario Vince McMahon would be the one to finally show Tyson the light, to convince him to demand to see King’s books? But that’s how it happened. Proof positive that it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
The recent split between Tyson and King developed when McMahon proposed that Tyson’s appearance in Wrestlemania XIV Sunday night at the FleetCenter in Boston be supplemented with a marketing campaign using his likeness. The fireworks began when McMahon informed Tyson that King owned his marketing rights.
“With all of our performers, we deal very straight,” McMahon told Newsday. “If there’s revenue from all sources, let’s cut it up. We’re keenly involved with what’s known as ‘intellectual property rights.’ It was a logical extension for us to say, ‘Mike, what if we do action figures and some other things? Mike thought it was a good idea.
“Inadvertently, that could very well have been the catalyst for the split. It wasn’t intentional on our part. We asked Mike directly, and he said, ‘Great. We’ll do this.’ From there, we found out that Don owned Mike’s property rights. I imagine that upset Mike, and the rest is history.”
When Tyson found out King stood to make a reported $300,000 from the marketing deal, he sought advice from entertainment manager Jeff Wald, who represents former heavyweight champion George Foreman. Wald introduced Tyson to high-powered entertainment attorney John Branca, who filed lawsuits aimed at breaking Tyson’s deals with King and co-managers John Horne and Rory Holloway. Shelly Finkel was brought in as Tyson’s boxing adviser.
Ironically, McMahon can’t move any Tyson merchandise until the legal issues are resolved. McMahon said the WWF generates annual gross revenues of $350 million from licensing and merchandising.
“My son, Shane, had been working closely with Mike on all of this,” McMahon said. “Shane got a phone call at home from Don King and John Horne. To quote Don, he told Shane, ‘Stay away from my fighter.’ It was right after that when all hell broke loose.”
Tyson is guaranteed more than $3 million plus a percentage of pay-per-view sales for his appearance in Wrestlemania, which also will feature Pete Rose and original Clinton accuser Gennifer Flowers in supporting roles. McMahon’s goal is a record 800,000 buys at $34.95 retail. Still, Tyson makes far more money in boxing. In July, he hopes to convince the Nevada State Athletic Commission to reinstate the license he lost for biting Evander Holyfield’s ears.
“We haven’t talked about it,” McMahon said, “but if Mike is ever looking for someone to promote his boxing events, we like to think of ourselves as a pretty good promoter.”