SI Vault
Bruce Newman
June 13, 1988
In the aftermath of Jimmy Jacobs's death, many are hungering for a piece of Mike Tyson
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 13, 1988

Who Owns The King?

In the aftermath of Jimmy Jacobs's death, many are hungering for a piece of Mike Tyson

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

The day they Buried Jimmy Jacobs, a clear, sunny March afternoon in Los Angeles, was the day the struggle began for the body. Not Jacobs's body, of course, which will rest just beyond an off-ramp of the San Diego Freeway. The fight crowd had flown in from New York for the funeral of the legendary fight manager—so many of them traversing the country at once that some had been reduced to flying coach—and as the mourners sat in the packed chapel at the Hillside Memorial Park cemetery, several of them could not take their eyes off the thickly muscled figure seated in the front row, wiping tears from his eyes throughout the 45-minute service.

The world had changed suddenly for Mike Tyson, the 21-year-old heavyweight champion, and it had become a less friendly place. Jacobs had been Tyson's friend as well as his comanager. But the body that the vultures were beginning to circle was Tyson's.

Until three months ago, Tyson had never taken much notice of his business affairs. Cus D'Amato, Tyson's mentor, surrogate father and, for most of his teenage years, legal guardian, had succeeded in keeping Mike's mind clear of anything that would divert his attention from his next fight. When D'Amato died in November of 1985, the shepherding of the champion's career passed smoothly to Jacobs, D'Amato's longtime business partner. But with Jacobs's death at the age of 58, things began to change very quickly.

In February, after a year's courtship, Tyson had married actress Robin Givens, one of the stars of a television series called Head of the Class. A month later he was a pallbearer at Jacobs's funeral. Tyson still had a management contract with Jacobs's partner. Bill Cayton, but the two were not close. When Cayton tried to pull Tyson into the cold bosom of his embrace, he was shocked to find that other suitors had already begun their tinny seductions. Cayton quickly found himself in a struggle for control of Tyson's career not only with Don King, the shock-follicled fabulist and self-promoter, but also with Tyson's bride and—of all people—her mother, Ruth Roper. "If my partner hadn't died," says Cayton, "a lot of the problems we've had would never have happened."

The struggle for Tyson's body and his soul has been going on for two months, and with only 2½ weeks left before he faces Michael Spinks in Atlantic City in the most difficult bout of his life, there has been no sign of its letting up. Tyson's handlers have tried to sequester him from what they refer to as the "distractions" that have been occupying his thoughts. But from his camp in the Cats-kills there were rumblings of "explosions" and the fighter's "threatening to walk out on the fight" every time some new shred of gossip about the ardors of his inner circle emerged.

By the first effulgence of spring, everyone in Tyson's orbit seemed to be professing his or her undying love for someone else in the entourage. Love was everywhere, and people were slinging it so freely you needed boots just to walk around in the stuff. Mike loved Robin (and, of course, Ruth); Robin loved Mike (and, of course, Ruth); and, of course, Ruth loved Robin (and, uh, Mike). Presumably, with all this adoration around, the couple was reluctant to spoil the mood by drafting a prenuptial agreement, preferring instead to go the more traditional till-death-do-us-part route. "Michael said if I ever divorced him, he'd kill me," Givens told PEOPLE shortly after returning from her honeymoon, her heart still mantled with the sticky sweet dew of love.

Love has no greater fool than one whose affections are inflamed by the prospect of a financial killing. So it was not long before King was struck by cupidity's arrow and began wooing Tyson's bride and his mother-in-law, hoping to convince them that, as Tyson's new manager, he would love the champ in a way Cayton could not. Over the years King has been sued by many fighters, all of whom alleged that similar romances ended badly when, they said. King did not pay them what he had promised. Most of these suits have been settled out of court, though at least one case, that of heavyweight Tim Witherspoon, is still pending. But in an interview with an Albany, N.Y., television station, Cayton said, "King is winning Tyson with the theory that blacks should stick together. Black trainer, black manager, black promoter, black, black, black."

King's heart was so full of the perfume of his troth that he stood up at a Tyson-Spinks press conference in April and referred to Cayton as "the man I love," causing Cayton, who was standing on the same dais, to recoil in horror. King later amended his judgment of Cayton slightly in the New York Post, referring to him as a "vicious, lying SOB." But a lovable vicious, lying SOB.

King then flew to Los Angeles to spend several days courting Tyson, Robin and Ruth, and Cayton realized for the first time just how precarious was his hold on Tyson's affections. "When Jim died, I wasn't that close to Mike personally," Cayton says. "And now there are people who want to get their clutches on him, beginning with Don King. He's been spending all his time the last three months wooing Mike, and he's made problems for us, a lot of static."

After his March 21 fight with Tony Tubbs in Tokyo, Tyson split his time between Los Angeles, where Givens was filming a made-for-TV movie, and their newly purchased mansion in Bernardsville, N.J., which his mother-in-law helped pick out. This $4.5 million palace is referred to by some members of Tyson's entourage as the House That Ruth Built, although rarely within smiting distance of Tyson.

Continue Story
1 2 3