When world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield got home after a hard day's work at a Houston gym last Friday night, he had a message on his answering machine from his manager, Shelly Finkel: Call me! Moments later, Holyfield learned that he had just lost, for the moment and possibly forever, a $30 million payday. " Tyson is injured. The fight is postponed," Finkel told him.
Fifteen hundred miles away, in Las Vegas, challenger Mike Tyson, trying to ignore the hot pain of cartilage torn away from one of his ribs, switched on a television set to watch World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Ray Mercer battle Tommy Morrison in Atlantic City (page 74). It had been a bad day for Tyson all around. That morning in Indianapolis, Marion County Superior Court Judge Patricia Gifford had denied a motion filed by Tyson's attorneys to delay the start of his rape trial, scheduled for Jan. 27.
Earlier on Friday evening in Atlantic City, Seth Abraham, president of Time Warner Sports, had received word of Tyson's injury and of the need to postpone the Nov. 8 bout. Abraham, whose pay-per-view service, TVKO, has the live television rights for Holyfield-Tyson, picked up his telephone and canceled a series of commercials for TVKO's telecast of the bout that had been scheduled to air during college football games the following afternoon. A record 2.1 million homes had been expected to order the fight, pushing the gross for the event to more than $100 million. TVKO's profit was projected to be $4 million to $10 million.
In West Paterson, N.J., promoter Dan Duva was at a neighborhood 7-Eleven, checking to see whether the store had received its allotment of the chain's official Holyfield-Tyson coffee cups, when Tyson's promoter, Don King, called Duva's house. King left a message with the babysitter for Duva to call him back. By the time Duva returned home, his wife, Kathy, and their lawyer, Pat English, had already returned King's call. Kathy gave Dan the bad news.
At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, a three-hour conference call began. Abraham and two aides, Duva, Finkel and two representatives of Las Vegas's Caesars Palace, where the match was to be held, agreed during that call to focus their efforts on rescheduling the bout. Their target was the weekend of Jan. 17. Tyson won't be ready to fight before mid-January, and all the parties were eager to schedule the bout before the start of his trial, lest they risk his being convicted and their losing the fight forever.
But as SI went to press, sources in both the Holyfield camp and at TVKO were saying that the Jan. 18 date was unlikely, primarily because of a pay-per-view conflict with a pro wrestling extravaganza. Finkel also said that despite a promise by Caesars matchmaker Rich Rose that "We will put heat blowers in every corner of the ring," the weather in Las Vegas in January, when nighttime temperatures routinely dip into the 30's and 40's, is a major reason why his fighter is reluctant to consider that date. "I hate cold weather," said the champion. "I just can't see me fighting outdoors in January."
Last Saturday morning in Las Vegas, Tyson described how he became injured. "My left side was hurting earlier—perhaps from straining or stretching or not warming up...but I continued to box and train," he told reporters. "Then I started doing sit-ups and heard the crack. It was excruciating pain, and I just went down."
Gerald Higgins, a Las Vegas orthopedic surgeon, offered a more technical analysis. On Oct. 8, said Higgins, Tyson sustained a costal condra separation—he separated a rib from the surrounding cartilage and muscle. Tyson was put on an anti-inflammatory drug and ordered to take it easy for a few days. On Oct. 16, after Tyson had resumed sparring, the injury became even more painful, and Tyson returned to Higgins's office.
At this second examination, Higgins could feel a breach caused by the separation of cartilage from rib. He urged Tyson to postpone the fight, but the challenger was defiant. "I can beat the guy," Tyson told King. "I'll spot him the injured ribs."
"You're out of your mind," said King. "The doctor says 'Mike, you can't fight.' "