Most fight fans don’t understand the business end of boxing.
And many probably don’t want to.
Despite being the purest of all sports, boxing, like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, is a business, too, and decisions are often made based on their perceived long-term financial repercussions.
Hence, some things in boxing, like some things in life, aren’t always what they appear to be.
Enter: Mike Tyson vs Larry Holmes, January 1988
To most observers, the great old king was thoroughly beaten by the great new king, a ferocious young lion we thought would reign for years to come.
The 21-year-old Tyson pummeled his 38-year-old foe, knocking him out in the fourth round. In fact, Tyson, in knocking out Holmes, had done something no other fighter had done at that time or since.
Tyson vs Holmes was a pretty big deal.
The torched had been passed and Tyson’s team, including promoter Don King, got what they wanted… An impressive, decisive win in a high-profile fight bout against a legend.
Tyson’s stock would surge.
What many don’t know is how King used his influence as the promoter to stack the odds in Tyson’s favor (As if he needed any to begin with).
Holmes told Salfordstar.com in 2016:
“Mike Tyson was tough but you’ve got to remember something,” he added. “For two years I was off and did not fight.”
“They come to me, offer me a lot of money to fight Tyson and I said `Three and a half million dollars? Where’s Mike? Let’s go get him!'”
“He beat me but I think if I had more time to get ready and train for the fight then it would be no problem.”
Don King lured Holmes out of retirement with big money but there was a catch. Holmes, after a two-year layoff, wouldn’t be given the necessary time to get in shape for a fight of that magnitude.
And when Larry balked at the timing of the fight, insisting he wouldn’t have enough time to prepare, King threatened to walk away and give the title shot to another fighter.
“They gave me the time I needed to prepare but then took it away,” Holmes explained.
“Being off for two years you get rusty. I was with my band singing and hanging out, and then they come to my house offering me that money, and I couldn’t turn it down.”
It was likely Don King’s plan all along to lure the great old champ out of retirement with the sole intention of not giving him ample time to prepare.
At the time, Tyson was young, fierce, in shape, and obliterating opponents. And Holmes, close to 40 and out of action for two years, already had the odds stacked against him.
Tyson vs Holmes facts and quotes
- Tyson was an 8-to-1 betting favorite.
- Tyson, at age 21, was 17 years younger than the 38-year-old Holmes, who had been out of the ring for 21 months. Holmes did not fight for over three years following the loss, but returned in 1991 and went on to fight until 2002.
- Tyson was guaranteed $3 million but his manager said that with Tyson’s percentages of fight-related incomes, his share would be considerably increased.
- “Tyson is a lot better than I thought, a lot better. People can talk about Spinks all they want… Tyson is the true champion.” – Larry Holmes
- “Larry Holmes was a legendary fighter, and if he was at his best, I couldn’t stand a chance.” – Mike Tyson
In limiting Larry’s time to prepare, King further stacked the cards in Tyson’s favor, taking away any reasonable chance Holmes would have had.
But in Don King’s defense, that’s what a shrewd promoter does.