“You and Mike Tyson are flies. We Are elephants. We smash flies.”
Those were the threatening words of HBO’s head man, the boss of the entire prime cable network Michael Fuchs, and they were spoken to Mike Tyson promoter Don King.
Instead of just getting mad, King beat his feet from the Sixth Avenue HQs of HBO over to Broadway and West 50 Street, relocating himself and cash cow Iron Mike to the friendly confines of Showtime.
Conventional wisdom had it that King was huffing and bluffing.
But King voted with his feet, marching westward and going “all in” with HBO’s chief rival.
I worked for King at the time and, as the great promoter often said, “There’s the Tyson business and then boxing business. The Tyson business is bigger.”
Tyson and King, who claimed to be adamant that Larry Merchant be removed as a commentator on Tyson bouts, thus put HBO and HBO PPV in their rear view mirror for the warm embrace of Chairman Tony Cox, SHO and Showtime Event Television (SET).
Working with the late Jay Larkin, with Scott Kurnit and others, Showtime and SET fought the richer, more powerful HBO to a boxing standstill and then overtook the boxing TV leader with propulsion from Tyson and, to a lesser extent, Julio Cesar Chavez.
Showtime already had been doing fights with King, whose promotional roster was the most stacked in the sport’s history, for four years.
It should be recalled this contract was put together while Brother Tyson was vegetating at the Indiana Youth Center where he served from March of 1992 to March of 1995 for raping beauty pageant contest Desiree Washington.
On March 30, 1995, Showtime Networks, Inc., entered into an exclusive, three year deal for Tyson bouts. (There was a prior history what with SET having done the two Razor Ruddock-Tyson bouts back in 1991.)
King then delivered the Tyson Comeback Carnival in which hapless foes such as Hurricane Peter McNeeley, smallish Buster Mathis Jr., nervous Frank Bruno and scared to death Bruce Seldon were assaulted.
That set the table for Holyfield-Tyson I in 1996 and the rematch in 1997.
A look at the PPV TV scorecard on Nov. 30, 1999, then showed Showtime/SET boasting of having seven of the top 10 attractions ever, including the two huge Evander Holyfield-Tyson megabouts.
Larkin died last year.
Chairman Tony, fit as a fiddle or so it seemed, died on Sept. 21, 1996, as he was running on a Manhattan health club treadmill. He ran Showtime for eight years and was a former HBO executive himself.
Kurnit, last I heard, had taken over operations at About.com.
Matt Blank, now Showtime CEO, was a key figure in boxing’s start and ascendancy at Showtime.
He noted, when the 1995 Tyson deal was announced, that his company had done, at that point, 62 boxing telecasts, 102 bouts and 83 world title fights.
The more things change in television, the more they stay the same.
So Bob Arum’s moving Manny Pacquiao and his May 7 PPV fight from HBO to Showtime is new ground for Pacman but not for boxing.
When HBO and Showtime compete, when they bang heads, the boxing consumer wins.
The only new wrinkle here, and don’t understimate its power, is the huge promotional platform CBS renders to Mosley-Pacquiao and perhaps to future Pacman events.
A few months ago, it was not said but always assumed that HBO would deliver the eventual Floyd Mayweather-Pacquiao blockbuster.
I think that assumption is a false one now.
Showtime’s back and who is to say there won’t be a bidding war for Floyd-Manny now?
Arum and Todd duBoef, who gets much of the real credit for luring Showtime back into the Top Rank tent first with the Ricardo Mayorga-Miguel Cotto March 12 PPV event and then the Mosley-Pacquiao event, can sit down with Mayweather representatives and say, ‘Let’s put Mayweather-Pacquiao up for auction, go with the highest bidder.’ There would be no reason for Mayweather’s handlers to balk.
(It must be said that no one, least of all Pacquiao or his connections, claim they were mistreated or underpaid by HBO. They did not leave in a snit as did King and Tyson.)
Fuchs is long gone from HBO and still up in the sky somewhere with his company stock and the rest of his most golden parachute.
But nobody at HBO is talking about smashing any flies this week.