Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson memoirs: Part two

Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson

 

 

Please click here for Part One

 

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

 

Press workout at Fitzgerald’s Casino

 

I checked in and the gym set up was exactly as it should be. Bill and I then met with one of the people running Mike Tyson Productions in Atlanta and we joined the owner of the Fitzgerald’s Casino, Mr. Don Barden for lunch. Accompanying the Tyson rep are police officers from the Atlanta area, who are moonlighting as two personal bodyguards. They even follow her to the restroom. Keep in mind no one even knows who this lady is and she is not even the one running the office; I can only imagine what it will be like when her “boss” arrives! A busboy stops by to thank Mr. Barden for the job he has and Mr. Barden wanted to know more about the man. He was a very humble man, who, since coming to America from Africa, had been working at the casino to support his family and pay his way through college. Mr. Barden called over a manager and instructed that the young man is given a higher position with higher pay right on the spot. That was not for show. Mr. Barden came from humble upbringings himself and never forgot where he came from. This lunch reminds me of the two extremes I see in boxing all the time: A nobody who becomes a “somebody” and embellishes the moment he has on top and the person who never would have had a shot in life but, thanks to boxing, he gets the break of a lifetime.

 

Turn up the heat

 

After meeting with the Tyson training team, I need to make some last-minute adjustments to the gym set-up. The humidity and heat are brutal outside in Tunica, Mississippi. Just as the media gets comfortable in the cool ballroom, Mike is ready to arrive and off goes the air conditioning and I have the heat pumped up. At last check, it is 88 degrees. As I laid down the black tape on the slip bag platform, I could hear several of the reporters grumble and complain. I guess many of them never trained for a fight before or perhaps they had gotten too used to being spoiled by comped hotel rooms, buffets and media luncheons. Welcome to my grind!

 

Am I under arrest?

 

I go out to the hallway to a drinking fountain and am refused reentry to the ballroom because I have my promoter credentials on and not my “Blue” Team Tyson credentials. The security guard proceeds to tell me I am not allowed because I am not part of the media and tells me I need to move from the entrance. I am pissed off, to put it mildly. At this point, I told him I am the one who helped make these rules he is enforcing on the property owned by the man with whom I just had lunch, not more than a couple hours before. It takes Bill Kozerski, Showtime and casino executives to tell this security guard to let me enter and he actually seems pissed off. Wow, talk about power trips. Right then, I was then asked by a female police officer to go back in the hallway, along with my Showtime friend Ivy, where they had yellow-taped off an area around the fountain and had several officers with bomb-sniffing dogs around. She asks me if I left a box lying there. I did not recall but she asked me to pick it up, more like demanded I did. It was Ivy’s box I must have set down, not paying attention. I make a light joking comment if I will be arrested if I do but the officer is is not in the mood to joke around. I picked up the box and then they gave orders to remove the yellow tape and I was permitted to go back to doing my work. This is getting out of control already; I can tell.

 

Good to see friendly faces

 

After two encounters with some people who need to chill out, I am very happy to be in the company of good friends, something hard to come by in the world of boxing. Mario Costa from Jersey City is here; Mike’s two personal assistants Anthony Harris and Darryl Francis, Panama Lewis and many people from Showtime I have befriended over the years. Also in attendance is the one and only Steve “Crocodile” Fitch! Word was he was banned from training camp but he has made his way to Memphis. I am used to seeing Croc on a 12 but today he is on good behavior, so far, and is on an 8. The media loves to take shots at him but they sure love to use him to enhance their stories. Such is the case in which a camera crew has him go through the last days of fight week, “Four days and a wake up,” then all the way down to “Fight Time!”

 

Lethargic explosiveness

 

Mike hits the speed bag, uses the slip bag (where between humidity and Mike’s sliding his boxing shoes, the black tape I have laid keeps rolling up and I have to lay more as he slips past me). I have been up close to Mike working over the years but this is the closest I have ever been. (Note: I sense a weird force of two conflicting energies. As Mike’s sweat falls down on me while I am taping the floorboards, he shows flashes of his explosive quickness but also seems kind of lethargic. After a couple rounds on the speed bag and slip bag, the workout is over. Maybe the intense heat and humidity has drained him today. The media who has gathered is even more pissed off when Mike leaves without speaking to them and they must settle for the members of Mike’s training team. Not that my 2 cents matter but based on all surrounding the event, smart move for Mike to avoid these guys. I am standing here wondering if Mike is going to just pack it up and leave the Fitzgerald’s and head back to Memphis.)

 

The media is reporting Mr. Barden secured the rights to market his hotel/casino as the official Training Camp for Mike Tyson by paying over one million dollars. When hotel rooms are hard to come by, the Tyson party has over three dozen rooms on hold at no charge to them. After Mike and Mr. Barden make some small talk and Mike learns a little about Mr. Barden’s background, he decides he wants to stay the night, so I get some room lists in order then help out Anthony and a few of the team members head back to Memphis to gather the gear and Mike will train the next day at the Fitzgerald’s.

 

 

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

 

Day two at the Fitz

 

It was arranged to bring in a couple dozen kids from the area to watch Mike work out and then have a little Q&A. On my way out to Tunica, I picked up Jeff Fenech from the airport, who, along with a friend of his, flew in just for the day before he was heading back to Canastota, New York, where, on Saturday, he was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jeff had arranged for one of his young fighters, Nedal Hussein, to be on the undercard and I was handling all the particulars with his bout as well.

 

Mike went through the workout and, then for the first time since arriving in town, he spoke publicly. Mike and Mr. Barden sat inside the ring and hosted a Q&A with a group of youth from the area. The public relations rep from the casino arranged for three local members of the local media and Dan Rafael of USA Today to be in attendance. The mood was very edgy, almost as if everyone was handing the microphone back and forth like a vial of nitroglycerin. There were some laughs and a few jokes and then that was it. We spent a few minutes in the locker room with Mike after. I talked to Mario Costa and Mike McCallum while Jeff talked with Mike, as his friend had some photos signed. It was a wrap; pack it up and everyone is officially leaving Tunica. That was the end of the Mike Tyson Training Camp at the Fitz! I dropped Jeff and his friend off at the airport and realized the photos his friend had signed in the locker room were the ones from my backseat that were given to me by Showtime photographer Tom Casino.

 

 

Thursday, June 6, 2002

 

Conspiracy theories and rumors

 

It is the day of the weigh-in and there are conspiracy theories flying everywhere! Some are fact; some are ridiculously false and some will just grow like the size of the fish caught out in the old muddy Mississippi! Here are just a few: Mike is supposedly on various medications to keep him sedated to ensure he gets in the ring because he owes Showtime 11 million dollars. Lewis’ camp has made comments about Mike being on steroids and there is talk about Mike possibly being on Neurotin, that Lewis’ camp feels will make him numb to pain. (If anything, it makes you feel loopy and slow!) USA Today finally broke the story about Gary Shaw leaving Main Events and forming his own company after the fight and working with Shelly Finkel. Is Tyson going with Shaw? Who is on whose side now with the commission consultants and what about referee Eddie Cotton? Emanuel Steward is talking about how Panama should not be allowed anywhere near Tyson on the night of the fight. (Interesting note: Panama was 2-0 vs. Steward in the corner.)

 

Weighing heavy

 

I hired a company to come and assemble the newly-purchased scale and calibrate it to assure it would be right on the mark. This is going to be the largest audience to ever witness a weigh-in live on television and this scale has to be on the money! Sounds strange making note of this but, after it was completed, I had it roped off and had two uniformed police officers positioned with the instructions to not let anyone touch the scale until the fighters arrived. Mike weighed in at 234½ and I am catching heat because it appears the scale is showing around five pounds heavy. Mike selected his Reyes gloves for the fight and did a brief interview with Jeremy Schapp. Lewis arrived later on at 246¼ and their camp had the same complaint that it was around five pounds heavy. Now I am catching serious heat behind the scenes for this. I have no answer as to what happened with this scale as it has been calibrated, certified and guarded since it was set up earlier today.

 

Memorabilia trade

 

I ran into Richard Slone, Emanuel’s right-hand guy, pretty much. There is an obvious energy of bitterness from the Kronk crew toward Kozerski and me as we represent two people who got baptized by Emanuel in boxing but went on to achieve our own success away from the Kronk Kingdom, where I always say, all that glitters is not gold! I like Richard personally and we oddly agreed to trade for a pair of hand wraps after making some small talk. I gave him a pair used by Mike in training that Stacey McKinley gave me and Richard is going to give me one signed by Lewis when he gets back home. Weigh-in is over and I am really rattled about this scale thing because it is no doubt going to be the lead story and the controversy will be tied to my name. (Note: I left this in because, to this day, I never got that hand wrap from Richard. LOL!)

 

I am ending the night going to BB Kings with my friend Mario Costa, Panama Lewis and Mike McCallum for dinner. I shared some things I overheard from the Lewis camp earlier in the day with McCallum. We went back to his days at Kronk and how Emanuel’s training style has not changed one bit. Over some BBQ ribs I shared with McCallum, the word I got from a couple people bragging in Lewis’ camp that Steward would have Lewis work off his jab and use that famous “check hook” or half-step back to stay out of range of Mike’s power then look to use the uppercut and overhand right, basically offsetting his attack and then pushing him backward on his heels. Great ribs, great time with friends and VERY deep talk about Steward’s strategy and style (even noting the couple camps in which I assisted Steward with Lewis).

 

 

Friday, June 7, 2002

 

Tickets now available

 

I have to get some space heaters for Mike’s dressing room and secured those with a ticket trade. There are now a couple thousand tickets back available and, while the media is busy blasting the fight as not being a sell-out as previously announced, what no one is talking about is the fact that Lewis’ camp returned the tickets because they could not sell all of them to their audience. I heard they had some travel website set up offering packages to the fight but fell far short of their goal. The media should be all over this story but they appear to want Lennox to be the “good guy” and Mike “the bad guy” and keep knocking the promotion in any way possible. I have even read a couple quotes from other promoters with one even calling it a “circus.” That one I had to laugh at because if these guys had the chance to promote the fight. they would!

 

Will write for food

 

I cannot help but notice many of the so-called big names in the media have been very harsh in their reporting of the promotion and Tyson personally. That has not stopped them however from showing up at every outing where free food is being served, to date.

 

Undercard weigh-in

 

I secured a new scale and we have no problems. I filled out a couple hundred pieces of paperwork, dealt with the guy who wanted to put the “Thug Life” boxing ring up and felt bad because I really do like him (and wish I had known it was him in the first place), had a boxing manager – supposedly a big-time guy on the boxing scene – steal a credential right in front of me and swear he got shorted one. I am happy to see Emanuel pick Cornelius “K9” Bundrage from Kronk for his one slot on the undercard over Raymundo Beltran, who he had originally picked. K9 was boxing when I was moving around the ring years ago at Kronk and is well deserved of this opportunity. Our fighter Rico Hoye is set. Mike Tyson Enterprises is sparing no expense in its undercard slot with female fighter Corrine Van Ryck DeGroot as she has a full camera crew filming a documentary on her; all of them need special credentials and we have to go over an entire new set of filming-related issues for them. The co-main event is Manny Pacquiao vs. Jorge Eliecer Julio and Pacquiao has his promoter Murad Muhammad here to deal with all things related to his bout.

 

I have to deliver a very loud set of instructions regarding transportation to the arena tomorrow. I had to actually raise my voice because people kept talking away and they don’t get it…If you do not show up, have your credentials and color coded wristband, get on the bus and get checked off my list, you are not making the trip. I was glad when I got through that!

 

Friday night

 

Memphis is packed with celebrity parties. I head over to Shelly’s hotel with Bill and Christine to deliver the Tyson credentials and personal tickets to Shelly. The lobby is just packed to the point where we can’t even move. I think Puff Daddy is having a party there. In walks Emanuel Steward with some actress on his arm and he grabs Chris and I and pulls us with him and tells us to come party with him. It is like a tornado we are caught up in.

 

We broke out of there because it was too chaotic and we went out for some BBQ on Beale Street and it, too, was packed shoulder to shoulder! We ran into Tommy Hearns and one of his friends and I ended up going out to a club with them. Inside, we ran into Evander Holyfield (who is friendly with Tommy) and he joined us in a booth, where we stood around the table. I have been up close to Evander a couple of times over the years and compared to when he looked like a statue of Adonis in the Madison Square Garden elevator a couple years back, he looks like he might be 205 pounds at heaviest! I am blown away at how small he looked tonight.

 

 

Saturday, June 8, 2002

 

Interesting notes from the morning papers

 

The Memphis Flyer, Police Director Walter Crews: “Take former President Clinton’s and Al Gore’s visit to Memphis: Security was very high then but the fight is much bigger.”

 

The DailyMail in the U.K., Emanuel Steward regarding Shaw possibly joining Lewis’ Lion Promotions: “I didn’t know Gary Shaw was leaving Main Events but Lennox doesn’t even like him. He thinks he’s a grandstander.” (Gary is very passionate about the fighters he represents and I am hearing rumors he may be starting his own company, working close with a powerful manager and network in the near future.)

 

Ticketing and Credentials

 

The majority of Mike’s camp is staying at a hotel around 15 minutes from the arena. I am headed to drop off the tickets for everyone at the hotel when Stacey called me. His gym bag was left at the fitness club and all the corner jackets are in it. I called the fitness center and describe the bag and the owner proceeded to tell me the contents including Cohiba Cuban cigars and boxing gear. (Talk about nosey!) I swing across town, grab the bag, fly to the hotel (I was offered a police escort to ensure making it on time!). I meet up with Black (Mike’s camp coordinator) and a small group of guys out front. I handed Black tickets and Stacey rumbled through the bag, pulled out the wrinkled jackets to get pressed, put a cigar in his mouth and handed me a used speed bag and a pair of trunks that were cut very short that Mike was not going to be wearing that night as a “Thank you” gift for me making the run for him. Before I can leave, everyone is refusing the tickets from Black saying they are not good enough seats. Black said, flat-out, he was so sick of this fight, that he wanted to go just lay down and not even go to the fight. After a bunch of back-and-forth, they took the tickets but they were not going to sit in the seats. (At this point, I couldn’t care less if they sell them or give them away.)

 

There had to be a series of high-priority calls made to all promoters, the arena, fire chief and security, then get Mike’s Atlanta business advisers to sign off on adding a few rows of $2,500 tickets, two per row, right outside the tunnel on the ring walk to make the people in the camp happy. Now the box office has these printed by the time I arrive, I pick them up and drop them off back at the hotel. Add another $50,000 to Mike’s expense list!

 

I am in Tunica where I gather the undercard on a large charter bus. Each person is checked off on my list and must have the credentials with a color-coded wristband to enter the bus. I have an armed security officer with me and a full, multi-jurisdictional police escort all the way to Memphis. Along the ride, there are people standing outside holding signs and waving at us. Motorcycles take turns passing up the bus and blocking off traffic at each light as we roll right through. This is the first police escort of this magnitude I have been a part of and it is pretty cool; I have to admit.

 

The undercard goes smooth

 

I had a couple small issues with the female bout, related to Van Ryck DeGroot’s private camera crew, as to them having to shut down the cameras for the rest of the night in the main arena. (Common sense would tell you Time Warner and Viacom are not going to let some private company cash in on this event!)

 

Emergency call to back door

 

Well, the President of the United States George W. Bush did not arrive without a credential but Mike’s director of his Atlanta office decided to show up with an assistant and a makeup artist, whom had no tickets or credentials. Shelly Finkel is looking at me and asked me, “How do you want to handle it?” I was blown away. Me?! I have around 10 high-ranking members of all these branches of law enforcement staring at me and can’t one of them be the “bad cop”? (Pardon the pun.) Shelly walks away and leaves me to handle it. I use my “override authority” to let in a person carrying a roller bag and a makeup artist. I can’t believe it. I apologize to the staff and pray things don’t get any more ridiculous than this. People always point to Shelly as being someone to question regarding Mike’s business dealings but, so far, Shelly has his business in order. However, the staff from the Atlanta office is doing a great job of blowing Mike’s money, in what might be his last big payday.

 

7 p.m.

 

I have Mike’s locker room laid out exactly as requested by Ronnie Shields and Stacey McKinley. They arrive with a few other guys, including Mike McCallum and Mario Costa, and Ronnie told me it was “exactly” as he wanted it. I brought back the camera crews and got things in order for Mike’s arrival. In the locker room, we are watching on the monitor as my man Darryl rolls up in Mike’s personal, custom Rolls Royce limo he had trucked in. Accompanying the Rolls is a multi-vehicle and motorcycle police escort. On the monitor we can see Mike making his way to the locker room with seven police surrounding him. The mood was light as Stacey, Ronnie, McCallum, Mario and I were sharing some laughs about Emanuel when Mike hit the door. I said my goodbyes and then I headed out.

 

Memphis VIPs

 

We may be in Memphis but it rivaled any night that Vegas, New York or Atlantic City has ever seen! In attendance are Donald Trump, Jay Z, Denzel Washington, Gary Payton, Allen Iverson, Val Kilmer, Wesley Snipes, Dave Matthews Band, Justin Timberlake, Morgan Freeman, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Isaac Hayes, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Bacon, LL Cool J, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and even Heidi Fleiss. Add in another couple dozen athletes from major league sports, recording artists, Hollywood celebs and I could easily fill up a few pages in this notebook. I have over 12 tickets/invitations to celebrity parties in my suit pocket and briefcase but the most amazing design is the one to Mike Tyson’s. When you open the envelope, you pull out what opens up to be a boxing ring and, inside it, you remove a boxing glove that is an invitation for two. Free drinks, food and Biz Markie is DJ’ing.

 

Fight time

 

Mike’s locker room is hovering around 100 degrees. He rips off some thunderous combinations as Stacey holds the mitts while wearing the red body protector.

 

Security checks are underway around the venue. All of the undercard locker rooms are being swept clean by police and bomb-sniffing dogs. Anyone without “All Access” credentials for the “Main Event” is being made to leave the corridors and take their seats. I settle in my position at the last row on the floor in the media section, at the point where the fighters exit the tunnel and enter the arena. In front of me are a private monitor with two headsets (one for television network, one for event staff) and a handheld radio. The Tyson entourage is enormous and easily spotted as the Atlanta office had custom tailored crème suits made for each member. That must be a solid 50-large at least right there (it might not be the best investment for Tyson again but it is the most solid looking entourage I have ever seen in all my years eclipsing the tuxedo wearing group that accompanied Thomas Hearns years earlier in Vegas). The atmosphere is electric as Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon Jr. enter the ring to announce each fighter’s respective network. The crowd starts to work itself into a charge as 12 private security guards enter the ring where they will block off each side of the ring, so the two fighters cannot come in contact until the opening bell. Just then, DMX’s “Ride Or Die” comes on in the arena; Tyson exits his dressing room and the crowd erupts!

 

Before Mike can exit the tunnel, the Chief pf Police stops them as too many people are trying to make the ring walk. There were strict orders that only the four working cornermen and two extra people can make the actual walk with Mike. Tension is high, as I count nine more police officers in addition to the eight already walking Mike to the ring. They appear ready to arrest someone – anyone – I cant believe what I am seeing. Crocodile has somehow beat the system and he is already waiting at ringside, waving a towel, shouting, “Gorilla Warfare!” Finally a couple people slide off to the side to take their seats in the newly-designated $2,500 row across from my station. A couple extra people slip past toward the ring. Now we are down to the final six people walking with Mike.

 

The knockout

 

Lennox Lewis has just landed the loudest punch I have ever heard in my entire life! A booming overhand right sends Mike down and I can see, on the large screen, he has blood coming out of his nose and from both eyelids. It is over. The punch echoed off the pyramid shaped roof of the venue. The fight is over. Added later that night: I had to gather myself and prepare for post-fight duties but I could not get the sound of Lewis’ right hand out of my head. It was a thunderous crack that jolted Mike’s neck back and it was as if I could see this lightning bolt shoot upward to the peak of the aptly-named Pyramid arena and then be evenly dispersed over the entire crowd as it bounced off the peak.

 

Post-fight

 

The celebration is underway in Lewis’ dressing room and there is a small group of media with his entourage. As I enter Tyson’s locker room, there is a huge swarm of media interviewing him as he holds his two-month-old son Miguel in his arms. I find it amazing that even in defeat, Tyson remains the bigger draw to the very same media who all called for him to be defeated on this night. It must have been the same in Muhammad Ali’s dressing room the night he lost to Larry Holmes. Even though there is a rematch clause in the contract, I honestly cannot see Mike coming back at this stage of his career to beat Lennox. I think we are seeing the curtain closing on the careers of both fighters. With it, we just might be seeing the last great generation of heavyweight boxing, much the same that came when Ali was defeated by Holmes until Tyson came along.

 

I am in a fog. I came to Memphis excited to be involved in boxing. It was almost, in a way, a crowning achievement for me. I think back to 1987 when I caught that bus to Atlantic City to hang out for the result of Tyson vs. Tyrell Biggs, back to when I was a fan, back to when I loved the sport I would grow to have such mixed emotions about. I fell in love with boxing at a young age and, slowly over time, began to fall out of love. I arrived in Memphis with feelings of falling back in love again. I now realize I am no longer in love with boxing. I no longer have the desire to climb to higher levels in this business. I have seen far too much and can never look at the Sweet Science with the naive eyes I once did. As I exit the Pyramid, I am numb.

 

After-party

 

I decided to head over to Mike’s party. Mike would not be attending his $300,000 post-fight party. (That is at least what I was told this party cost that was hosted by his Atlanta office.) Top-shelf liquor, champagne and food. I saw a dozen or so more people wearing custom cream-colored suits. Several people handed me business cards that had the name of various Mike Tyson-named businesses from boxing to the record business. As “The Biz” spun the records, the mood was strange. Some people laughed, danced and drank more than they could handle. One young man, from one of Mike’s “Tyson-branded” companies, actually cried as we talked about what Mike had meant to our careers to date. I was not in the mood to party. As I headed back to my hotel, the streets were packed. It will be a night Memphis will never forget. There are parties going on all over town – and the last thing I feel like doing is partying. I feel as if I just went 12 rounds! I am drained. I am physically, mentally and emotionally spent.

 

Elvis has left the building

 

Sunday is like any other day after a big fight. The circus packs up and leaves town. It is a wrap. I am sure this will rank as the highest grossing fight in the history of boxing and highest viewed to date. I am satisfied knowing I did so much in helping this event come together. Records are made to be broken and whatever records this promotion sets, I am sure will one day be eclipsed but I highly doubt any fight will ever be as complex and storied as all that was related Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson.

 

 

You can follow Mr. John Lepak on Twitter @Lightning_JL and on Instagram @lightning_lepak.

 

 

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