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A LOOK BACK AT LEWIS vs. TYSON

Lewis vs. Tyson Memoirs, John Lepak

A behind the scenes look back at “Fight Week” - Lewis versus Tyson and what it took to generate $150+ million dollars. (Originally published by UCN Live 2015)

 

*Here are just a few notes from my personal journal dating from April through June of 2002 for the Mike Tyson versus Lennox Lewis promotion.  I was the promotion coordinator for Fight Night Inc. where we served as the official promoter of record for Mike Tyson.  Looking back reading this, it truly was like being in a movie.  I am forever grateful to have been a part of this historic event.

 

 




Flight to Memphis

Tickets, seating chart, limos, personal cars, SUVs, large busses, airport runs, flight arrangements, hotel reservations, meal vouchers, lighting and sound, signage, medicals, agreements and legal forms, credentials, gym set up, arena ring set up, seating chart, tickets, ambulances, hospital on standby, licenses for trainers, cash budget, backup bell & striker with a whistle (that is how detailed Bill is!), corner cushions and bumper pads, radios, scale and certification, schedule of events, media relations…  When I add all the individual items together there are over 200 “to do’s” right here alone on my list. 

 

If I add in all the other “To Do’s” from all the other entities involved in this promotion, it is without a doubt the most detailed and complex of any promotion that I have ever worked on. I am going to earn my career high payday of $300k no doubt about it!  As noted previously in journal; we are working with 3 other promotional groups including Main Events & Lion Promotions for Lewis, Prize Fight the site promoter, 2 television networks; Showtime/Viacom and HBO/Time Warner as well as the venue, The Pyramid.  Each entity has a variety of responsibilities for the promotion and there is no room for error on this one.  Add to that there is a joint broadcast team from both networks and production crews working together, 2 ring announcers (Michael Buffer for Lewis and Jimmy Lennon Jr. for Tyson), a total of 6 hotels, 2 “host” casino properties (one for each fighter), 2 private residences for the fighters and 2 training locations for Tyson.  Oh, I cannot forget about multiple city officials and representatives from more branches of law enforcement and private security that I have yet to meet and see what that will involve.

 

LewIS vs. TysON – IS ON

Inside the airport there was a welcome station set up to assist anyone who needed information about the fight (hotels, schedule of events, etc).  A staffer at the booth said they have scheduled over 100 more additional flights on major airlines for fight week to meet the demand of reservations.  It just confirmed that regardless of where the fight would have taken place, nothing compares to that of a true heavyweight championship fight. 

 

It is sundown, but the humidity is thicker than any I have ever felt.  It is hard to breath it is so thick.  The hotel is positioned right next to the Cook Convention Center, which will serve as fight headquarters and have individual offices for all entities involved with the promotion.

 

Outside the hotel, as Brian Young of Prize Fight and his staff brought us up to speed on several things I could sense the nervous energy and complexities that were going to push him through many sleepless and restless nights this coming week.  You have to respect his hustle for helping make this fight happen.  Countless groups BS’ed in previous months but from where I sat at my desk, Brian was the only one who I felt was capable of making the fight happen!  Brian showed us the chauffeured sedans for the fighter’s managers, the vans for the fighter camps and the limos they had secured for both fighters (no luck on the 3-Tyson promoter SUV’s so add that to my list of tasks:  Drive to Tunica Mississippi first thing in AM).  Lennox’s limo was a white SUV that was so long it could barely make the turn around in front of the hotel.  It was the longest limo I have ever seen!  While Memphis may have had one of the longest stretch limos in the nation, the Rolls Royce they secured for Mike looked like something out of a museum.  It was even older than a 1970's James Bond era Rolls.  I took one look at that old white Roller and told Bill (Kozerski) not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but we needed to get rid of that fast! 

 

Thursday, May 30th 

Sunrise wake up call.  We moved our equipment trunks over to the Cook Convention Center into the “Fight Night Office” that would serve as the HQ for the Tyson side of the promotion.  Down the hall were offices for Prize Fight, Main Events, Lion Promotions and the athletic commission.  After getting the game plan for the day in order, I am off to pick up the vehicles.  It is not even noon and it is so humid I need to change my first shirt of the day. 

 

I am taking a cab from Memphis to Tunica Mississippi to grab each vehicle and drive it back (great reminder to everyone who only sees all the fun stuff on TV, you have to do whatever is required to get things done and lead by example).  It is approximately one hour each way if traffic is not bad so there is not going to be any time to waste.  I am riding in the back of a cab on a 4-lane street/interstate and there are “Lewis vs. Tyson – IS ON” signs everywhere.

 

The People’s Champ:

I arrived at the dealership to pick up the remaining “Tyson vehicles” and was met by the owners, managers and several members of the staff who all appeared interesting in finding out some info about the fight or about Mike’s chances with Lewis.  Lennox may have been the champ and the “good guy” according to the media, but it was clear that Mike was still the People’s Champ.  I shared some old stories from past promotions and some news from Hawaii from the Tyson training camp and they were genuinely mesmerized.  Yes, use that word because that is the vibe I got when I shared the stories.  I then handed off 8 fight tickets to the owner and jumped in SUV #1

 

Stars to the Stars – Elvis & Tyson:

Stop at Graceland:  I cannot resist stopping at Graceland on the way back because it sits right on the main interstate I am traveling.  No time to waste, moving fast, but not missing a thing.  It is amazing to see how Elvis lived.  He was a man ahead of his time.  He had the best of everything that was available and truly lived like a King.  Elvis was a baller for real!  Seeing how Elvis lived reminded me a lot of Mike’s massive estate in Vegas; state of the art security system, televisions, sound systems, private lounge, wardrobe and lots of bling, multiple buildings on the property and a great collection of vehicles (Elvis had two planes that were on display on his estate as well).  It was an eerie feeling when someone told me that Elvis was pretty much broke and out of money when he passed away. 

 

Gym Set Up: 

Mike’s trainers wanted a private location to train in that was close to the house that was rented for Mike to stay in.  (I am going to have to be extra careful dealing with all the egos and agendas this week that are not listed on any “to do” lists!)  We were able to get the gymnasium inside a recently closed elementary school for a very fare price.  While some are spending big money on renting an 8,000 sq foot mansion for Mike to stay in, I am watching pennies knowing this might end up being Mike’s last big pay day.  The second gym would be in the ballroom at the Fitzgeralds Casino in Tunica, Mississippi where the new owner, Detroiter Don Barden secured the right to be the “Official Training Camp for Mike Tyson”.  For the past two months I faxed designs and layouts for two gym locations for Mike back and forth between trainer Stacey McKinley in Hawaii and a local point person in Memphis who built the gyms out according to my specs provided.  I made my way over to the school and checked on the progress being made and all was good.  On the basketball court was a boxing ring and custom-built platforms for a slip bag, speed bag and heavy bag.

 

No Free Product Placement:

The ring in this location was brought down from and being set up by a man from Ohio.  He was 95% done and wanted to get paid, but I was going to see that ring completed 100%, secure the building and then pay him before he headed back up North.  All that remained was putting on the ring mat and the corner cushions.  I decided to open up the boxes before I left to make sure everything was there (worst case we had brought backups just in case and even ordered extra sets for the Fitzgeralds ring w/ logos).  To my surprise they all were covered with a logo that had two hands on two jail cell bars and read “Thug Life”.  My ass was on the line if I didnt make sure this was approved, I did not want someone thinking I was trying to hustle some side money.  I made a couple calls, one to a person inside Tupac’s camp still to the date who handled his licensing post death and one to Tyson's camp.  I was told this was not a company affiliated with Tupac and clearly not a deal that Shelly (Finkel) did.  I then put a call into “Mike Tyson Enterprises” in Atlanta to reach Mike’s other “advisor” and she said she knew nothing about it and was pretty pissed someone was trying to hustle from free advertising.  I noticed my local guy was making a call whispering to who-ever he had on his phone that the gig was up!  She made it clear I was to remove them immediately. 

 




Friday, May 31st 

Fighter Arrival:

While the promotional groups for the fighters got along just fine and had a long history of working together, extreme measures were already being taken to keep the two fighters and their camps apart.  We have designed two sets of color-coded “pre-fight” credentials for both camps with Lewis being in red and Tyson being in blue.  Lennox arrived in town and was busy taking part in a welcome parade in Memphis when the call came in.

 

MAYDAY… MAYDAY!  No, Mike’s plane was not going down, but several more thousand dollars of his money was!  As Mike was en-route to Memphis from Hawaii on a private jet, it was discovered the brain-trust at Iron Mike Productions in Atlanta had rented a house for Mike to stay in that was not only in the same gated subdivision as Lennox, but on the same street!  Bill began working with a realtor to locate a property that was “acceptable” to the decision makers at Tyson’s office and it had to be close travel distance to the Pyramid Arena, Cook Convention Center, Fitzgeralds Casino in Tunica Mississippi and his gym (as no one wants an un-happy fighter, especially Mike with all surrounding his pre-fight wrap in the media to date). 

 

I guess my local man who set up the gym left town when he did not get his “cash” to hook up the Thug Life deal and I was in desperate need of a crew to take down the gym he had just built!  Brian Young’s brother gave me the info for a group that promoted fights at a local venue, the New Daisy Theater.  Bill and I connected right at the same time as he found a house and I found a good gym, the Six50 Health Club in Memphis, located not far from each other.  The gym had a small group exercise studio that could fit a small ring, speed bag and heavy bag.  I finally tracked down the group from the New Daisy and cut a deal to rent their smaller ring and use their crew to re-build the gym.  We had to meet at the school, took down everything except the ring where it will remain vacant like the school until it gets picked up.  It might have been 6-figures, but this is how it can get there real fast.

 

VIP Arrival at Private airstrip – Memphis: 

I got together the Team Tyson vehicles and positioned them on the tarmac at the private airstrip where Tyson was about to arrive on a private jet.  Mike exited the plane with a dozen of his closest associates including his newly born son Miguel.  Mike greeted the Major of Memphis (a man who really worked hard to bring this event to town) and then jumped in a limo (I actually wondered what happened to that white old school Roller they had?).  The rest of the crew on the jet, then all pilled into 3 SUVs and 2 cargo vans and headed off to the newly rented mansion.  I am honestly cracking up at how that family who owned the house must have thought “Oh well, I guess no Hollywood VIP wants to rent our house this week, then BAM, they end up renting it to Mike Tyson and have to be out of the house in a couple hours! 

 

Abandoned School, Abandoned Gym:

I met the New Daisy Theater crew that was headed up by the son of the owner.  He was this short little round kid who was in a cream colored suit that looked like something that Cornel Sanders wore in those old Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials.  You could tell this kid was not going to lift a finger to work.  Regardless of me being in a Boss suit, I had work to do.  I joined the crew and we broke down the other equipment I had custom built.  By this time I had to arrange for the health club to stay open all night if needed.  It was late, thick humidity hung in the air and everyone was tired, hungry and irritated.  While we started un-loading the moving truck I had to rent, that little Cornel Sanders actually sat there and started eating some friend chicken.  If only I was kidding!  He sat there and did not even bother to offer if anyone wanted anything to even drink and made disgusting sounds as he ate like a pig in slop.  Mike’s trainers Ronnie Shields and Stacey McKinley (whom I knew dating back many years from Detroit) stopped by to check things out and told me Mike would be training tomorrow.  I ended up buying a shirt at K-Mart during one run down to Home Depot because I was drenched in sweat by this point.  Bill was posted up in his SUV and worked from his cell phone to make sure everything went smooth.  The lazy kid sitting there was clearly pissing his crew off and grew more irritated with each passing minute.  If I lost these guys, I was fucked.  They were growing restless and by this time came close to busting the ring through the glass door on a few occasions.  We got done just before the sun came up and when I went to pay the workers, Cornel Sanders wanted the money and he would pay his workers (whatever he wanted to pay them, no doubt so he could skim some off the top).  I paid the workers direct and also got clearance to give each one of them a ticket to the fight (I did not give the Cornel one). 

 




Saturday June 1st 

Training Day

Stacey called me to notify me when Mike would be training that day at the gym.  I got there early to meet Stacey and Ronnie and thank God, everything was to their liking.  Well almost everything.  When the next group arrived ahead of Mike, one person tried out the speed bag and then told me it needed to be adjusted because Mike needed it a certain way and further more, the thermostat was not at the exact temperature Mike would want it.  Then not even a minute later, another person repeated this process.  I just told them do as they needed at this point.  I took a seat by my man Anthony Harris as he set up the radio and CDs.  He told me to just post up by him in the corner and if there were a problem I would be on hand to handle it.  The small make shift boxing gym was over 100 degrees by the time Mike walked in and sweat was just rolling off me.  Anthony handed me a “gym towel” and I couldn’t help but notice Mike’s gym towels were Versace.  There must have been a few thousand dollars in towels in that big box!  Mike checked out the ring and was shaking his head bouncing around in a section of the ring and also seemed to notice some un-even spots caused by the wood planks.  Security member Anthony Pitts motioned for me from the door and I was off without seeing Mike train because I had to go secure radios for the entire promotional team on both sides.

 

More Ring Trouble

Stacey called me and told me that the ring boards were too lose and they had a problem in Hawaii with the ring and I needed to figure out a way to fix the “bounce” and un-even surface.  He went on to tell me Mike had injured his ankle because they had to squeeze a ring into a small space as I had done and not to repeat that to anyone fight week (so as I make these notes, this will not be repeated unless the day comes I decide to share these notes many years from now).  I headed to the Home Depot where I bought several pieces of small hard foam floor matting and an automatic screw gun.  Bill was also in his suit and we took off the canvas, laid down some plywood and put in so many screws into that floor those guys are going to be there for a week trying to get it apart!!!  I laid some hard foam squares in place on top of the shabby padding they had, we tied the canvas down and wrapped it up.  Another suit, headed to the cleaners!

 

I ended the night with the entire promotional staffs of our crew at Fight Night, but also everyone at Main Events were we all had dinner and then watched Holyfield vs. Rahman fight. 

 

Sunday, June 2nd 

Prep for Monday’s Operations Meeting.  Review of credential lists, ticketing, undercard fighter arrivals and accommodations, medicals, sanctioning forms and more! 

 

I got a phone call from Stacey to meet him at the gym to inspect the ring before Mike trained.  All was good finally.  Well, at least inside the gym (despite the owner and staff telling a few people who told a few people who… well, you get the idea).  So as Mike is pulling up, he was met by a group of supporters and protestors that included some gay activists holding up signs.  Mike got out and smiled and said he "had no problems with gay people" and gave the guy a hug and they both smiled and laughed for some photos. 

 

Monday, June 3rd 

Fight week is officially here!  The lead story in all newspapers this morning is Mike being cool with the gay rights activists including photos.  Every single paper I can get my hands on is featuring this. 

 

First up is the Operations Meeting, stop by Gym, check out ring set up inside Pyramid arena.

 

Operations Meeting:

There are large tables connecting all walls of the room with a dais at the head of the room.  At each table are seated representatives in charge for; the Majors office, local police, local fire department, Pyramid Arena, Prize Fight Promotions, Lion Promotions, Main Events, Team Tyson, Fight Night, Magna Media (credentialing), local boxing commission, commission consultants, private security company, FBI, Secret Service, local National Guard and finally the Coast Guard.  I am not sure if I missed anyone or entity because I am so overwhelmed right now it is hard to even explain. 

 

Things got under way with a presentation by the Mayor followed by a presentation by Alan Freeman from the Pyramid Arena.   Magna Media then gave a presentation on Credentials, educating everyone on the colors and letter codes that was followed by promoters then educating all other parties how this would work into their plans primarily for security purposes.  Then the Cook Convention Center went over info such as hours, secret location of credential office, security for building and the details for main event and undercard weigh-ins.  Next up, the Security Plan!  Starting things off is a presentation by the Police Chief and other high-ranking officials representing the most powerful group of Law Men I have ever seen in my life!  On Friday there would be a detailed walk though at the Pyramid with mock fighter ring walks, security, checkpoints, dressing rooms, you name it!  We then covered all the security issues for the Tunica Mississippi events such as the two fighter casino host hotels, media workouts, open workouts and on-site safety.  Weigh-In security plan.  Fight Night security procedures including; check point at all entrances, check point at fighter departure to venue and arrival, dressing room, ring walk, corral area and for the first time ever in boxing history; a line of special event security that will form a wall between Lewis and Tyson to keep them separate until the opening bell rings.  Wow!!!  Transportation and Movement schedules and procedures for main event fighters and teams that relate to all parties in attendance detailing full around the clock police escorts on all moves.  Parking issues with special parking permits.  Undercard transportation will be conducted by two large busses with private security on board from Tunica MS to Memphis TN with official police escorts.  Review of complete time chart of all transportation related matters. 

 

We are not done yet and I have made note; Mike has two people in this meeting representing him from his “camp” with whom I am seated with.  While Lennox’s two guys are sharp as a razor and making strong points, these two guys have liquor sweating out of their pours and are whispering about how hung over they are.  They are making it too obvious they are not interested in being there, but it is alarming to me they do not have any experience in matters like this and they do not realize how important this meeting is.  I do not know who picked these two, but they are not prepared to say the least.  I have had to make two interjections so far on behalf of Mike because they told me “just handle it, you talk for us”.  Each time, my points were validated and confirmed.  We cover television production details and then next on the agenda are the Commission issues.  (Note: to save space I have removed approximately 35 items).  On to the night of the fight promotional procedures at the venue and positions of over-ride for all parties (I am given such a “title” – I get to play the role of “big shot” for one night.)  We close up with a handful of other items from EMS, hospital procedures, order of bouts and ticketing before wrapping up. 

 

We have some STRICT policies in place!!!  There are ONLY fighter and 4 corner men allowed to walk to the ring, there will be no entourages past the entrance to the arena.  There will be no one allowed to enter the back door of the venue without the proper credential, not even “The President” and I quote, unless arrangements have been made.  There are going to be members of private sector security and law enforcement from land, air and water at every turn made this week from Tunica to Memphis.  It might be the first big fight ever hosted here and there are more egos involved now than ever when it comes to who wants to make the most important point in the room, but one thing is clear, NOTHING will be missed for this promotion!

 




Looking Sharp:

Mike caught Stacey with a hard right to the body on the corner of his padded protective vest while giving Mike mitt work.  As Stacey winced in pain one thing is for sure, whatever sum Mike is paying him, he earns it.  I have seen dozens of trainers give pad work, but Stacey really can catch with Mike (or in today’s case, get caught by Mike). 

 

Ring Set-Up is all set. 

 

Tuesday, June 4th 

Press Workout at Fitzgerald’s Casino:

I checked in and the gym set up was exactly as needed.  Bill and I then met with one of the people running Mike Tyson Productions in Atlanta and we join the owner of the Fitzgeralds Casino, Mr. Don Barden for lunch.  Accompanying her are two personal bodyguards who are police officers from the Atlanta area.  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, he had been working at the casino to support his family and pay his way through college.  Mr. Barden called over a manager and instructed the man is given a higher position with higher pay right on the spot.  That was not for show it was the man who came from his own humble upbringings never forgetting where he came from.  This lunch reminds me of the two extremes I see in boxing all the time; a no-body who become a “somebody” and embellishes in the moment they have 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 is brutal outside in Tunica.  Just as the media gets comfortable in the cool ballroom Mike is ready to arrive and off goes the AC and I have the heat pumped up and 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 comp 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 re-entry to the ballroom because I have my Promoter Credential on and not my “Blue” Team Tyson Credential.  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 who I just had lunch with not more than a couple hours before.  It takes Bill, 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, and she is not in the mood to joke.  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 “Crocodile”!  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 where 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 passed 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 Fitzgeralds and head back to Memphis.  Mr. Barden secured the rights to market his hotel/casino as the official Training Camp for Mike Tyson by paying over $1 million dollars.  When hotel rooms are hard to come by, the Tyson party has over 3 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 Fitzgeralds. 

 

Wed, June 5th

Day Two At The Fitz:

It was arranged to bring in a couple dozen kids from the area to watch Mike workout and then have a little Q and 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 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 and A with a group of youth from the area.  The PR rep from the casino arranged for 3 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 vile of nitroglycerine.  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 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 Tom Casino.  No worries, I got dozens more.

 

 

 

Thursday, June 6th

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 Nuerotin that Lewis’ camp feels will make him numb to pain (if anything it makes you feel loopy and slow!)   The 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 the Ref?   Emanuel Steward is talking about Panama should not be allowed anywhere near Tyson on the night of the fight (interesting note that 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 234 ½ 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 and 246 ¼ and their camp had the same complaint 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 Sloan, Emanuel’s right hand guy and someone I have a great relationship with.  There is a little awkward energy from the Kronk crew towards Kozerksi and myself 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.  Regardless, we are still family when it comes to boxing and working together works.  Richard and I 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 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 is tied to my name.  

 

I am ended the night going to BB Kings with my friend Mario Costa, Panama Lewis and Mike McCallum for dinner.  I shared some things I over heard 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 upper cut and over hand right.  Basically offsetting his attack and then pushing him backwards on his heels.  Great ribs, great time with friends, and VERY deep talk about Steward's strategy and style (even noting the couple camps I assisted Steward in with Lewis).

 

Friday, June 7th

Tickets Now Available:

I have to get some space heaters for Mike’s dressing room and secured that 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 it was Lewis’ camp that 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 bag 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!  I am making around $300k personally and that is more than most in the boxing game make in a lifetime. 

 

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. 

 

Under Card 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, had a boxing manager steal a credential right in front of me and swear he got shorted one (********* is supposed to be a big time guy on the boxing scene having dealt with fighters like ********* and ********… I guess that is why he is always tangled up in so much legal trouble!)  I am happy to see Emanuel pick 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 their undercard slot with female fighter Corrine Van Ryct DeGroot as she has a full camera crew filming a documentary on her and 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 Pacquaio vs. Jorge Julio and Pacquaio has his promoter Murrad Muhammad here to deal with all things related to his bout.  (MM Promotion notes removed). 

 

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, color coded wrist-band, 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 Shelly the Tyson credentials and personal tickets.  The lobby is just packed to the point we can’t even move.  I think Puff Daddy is having a party there.  In walks Emanuel Steward followed by some SERIOUS Hollywood A-listers including Eva Mendez or maybe it was Salma Hayek.  They grab my arm and pull me with them and Emanuel tells me “come on Big John we are going to a party!”.  It is like a tornado I am caught up in. 

 

As much as I wanted to go, I broke out of there because I was on call and it was too chaotic.  I went out for some BBQ on Beale Street and it too was packed shoulder to shoulder!  I ran into Tommy Hearns and one of his friends and 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 in camp and other occasions, and I am blown away at how small he looked tonight.  He looked 205 at best. 

 

Saturday, June 8th 

Interesting notes from the morning papers:

The Memphis Flyer, Police Director Walter Cews: “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 UK, 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 Shelly and Showtime 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 and 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 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 could 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 advisors to sign off on adding a few rows $2,500 tickets, 2 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; 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 her 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 USA 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 who 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 “over ride authority” to let in a person carrying a roller bag and a makeup artist.  I can’t believe it.  I apologize 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, the staff from the Atlanta office however are doing a great job of blowing Mike’s money in what might be his last big pay day.    I wont even get into the US Marshalls showing up with the Secretary of Energy and dealing with that situation.

 




7 PM:

I have Mike’s locker room laid out exactly as requested by Ronnie (Shields) and Stacey.  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 7 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 good byes and then I headed out. 

 

Memphis VIP’s:

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, The Rock, Isaac Hayes, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Bacon, LL Cool J, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sugar Ray & Tommy and even Heidi Fleiss.  Add in another few 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 brief case 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 2.  Free drinks, food and Biz Markie is DJ’ing.  I am shaking hands and getting business cards for handlers and agents and gotta keep it moving!  It is time to work.

 




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 under way 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 where the fighters exit the tunnel and enter the arena to keep an eye on “the six”.  In front of me are a private monitor with two headsets in the media section (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 $50k 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 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 “Ride Or Die” comes on in the arena and Tyson exits his dressing room and the crowd erupts! 

 




Before Mike can exit the tunnel, the Chief Of Police stops them as too many people are trying to make the ring walk.  There were strict orders that only the 4 working corner-men and 2 extra people can make the actual walk with Mike.  Tension is high as I count 9 more Police officers in addition to the 8 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 passed towards the ring.  Now we are down to the final 6 people walking with Mike.

 

*Removed Notes: Ring Announcing, Rounds 1-8. 

 

The Knockout:

Lennox Lewis has just landed the loudest punch I have ever heard in my entire life!  A booming over-hand 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 upwards to the peak of the aptly named Pyramid arena, and then be evenly dispersed over the entire crowd as it bounced off the peak. 

 




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 2-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 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 honestly.  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.  My highest payday I have earned to date.  I think back to 1987 when I caught that bus to Atlantic City to hang out for the result of Tyson vs. 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 Arena, 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 put on by his Atlanta office).  Top shelf liquor, champagne and food.  I saw a dozen or so more people with custom cream-colored suits on.  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 who was 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 forever 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 that any fight will ever be as complex and storied as all that was related Lewis vs. Tyson. 

**Photo credits John Lepak, Neil Leifer, Tom Casino.




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