The Mad Maze to find one world heavyweight champion led to New York last week, where Tony Tubbs, who is managed by Carl King, pulled out of his Friday night fight with WBA champion Tim Witherspoon, who also is managed by Carl King. Tubbs threw in the towel for one or more of the following reasons: 1) He had an injured shoulder; 2) he was mad at Carl; 3) he was mad at promoter Don King, Carl's father. Witherspoon then threatened to do likewise because he was mad at both Kings. Why? Because, Witherspoon said, they had left him after each of his previous fights wondering where he was going to find $400 to pay his monthly rent.
Don King was so mad at these two "ingrates" that he called a Wednesday press conference and spent an hour and 43 minutes reading aloud from the King Don version of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. That evening it was announced that James (Bonecrusher) Smith would step in for Tubbs. Bonecrusher, it turns out, is only half managed by Carl King (with Alan Kornberg) and isn't, for the moment, mad at anyone. On Friday night in a nearly empty Madison Square Garden, Smith smacked the still-distraught Witherspoon often enough to knock him down four times and stop him at 2:12 of the first round and become the new WBA champ.
"When did you first get hurt?" Witherspoon was asked later.
"I guess I got hurt in the first round," said the ex-champ, who had spit out a front tooth after the second knockdown. "It was loose for a year. It had to fall out sometime," said Witherspoon.
The genesis of all this nonsense occured last January in Atlanta, when Witherspoon took the title from Tubbs in a 15-rounder and then lost the decision to a drug test. The WBA ordered a rematch but allowed Witherspoon first to go to London to beat up Frank Bruno for a $900,000 purse. Tubbs got $250,000 for waiting in the wings.
Then, the week before the New York rematch, Tubbs telexed Don King that he had injured a shoulder in training. Exit Tubbs. Enter Smith, the WBA's ninth-ranked challenger, who had lost once to Witherspoon, on June 15, 1985. Bonecrusher had been in training to fight Mitch Green for $35,000 in Fayetteville, N.C., on Dec. 13 As it turned out, that was the night after he won the title, for which King paid him $230,000.
"Hold it," said Witherspoon two days before the fight and in the company of Dennis Richard, a lawyer from Miami. "I signed to fight Tubbs, not Smith. I don't understand contracts. King never lets me see them anyway."
"Let's kill all the lawyers," said King, quoting Shakespeare.
"He doth protest too much, me-thinks" said Witherspoon's lawyer, paraphrasing the same source.
"Mother——," said King, paraphrasing no one.
Witherspoon, who will end up with less than $20,000 from his $300,000 purse, finally agreed to go through with the fight. Three days earlier the IRS had filed a lien of $180,148.84 against Don King Productions. It was to pay the back taxes that the IRS said Witherspoon owed from the years 1982 through 1985.
"If you know the IRS like I know the IRS, you don't fool around," counseled King, who had been acquitted of tax evasion after a six-week trial last year. "I'm holding $200,000 of Tim's purse for them," said promoter King. The other $100,000 went to manager King.
And so Witherspoon went into the ring to lose his title and his tooth.
Smith's next fight is with Mike Tyson, the WBC champion, on March 7 in Las Vegas. It should be a smoother ride for the HBO-Don King-Butch Lewis unification series, right? Wrong!
"The WBA has never agreed to a WBA-WBC title fight," Alberto Ale-man Jr., the chairman of the WBA championship committee, said on Saturday. "Smith has 120 days in which to defend his title against the top contender...and that man is Tony Tubbs."
KEN REGAN/CAMERA 5
Smith quickly caught Witherspoon's attention with four first-round knockdowns.