Unlike Mike Tyson, who merely punches out his opponents in a blink, the managers of Mike Tyson are infinitely subtle when it comes to marketing the young heavyweight. They bob and weave in their world of business, confident Tyson will become even more marketable. Then they'll land their financial haymakers.
Right now, they leave the slugging to Tyson. The heralded heavyweight has fought 24 times and knocked out 22 opponents, 15 of them in the first round. Tyson is the talk of the town. Some of that talk is supplied by his managers, who say he'll be the heavyweight champion some day. They say he can rank with the legends. Most of his opponents would vouch for that, but who will vouch for his opponents?
Tyson has fought hardly anyone of merit yet, but he's working on it, with a fight scheduled Saturday against Marvis Frazier in Glens Falls, N.Y. Frazier, the son of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, is 17-1, the only loss a knockout by former champion Larry Holmes. Apparently Frazier is not impressed with Tyson, having told a reporter that Tyson "is a big baby," that "he's going to see a real man."
To which Tyson's trainer, Kevin Rooney, responded: "We'll see who the baby is on July 26. I hope that Marvis Frazier fights the way that his father says that he's going to fight. I hope he comes hunting for a baby. He's going to find out he's fighting a man and by the time he realizes it, the fight will be ours."
So goes the hype. Still, Tyson's managers -- Jimmy Jacobs and Bill Cayton -- are hoping fervently that the fight, indeed, will be theirs. If one says that Tyson, who just turned 20, hasn't fought a single legend yet, Jacobs counters with a question: Whoever heard of Joe Louis' or Rocky Marciano's early opponents, either? Meanwhile, with the anticipation of the second wave of 1849 gold prospectors, Jacobs and Cayton have carefully orchestrated Tyson's rising career and, just as carefully, the marketing of the man they think someday can be mentioned in the same breath with Louis and Marciano.
Needless to say, the marketing effort has scored its share of knockouts, too.
After Tyson knocked out his first five nobodies, his managers quickly parlayed the modest accomplishment into almost $2 million in television contracts, proving that in America you can make something from nothing. "We sent around cassettes with highlights of his fights," said Cayton, outside Tyson's dressing room after a recent Tyson bout -- a first-round knockout, no less -- at Madison Square Garden. A dapper man, Cayton wears a crisp white shirt with big cuff links, and fingers a thin cigar in a holder.
He might have added that the "highlights" were practically the whole five fights, Tyson knocked out his foes so quickly.
Cayton and Jacobs are adept at fight video; they dominate the fight film business with a collection of thousands of films covering the entire century. That's one reason they insist they have something in Tyson; they look at all the films of the great heavyweights and see in Tyson one they say can join the top ranks.
To persuade others, Cayton flooded the TV networks and stations and sports departments with cassettes of Tyson. Five hundred cassettes in six months. No question these little videos could get your attention; like a storm's swath through a forest, Tyson kept knocking over unknown mammoths.
ABC and Home Box Office both fell for Tyson, ABC signing him up reportedly for about $850,000 for five fights and HBO for about $1 million for three fights. He has three appearances remaining on ABC, two left on HBO. By the time these contracts run out (Tyson will wind up with ABC about February 1987), he might be on the verge of a title shot -- if he keeps knocking out people. To that end, Cayton and Jacobs are bringing him along cautiously.
"All we're interested in now is getting experience, not a championship fight," said Jacobs, an extraordinarily competitive man who was once the Babe Ruth of handball players (although he's closer to the size of Freddie Patek).
Fighting almost every two weeks, Tyson is getting plenty of experience. Most recently, he has disposed of Reggie Gross and William Hosea, both on first-round knockouts, and dispatched the similarly little-known Lorenzo Boyd in the second round. The next foes are more capable: Frazier (ABC), and David Bey, Aug. 16 (HBO).
Tyson still has some distance to go, but Jacobs said: "The objective is for Mike to be the heavyweight champion, the unified champion. The youngest? That would be particularly delicious."
If Tyson keeps winning and gets to a title match, Cayton and Jacobs will be able to command more money than network TV can come up with, according to an ABC official. HBO would like to include Tyson in its "heavyweight unification series," but Jacobs, content with the three-bout HBO deal, said: "At this time, we're not discussing it with them."
If Tyson keeps winning, Cayton and Jacobs also will be able to dangle an awfully large (217 pounds) and even more marketable commodity than they have now for endorsements, which so far they have shunned. Cayton and Jacobs said Tyson already has turned down opportunities from a soft drink company and two from athletic goods firms.
"We've thanked these people for their offers," Cayton said.
And Jacobs: "We will not take any offers until after Mike wins the world heavyweight title."
But Cayton is not opposed to publicity, which Tyson has received plenty of, considering that he often fights on the undercard. He has been on 11 magazine covers, says Cayton -- all the boxing magazines and Sports Illustrated. He has been written up in People and has appeared on network TV -- national news and talk shows.
Part of Tyson's appeal is his low-key, reformed lifestyle, spent mostly in a gym above the Catskill (N.Y.) police station. He has been close to the police before, starting when he was 11 and growing up in the rugged Brownsville section of Brooklyn with his mother, who died four years ago. By 13, he had made it to a center for juvenile delinquents in upstate New York.
Then came his break. A former fighter, Bobby Stewart, saw him and worked with him. Then he let an old master trainer, Cus D'Amato, in on a secret: He should see this big heavyweight just 80 miles from D'Amato's headquarters in Catskill. D'Amato -- the man who once adopted Floyd Patterson and guided him to the heavyweight title and led Jose Torres to the light-heavyweight title -- saw and took custody of Tyson and began to work with him.
For years, D'Amato ran a boxing camp for Cayton and Jacobs. Enter Cayton and Jacobs to the Tyson camp.
Last November, D'Amato died at 77, and Rooney now trains Tyson the way he believes D'Amato would have wanted, including the rigorous schedule of matches every other week. Shades of another era, when fighters had to fight to earn their next meal.
"It keeps him in the gym and off the streets," said a veteran fight observer. "It gives him a reason for working. It's hard for a young person to train for a month when he doesn't see the reason."
This was said at the Garden, just before Tyson disposed of Gross so fast that many in the crowd had not even begun to watch.
After Tyson started the finish of Gross with a devastating left hook, thrown after ducking and bobbing away from a harmless flurry, Rooney said: "That's the way he's supposed to do it all the time. Come up throwing the left hook. Like Joe Frazier. Except Frazier would take a punch before he threw the hook. Mike's more elusive."
"His great quality," Jacobs said, "is the fact that he's elusive. The heavyweights today all fight as if when they were 7 years old, someone took them into a gym and told them that the object of boxing is to get hit in the face."
In the gym at Catskill, Cayton and Jacobs have allowed him to make one commercial -- a plug for upstate Greene County with posters and a TV commercial. "We did it in terms of Mike's image," Cayton said. "It's good for the area. It's a public relations deal, not a business deal."
"Tyson gets my juices flowing," said Jacobs, whose all-time favorite heavyweight was Joe Louis. "The quality he has that Louis had -- I'm not comparing them, that would be stupid to compare a 19-year-old with a legendary champion -- but there is a quality Joe Louis had that Mike Tyson has, and that is, when the bell rings for round one, you don't dare look away. Any minute, something bad might happen."
How good does Tyson think he is?
"Can I tell you something?" Tyson responded. "At this point, Mike Tyson can be beaten, but you have to prove it to me. And you make one mistake and it's over.
"I'm going to win the title eventually. In my mind, it's going to happen."
He's banking on it. And so are Jacobs and Cayton.