LAS VEGAS, JULY 31 -- International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion Tony Tucker brought his hairdresser here, not all that unusual in a town where even the animal acts get a car and driver. However, with his undisputed world heavyweight fight against Mike Tyson looming Saturday night, he had more than his hair to worry about.
Tucker claims he will have God on his side when he meets Tyson in a 12-round bout to decide the undisputed heavyweight title tonight (HBO, 9:30 p.m.), to which Tyson replied threateningly, "Well, God bless him." Tucker (35-0, 30 knockouts) is a 10 1/2-to-1 underdog, and the odds are 6-5 that World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council champion Tyson (30-0, 27 KOs) will finish him within five.
The fight was designed to be the culmination of an 18-month HBO tournament series to unify the title. But it is shaping up as a tiresomely predictable one, and promoter Don King has outdone himself in his usual baroque efforts to stir up interest. He plans to give a chinchilla cape and bejeweled scepter to the winner, who will unify the title for the first time since 1978, when Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali on a 15-round split decision.
That was the last time a challenger was judged to be so outmatched: Spinks was an 8-1 underdog. Tyson, the 5-foot-11, 21-year-old wonder, may be at a height, reach and age disadvantage against the 28-year-old, 6-5 Tucker, but none of it should matter as long as he throws his famously injurious uppercuts.
"I'm sure if I do my best, the result is a foregone conclusion," Tyson said. Not even reports of trouble in Tyson's camp have swayed opinion on this bout. (Tyson has denied that he and trainer Kevin Rooney are not getting along.) Tyson also must go to Los Angeles in August to face a hearing on charges of misdemeanor assault and battery. None of this seems to have disturbed him.
"I'm sorry to disappoint most people, but the rumors are not true about having trouble with my camp," Tyson said. "I'm in the best shape of my life."
Tucker has tried valiantly to pretend he is not such an underdog. His record of knockouts is impressive numerically, but his caliber of opponents isn't.
"I'm a guy who's been in the pro game seven years and I've had 35 fights," Tucker said. "I don't know anything about losing."
But Tucker's preparation for the fight has not been made easier by a managerial dispute. He has been caught in the middle of a financial tangle, and $540,000 of his $1.9 million purse was attached by a district court this week as a result of a suit filed by manager Dennis Rappaport. Today, there was a brief court injunction barring the fight; however, a Clark County District Court judge ruled later that it could go on if Tucker agreed to place the $540,000 into an escrow account within 24 hours after receiving payment. The money will be set aside until additional legal arguments are heard.
Rappaport, who owns 21 percent of Tucker's $1.9 million contract, claims he is owed money from three previous fights. But Tucker and his father Bob claim Rappaport, who also manages Gerry Cooney, did nothing to advance Tucker's career.
The legal battle is typical of Tucker's career. While running through managers, trainers and promotors, he has fought mostly in obscurity, although he once was considered a most promising heavyweight.
How much chance Tucker has depends on how well he has prepared. It was not a good sign that on Thursday he asked HBO's Sugar Ray Leonard for advice on how to meet Tyson physically and mentally. Though he possesses a 5 1/2-inch height advantage and an 11 1/2-inch reach advantage, Tucker does not appear strong or fast enough to elude Tyson's mad charges.
Tucker's camp claims that one reason for his slow progress to the title was to make sure that once he won a belt, he would have a legitimate chance to keep it. But this does not appear to be his chance, and there is a note of fatalism in his words.
"If I don't live one day after tomorrow," Tucker said, "at least I'll always be the IBF champion in the history books."