ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Two days before they'll be told to come out fighting, Mike Tyson is smarting at perceived insults and Larry Holmes is in a pout. Two days before the two principals are due in mid-ring to contest for what Tyson says is his world heavyweight title, their attitudes prompt the question: Is there a psychiatrist in the house?
Holmes has been holding himself incommunicado since last Dec. 5, squirreled away in his private Easton, Pa., gym, and threatening to stay away from the fight scene until the weigh-in.
Six weeks ago he shut down, expelled all sportswriters from his camp, declaring "I don't want to be misquoted anymore." He has permitted only certain TV and radio interviews and he won't show for the traditional prefight news conference Wednesday.
Tyson, in turn, went secret with his workouts Tuesday, giving the slip to the press by skulking off to a nearby Pleasantville, N.J., site. And his trainer, Kevin Rooney, in a tit-for-tat gesture, signaled Holmes that two can play at his game by ordering Tyson not to talk to anyone beyond the pale of the Tyson camp.
Nor does the reasonable suspicion that this is all an attempt to hype the fight prevail. Their quarrel in 16,000-seat Convention Hall was an instant sellout from the day it was scheduled.
The ingredients of their child's play are multiple. It began with Tyson refusing to shake hands with Holmes when the fight was announced because Holmes called him "a dirty fighter," and added such indelicate things as "He ain't no superman" and "Nobody is going to beat me until somebody teaches that boy how to fight."
This wounded young Tyson, who is proud of his 31-0 record and who, before he was ordered to clam up and avoid reporters, was telling everybody how he would dismember the 38-year-old grandfather who wants his precious title. And Holmes was already resentful of so many folks who have been suggesting he is too old, too rusty and too out-of-shape for a try at recapturing the bygone days when he had a 48-fight winning streak and reigned for seven years as a prideful champion.
Holmes is also indignant at those unfeeling writers who do not take him at his word that he is not comng back for the money, but is eager for vindication after "they took my title away," a reference to his two losing decisions against Michael Spinks.
There is, nevertheless, a stubborn core of cynics who prefer to believe that the money, the $3.1 million he will get for this fight, has something to do with Holmes' decision to come out of retirement at an age when no heavyweight ever won a title. It is remembered that no fighter ever boasted as loudly or frequently of the money he accumulated as did Holmes. The clippings are shot through with such bragging.
If it wasn't the money that brought him out of retirement then Tyson's manager, Jim Jacobs, is completely confounded. He told Sports Illustrated's Pat Putnam, "When we were trying to put the deal together and agreed on a price, Holmes kept calling back and asking for more, always in $100,000 increments."
Holmes is the wealthiest champion in the history of boxing and will be until Tyson's current $26.5 million deal with Home Box Office for a series of fights is concluded. Holmes has been saving his wealth, and when for this fight he retreated to an Easton, Pa., gym, it was a $450,000 facility built and owned by Larry Holmes Enterprises.
In Easton, he is Squire Holmes, the town's tycoon who also owns a $1.5 million office building, a restaurant and huge parking lot, in addition to a $10 million apartment complex Holmes Enterprises is constructing, according to Sports Illustrated. He also talked of his municipal bonds and certificates of deposit, which are apparently dear to him.
So he isn't in dire need of anything except Tyson's version of the heavyweight title. He admits he has been unhappy, even desolated since losing his own, valid title to Spinks. The one Tyson holds is a confection of WBA, WBC and IBF politics and should be recognized with an asterisk denoting "spurious."
If things do not end favorably Friday night, and Holmes doesn't get some type of title back, at least he will have the comfort of his $3.1 million payday, plus the assurance of a forgotten philosopher that "money cures melancholy."