It didn’t take Mike Tyson very long to get involved in controversy in his new role as a boxing promoter.
The head of USA Boxing came out swinging Tuesday with an open letter to Tyson — a former Olympic hopeful himself — that accuses the former heavyweight champion of trying to poach fighters who might be candidates for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.
Dr. Charles Butler said in the letter that recently formed Iron Mike Productions has been offering money to the best amateur fighters to turn pro, in particular an 18-year-old who some in amateur boxing believe to be the country’s best hope for a gold medal at the Rio games. He says the money being offered is “pennies on the dollar” of what the prospects could be worth with an Olympic medal.
“Mike, USA Boxing does not have the funds to compete with your offers,” the letter said. “If you have money and would like to assist these young athletes and the sport, you should donate for athlete stipends to support the training of these boxers and help your country regain its prominence on the medal stand. Please do not take them from us. If they win a medal for their country, you can always sign them to professional contracts at that time.”
Tyson did not immediately return a phone call, and publicist Joann Mignano said he would not be commenting. Mignano confirmed, though, that Iron Mike Promotions signed Florida fighter Erickson Lubin on Tuesday, his 18th birthday.
Lubin is a two-time Junior Olympic national champion and won the 152-pound division at the National Golden Gloves this year. In his USA Boxing bio he said his goals were to win a gold medal at the Olympics, turn pro and win every title possible.
“We want to be competitive and we want to increase our overall performance in the Olympic games,” said USA Boxing executive director Anthony Bartkowski. “This is a new strategy of trying to make sure our Olympic-aged athletes are not poached by promoters. In the past, USA Boxing was passive and just accepted it.”
Tyson isn’t the only promoter trying to lure amateurs to the pros. Last month, DiBella Entertainment said it signed highly touted 17-year-old Junior “Sugar Boy” Younan from New York to a contract and said he would make his pro debut in late October or early November, after he turned 18.
Boxing promoters have long trolled the amateur ranks looking for talent, especially in recent years as the lure of Olympics gold has faded for many fighters. Winning the Olympics was once a guaranteed way to make millions, but as the U.S. Olympic boxing teams have faded so have the prospects for Olympic fighters.
The last American man to win an Olympic gold in boxing was Andre Ward in 2004, and last year’s team in London didn’t win a medal of any color. USA Boxing, meanwhile, has undergone a series of shakeups and its funding has been cut by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The executive director of the USOC said Tuesday that boxing — which was once dominated by Americans — is still trying to find a way to replicate earlier successes.
“Boxing is one of those sports that I think we have a very rich tradition in, but not a lot of current performance,” Scott Blackmun said. “I think the recent reorganization of USA Boxing … is going to be very, very beneficial because it brings some very independent thinkers to the board. But I don’t think you can take away the choices our athletes have. They have to weigh the importance of an Olympic medal and the impact an Olympic medal could have on their lifetime earning capabilities, and weigh that versus the short-term benefits of turning professional.”
Tyson is somewhat of an unlikely target of an amateur program he used to compete in, making it to within one fight of the Olympics in 1984. He began working as a promoter just recently, joining up with a promotion company called Acquinity Sports to host his first card last month in Verona, N.Y.
National write Nancy Armour contributed from Salt Lake City