I recently had the opportunity of speaking with well respected boxing identity, Steve Lott, who is most well known for his association with Mike Tyson. He also has been president of the Las Vegas Boxing Hall Of Fame and was an executive producer of Big Fights Inc., which has produced a number of boxing documentaries for ESPN. He has also helped manage the careers of a number of world champions, including Edwin Rosario, Wilfred Benítez and Tommy Morrison.
In this interview, we discuss Mike Tyson’s early years between 1985 and 1988 and Tyson’s relationship with Don King. Also discussed is how Tyson would fare in today’s heavyweight division against the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder. Lott also shares his thoughts on Mayweather vs. Pacquiao and his thoughts on Tyson’s comments in relation to Floyd Mayweather. Here is what Steve had to say.
Robert Brown: How did your association with Mike Tyson first begin?
Steve Lott: Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton were funding the training camp in Catskill, New York, where Cus D’Amato had his home and the gym, this began in the early 1970’s. Every once in a while Cus would call Cayton and Jacobs and say, “I have a kid, he could be special. If he becomes professional, you guys will be the managers.”
As the years went by, Cus would call every once in a while. In 1980, he called Cayton and Jacobs and said, “I have a kid, he’s gonna be something.” That kid was Mike Tyson. Mike fought in the amateurs from 1980 to 1985 and turned pro, and Cayton and Jacobs became managers.
Fortunately for me, because they had managed other fighters before and my job was to make sure that everything around the fighter went well, from the training to the sparring, to the press, to the medicals and all of the documents. When Mike turned pro, I was given that opportunity also to work with Mike and handle all of that stuff. It was a very long process from 1980 to 1985. Cus spent five years in honing Mike. We had the luxury of getting Mike in 1985.
Robert Brown: The world was set at Mike’s feet then but then in 1998, things started to go wrong didn’t they?
Steve Lott: You’re correct. It’s interesting that from 1985 to 1988 with Cayton and Jacobs, everything that could possibly go right, went right. Once Mike got to Robin Givens and Don King, everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong. There’s a common misconception that in 1988 Mike was either over the hill, or lost interest or he burned out, or that the money got to him. Not in the least.
There was an exact line of demarcation when Robin and Don entered the picture in 1988, his career was over. Mike was making millions of dollars in 1986 and 1987, he had no problem. He was under more pressure than any other athlete in the world at that time and he had no problem. Commercials on TV, spokesperson for the police department, for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
He had huge world wide acclaim, was voted the world’s most popular athlete — actually he was tied with this legendary soccer player, Diego Maradona. He was the most popular athlete in the world and he wasn’t the best athlete, not even the best boxer. Once Robin entered the picture, that was it.
Robert Brown: It seems incomprehensible that such a fruitful and lucrative partnership like the Catskill partnership was, could be broken up.
Steve Lott: Yes, once the Barbara Walters thing took place and Robin and Mike broke up, Don was brilliant. He brought Mike to Cleveland, got him laid forty four times a day, started getting to Mike’s head.
People make a huge mistake by think that Mike was easily taken over by Don. Don is one of the great con men of all time. If Don only got Mike, if Mike was the only fighter that fell for Don, I’d think, “Wow, that’s something.” Ali, Holmes, Witherspoon, Smith, Tucker, Duran, Chavez, Gomez, Zamora, the US government, it was no contest. Mike was emotionally distraught and Don was able to take advantage of it.
Robert Brown: Mike Tyson Promotions is unfortunately no longer running. Can you give us some insight there and would Mike think about getting back into promoting in the future?
Steve Lott: Mike loves boxing and he loves working with fighters. A promoter reached out to him about three years ago and said, “I have fighters but I can’t move them because we don’t have enough pizzazz, but with your name, they will get a lot of notoriety.”
They worked about two years together but unfortunately the partner — the financial guy — had very big problems with the government and finances and they exploded. Mike realized that it would be very bad to continue the relationship, so he said, “Thank you very much, good bye.”
They terminated the relationship, which was best for Mike. He’s looking to get back into the boxing scene, he loves working with fighter, so that will happen eventually but it hasn’t happened yet.
Robert Brown: How do you think Mike would have done against the modern heavyweights? Mike in his prime against people like Wladimir Klitschko, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury?
Steve Lott: Whenever Mike fought a guy back in 1985 to 1988 — when he was in his prime — whenever he fought a guy that was easy to hit or came to fight, the fight was over quick. Whenever I look at a fighter in the past, whether it’s Dempsey, Lewis, Marciano, Robinson, I never look at the fighter after his prime, I look at them during their prime and how they fought at their very best and very worst during their prime.
At the very best during his prime, Klitschko was really good, but at his worst, he gets cut and hit and busted up. Mike — during his prime — when he was good he was blistering but even when he was bad, he was still winning every minute of his fights against James Smith, Tony Tucker, Mitch Green. Unless a fighter is Muhammad Ali, I would pick Mike over Klitschko.
Even today, if you brought them both to Catskill, New York, where there’s no press and put the gloves on both of them and had a referee there and nobody around and the bell rang for round one, I would not bet against Mike. I saw him hit the bag last year and it is scary still, but he would never be able to train under the pressure of the microscope of the press.
Robert Brown: What were your thoughts on the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight? Did you get a chance to watch it?
Steve Lott: Yes of course like everyone else. It was a tremendous disappointment. I had an interview before the fight and I thought that Mayweather would stink out the place against Pacquiao, and he did, that’s his style. For pure boxing aficionado’s, they may think he was very special but 99% of the mainstream thought it was a horrible performance, very boring. I was very unhappy and unfortunately, it was bad for the public.
Robert Brown: Mike Tyson doesn’t seem to respect Floyd very much, he called him a “Scared, small, little man.” Does this come from Mayweather’s disrespect for the greats like Mike and Muhammad Ali?
Steve Lott: Probably from two points of view. Number one, Mayweather himself has shot down the greats of all time, including Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. I’m sure that bothered Mike a great deal.
Just as importantly is Mayweather’s demeanor, the way he conducts himself. He’s such a jerk and that offends Mike also. While Mike has made a lot of mistakes, now he’s trying to act much more personably. Dempsey, Lewis, Marciano, they conducted themselves as great men and Mayweather does not, and that bothers Mike.
(Click play to listen to the Steve Lott Interview in it’s entirety)