It did not take former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson very long to get embroiled in controversy in his new role as a boxing promoter.
The head of USA Boxing came out swinging on 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 US Olympic team in 2016.
USA Boxing president Charles Butler said in the letter that the 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 telephone call, and publicist Joann Mignano said he would not be commenting.
However, Mignano confirmed 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 (69kg) 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,” USA Boxing executive director Anthony Bartkowski said. “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 is not 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 late this month or early next month, 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 money in a subsequent pro career, but as the US Olympic boxing teams have faded, so have the prospects for Olympic fighters.
The last US man to win an Olympic gold in boxing was Andre Ward in 2004, and last year’s team in London did not win a medal of any color. Meanwhile, USA Boxing has undergone a series of shakeups and its funding has been cut by the US Olympic Committee (USOC).
USOC executive director Scott Blackmun said on Tuesday that boxing — which was once dominated by Americans — is still trying to find a way to replicate earlier successes.