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Stranger Than Fiction

The Tyson/Lewis fight gets curiouser and curiouser.

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DYERSBURG, Tenn. -- As an attorney in Dyersburg, Charles Kelly has seen his share of strange cases come his way. But the case of the heavyweight championship fight may be the strangest one yet.

About a month ago, Kelly, a 1960 graduate of Central High School in Memphis, got a call from boxing promoter Brian Young in Nashville. The question: Could Kelly find investors to put up the crucial $12.5 million site fee for the Mike Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight, and could he do it in one week?

The laid-back, silver-haired lawyer with a stack of business cards for a crappie fishing guide on his desk pulled it off. Now the only thing more surprising than a heavyweight title fight in Memphis may be that the financing is coming from some unusual sources in Dyersburg.

"It's strange," admitted Kelly, who is about to add well-known Memphis defense attorney and part-time actor/comedian Wayne "Cousin Bubba" Emmons to his office. "I have wondered what am I doing with this in Dyersburg, Tennessee, 80 miles away from Memphis."

Stranger than fiction, maybe. What we have so far is a heavyweight championship fight (not recognized by some boxing associations) being held in Memphis after being turned down by Las Vegas and New York, prestaged at two Tunica casinos, promoted by novices from Nashville, and financed by, among others, a Dyersburg businessman convicted of bank fraud 15 years ago. All that plus Mike Tyson, who is so unpredictable that there is talk of holding separate weigh-ins for the fighters lest there be another brawl.

Kelly was referred to Young by a former Kelly client they won't identify. And while Kelly is willing to talk about his involvement, most of the investors aren't. The site fee is a standard requirement for a big fight, but negative public reaction to convicted rapist and ear-biter Tyson coupled with reticence on the part of fight investors in this northwest Tennessee town of 20,000 people have made it difficult to pin down details.

Last week, Kelly said First Citizens National Bank in Dyersburg, headquartered across the street from the historic Courthouse Square and Civil War monument, was issuing letters of credit for the investors. But bank officials denied knowing anything about that when visited by a reporter, although bank personnel seemed familiar enough with the story and even eager to run it to ground.

On Sunday, the local newspaper, the Dyersburg State-Gazette, following up on last week's story in the Flyer, reported that First Citizens and Security Bank did issue the letters of credit. The newspaper said the banks declined comment.

Kelly said he first took the deal to Don Crews, president of First Tennessee Bank in Dyersburg.

"Don Crews thought it was a viable business deal and moved forward to handle it," said Kelly. "He was going to handle the main letter of credit plus personal letters. Then the headquarters bank in Memphis said no the night before the letters were to be issued, and the plug got pulled."

Both Crews and First Tennessee CEO Ralph Horn declined to be interviewed. Sources told the Flyer that First Tennessee got a strong negative reaction to the fight from its employees and customers, but the real reason for balking was that the request came from an outer office that wanted it approved in one day. That was too little time.

"When you get one head of sheep or cattle on the run, it spooks the others," Kelly said of the reluctance of Memphis banks to handle the fight financing.

Kelly said there are six investors. The only one who would comment is Billy York Walker, head of Dyer Investment Company LLC in Dyersburg and former president of Farmers Bank. In 1987, Walker was convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in federal court in Memphis, according to court records. The charges included making false entries in the bank books with intent to deceive the officers, directors, and the FDIC and making false statements on a loan application. He was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to make restitution of $269,687. He served his sentence at the federal correctional facility in Marion, Illinois, and was released in 1991.

State records show that Dyer Investment Company LLC was established in 1994.

In a brief telephone interview last week, Walker said the investors are "country people" who value their privacy, but they're not hiding from the media.

"I think how we got involved with this is about as absurd as the fight coming to Memphis," said Walker. "We were contacted by a Nashville group about possibly handling the site fee. We looked at it and thought it was a long shot. It was so convoluted, I didn't see any way it could happen. But we decided to take it one step at a time and see what happens, and that is what we did. This is the first fight we've ever been involved in and probably the last."

After talking for a couple of minutes, Walker said he had to take another phone call and would call back. He could not be reached again. The Flyer was also unable to contact Dyersburg road builder John Ford, head of Ford Construction. Sources told us Ford helped put the site fee together. Ford told the State-Gazette he is not a direct investor but is involved with Dyer Investment Company.

The investors stand to make a profit on the site fee if the bout goes off as scheduled on June 8th and sells out The Pyramid at prices of up to $2,400 per seat.

Kelly said he'll be there. He likened it to being in the delivery room when your baby is born.

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