- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

Heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman received a knockout blow yesterday to his lucrative fight plans when a federal judge ruled that he must fight Lennox Lewis in a rematch next or he cannot fight at all for 18 months.
The surprise ruling means that Rahman, who had been offered up to $20 million to fight Lewis in a rematch, now may be forced to abide by the purse spelled out in the rematch clause that Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum said he must comply with a paltry $3.5 million, only $2 million more than he received when he stunned the boxing world by knocking out Lewis in a major upset on April 21 in South Africa.
Although, Cedarbaum called for good faith negotiations to take place to raise the payment to Rahman, it's unlikely that he will receive anything near the $20 million figure.
The failure to offer Lewis an immediate rematch would result in irreparable injury to the 35-year-old Lewis because it was likely that Lewis would be unable to box after the next two years, Cedarbaum ruled.
"And even in the next two years, his powers as a fighter will be diminishing," she said.
Judd Burstein, a lawyer for Lewis' London-based co-promoter Lions' Promotions, called the judge's ruling justice, saying, "We're extraordinarily pleased that Mr. Lewis' contractual rights have been respected by the court. What took place here was an outrage, and it's nice to see justice was done."
Rahman, the newly crowned Baltimore heavyweight, was a free agent after that win, as HBO, Lewis' network, had failed to sign Rahman to any options for future fights. That set off a bidding war between HBO, which negotiated with Rahman to fight Lewis next, and Showtime, which wanted Rahman to fight its heavyweight meal ticket, Mike Tyson.
The offers poured in for several weeks, with each network raising the price until it reached $20 million. But while those talks were going on, promoter Don King was also working on signing Lewis, and, with a bag full of $500,000 in cash and the remaining $4.5 million signing bonus, Rahman signed with King, which set off the lawsuits that were heard by Cedarbaum.
Under King's plan, Rahman, the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight title-holder, initially was scheduled to fight former sparring partner Brian Nielsen on King's August boxing show in Beijing on the undercard of the John Ruiz-Evander Holyfield fight for Ruiz's World Boxing Association championship.
Then King changed opponents, signing David Izon, a tougher opponent, to fight Rahman on the China card. Rahman was to receive $10 million for that fight, then earn either $15 million to fight the winner of Ruiz-Holyfield, or $20 million to fight Lewis, or up to $25 million to fight Tyson, depending on which opponent would be next in line. Now those grand plans have disappeared.
Neither King nor his lawyer, Peter Fleming, would talk to reporters after the decision was announced.
There was no ruling yet on the suit filed by Rahman's former promoter, Cedric Kushner, who charged that King interfered with his contract with Rahman and claimed that deal with the champion was valid, despite Rahman's assertions that Kushner had failed to live up to the terms of the contract.
Kushner argued that provisions in a contract that expired in October guaranteed him the rights to promote a rematch between Lewis and Rahman. In effect, the judge agreed that the contract had been violated, but she did not immediately rule whether she agreed that Kushner must be allowed to promote a rematch.
Cedarbaum said a written ruling will be issued in the future and implied it would come quickly, noting that it will be difficult to set up a rematch without knowing who will promote it. She urged a settlement by the parties.
"Everybody should be thinking carefully about a reasonable and reasonably prompt resolution to this matter," she said.
Rahman testified last week that King had begun wooing him as early as 1998, giving him checks totaling nearly $200,000. Rahman said he stuck with Kushner long enough for the promoter to get him a title fight with Lewis. He also admitted signing a clause giving Kushner the right to negotiate a rematch, despite believing their promotional deal had expired.
This story based in part on wire-service reports.


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