- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

BALTIMORE The sharks are circling around heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, who has become the most sought after prize in boxing.

The biggest shark of them all promoter Don King came to Baltimore on Sunday to meet with the champion and pitch to him a $15 million payday to fight King's heavyweight next, World Boxing Association champion John Ruiz, sources familiar with the situation said.

If Rahman, who holds the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight belts with his stunning April 21 knockout win over Lennox Lewis, defeats Ruiz he would hold all three major titles and be the undisputed heavyweight champion. That would give him even more bargaining power in a rematch against Lewis.

King's move on Rahman illustrates the confusion that surrounds Baltimore's new heavyweight champion. Rahman's promoter of record has been Cedric Kushner, who was representing Rahman in negotiations with Showtime for a Rahman-Tyson fight and with Home Box Office for a rematch with Lewis.

Rahman has a unique bargaining position. He does not have a contract agreement with either of the networks an unusual turn of events. HBO, when it signed Rahman to fight its franchise fighter, did not force him to agree to options on his future fights.

But Rahman may be a free agent beyond television deals. Sources said Rahman may not have a contract with Kushner, his long-time promoter, or his co-managers, Steve Nelson and Stan Hoffman, beyond the Lewis fight.

"I don't think anyone has his hooks into this guy," one rival promoter said.

Nelson, who has been with Rahman since he turned pro in December 1994, denied that they do not have a contract with the champion for future fights.

"There are contracts in existence, very valid, for his management and promotion," he said. "There is no television contract, and no deal yet to fight Tyson or Lewis. We are listening to everyone."

Apparently, so is Rahman, based on his meeting with King the second time he has met with the promoter within the past two months. Sources said King, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, met with Rahman before the fighter left for South Africa to train for the Lewis fight.

"We know [King] is interested," Nelson said. "We know he has contacted Rock. We are very aware of it… . We can't stop people from talking."

There are others talking to Rahman as well.

Robert Mittleman, who was Rahman's co-manager and partner with Nelson before they split up, accompanied the champion to Round One yesterday, the Capital Heights gym owned and operated by Adrian Davis, Rahman's trainer. Nelson was not pleased about Mittleman's presence. "Robert has no authority to do anything for Rock," Nelson said. "He made a visit to see [Rahman]. We are very much aware of him."

Nelson asserts that he, Hoffman and Kushner have valid contracts for Rahman's future fights, but all of the champion's contracts may end up in a legal dispute before the champion steps into the ring again. HBO and Main Events, Lewis' promoter, insist they have a binding agreement for a rematch with Rahman and that the schedule in their deal dictates that rematch take place before Rahman fights anyone else.

However, Hoffman and Nelson maintain their contract with Lewis allowed time for an interim title defense before a rematch. Hoffman and Nelson have made it clear they want that defense to be against Tyson. A Tyson match would be a lucrative pay-per-view event that could generate $50 million to $75 million in revenue. "We want Tyson," Hoffman said. "That's the fight [Rahman] wants."

That most likely means the Tyson-David Izon fight scheduled for June 2 at MCI Center is dead in the water, or, at the very least, postponed.

But the Boston Globe reported Sunday that there are at least three different signed versions of the Lewis-Rahman contract with three different versions of a rematch.

One version gave Lewis a rematch within 150 days of the first fight and another claimed Rahman could not take a fight 60 days before the announced date of the rematch Main Events has already issued a statement declaring Aug. 18 the rematch date, which Hoffman dismissed as having no validity. The final version says any interim opponent Rahman fights would have to honor Lewis' rematch agreement if the opponent wins. However that may be a violation of the Muhammad Ali Act, the boxing reform bill passed last year.

Kushner and Hoffman have been in negotiations with Showtime, which reportedly discussed a $12 million payday for Rahman for a Tyson fight. But Kushner and Hoffman are also talking to HBO, which could be frozen out of the heavyweight picture if Rahman fights Tyson Showtime's biggest boxing draw and Tyson wins. HBO, fearing that result, has offered Rahman $14 million to meet Lewis next in the rematch, sources said. That match is likely double what Rahman would make in a rematch with Lewis if Tyson was not a consideration. Rahman earned $1.5 million for his fight against Lewis.

If King, who used to be Tyson's promoter, somehow gets involved with Rahman then that could negate any hopes of a Tyson fight. The former two-time heavyweight champion is suing King for $100 million and has made it clear he will not be involved in any fight in which King is involved.

Three years ago King tried to sign Rahman away from Kushner and it led to an ugly dispute between the two promoters. Kushner filed a $12 million lawsuit against King and accused him of trying to bribe Rahman to pull out of a scheduled fight with David Tua. They claimed King paid Rahman $125,000 to withdraw from the Tua fight and sign with King.

Rahman initially pulled out of his first date with Tua on Sept. 26, 1998 and his actions caused HBO to threaten him with a ban. The dispute was settled, and Rahman remained with Kushner. He fought Tua on HBO on Dec. 19, 1998 and lost in a controversial ending when Tua hit Rahman, who was well ahead on the judges' scorecards, after the bell ended the ninth round. Rahman was sent out for the 10th by his corner, but was on wobbly legs and was stopped by Tua.

However, Rahman took some comfort in that he was able to pocket the $125,000 from King without having to ever step in the ring for the promoter.

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