- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2001

NEW YORK Heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman's pursuit of an opponent for his first title defense crashed into chaos yesterday as the boxing world buzzed about lawsuits, old partners resurfacing and the growing influence of promoter Don King.

The Baltimore fighter, who has no contractual obligations to the powerful television networks that run boxing, reportedly was set to announce yesterday that he would fight Lennox Lewis in a rematch to be televised on Home Box Office.

However, no such deal has been finalized, and now Rahman's future appears more uncertain than at any time since he scored a stunning fifth-round knockout over Lewis on April 21 in South Africa to win the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles.

A final announcement may not come for two weeks. Rahman, a Muslim, is expected to leave the country Sunday for an eight-day pilgrimage to Mecca, and Stan Hoffman, the champion's co-manager, said yesterday he didn't expect any decision to be made until Rahman returns.

Rahman's future likely will be decided in court. David Tua, the IBF's No. 1 challenger, filed a lawsuit yesterday to prevent Rahman from fighting a rematch with Lewis. Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, Showtime's biggest boxing attraction, had filed a lawsuit on Friday.

And, as first reported in The Washington Times last week, King is a serious player in the Rahman sweepstakes. Hoffman acknowledged yesterday that they were considering a $15 million offer from King, who met with Rahman late Tuesday night in New York, sources said.

However, the deal on the table is not for Rahman to fight World Boxing Association heavyweight champion John Ruiz, who is promoted by King. The offer is for Rahman to fight against an undetermined opponent under a King promotion in China a promotion just recently announced for Ruiz to defend his WBA crown against Evander Holyfield.

"There are now three offers we are considering HBO, Showtime and Don King," Hoffman said.

Tua, who turned in a dismal 12-round performance in a loss to Lewis in November, filed his suit yesterday in U.S. District Court of New Jersey asking the courts to have the IBF enforce a rule which prohibits world championship contracts from containing any clauses for a rematch between fighters.

Tua's lawsuit said the contract between Lewis and Rahman was a violation of IBF rules.

"For better or worse, as a professional fighter, I live by the rules and follow the rules that govern my sport," Tua said in a statement. "I expect the same from everyone else."

The Tua lawsuit which could result in the IBF heavyweight title being declared vacant does not contend that he should be Rahman's next opponent. It only addresses the issue of a Rahman-Lewis rematch a move that would seem to favor Tyson and Showtime, who have been involved in a bidding war for weeks with HBO and Lewis for Rahman's next fight.

It seems Tyson and Showtime are still alive in the Rahman sweepstakes. Before his meeting with King on Tuesday night, Rahman accompanied his friend, IBF junior welterweight champion Zab Judah, to a meeting with Tyson's adviser, Shelly Finkel, who manages Judah, sources said.

On Friday, Tyson filed a lawsuit against the WBC in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to force the sanctioning organization to order Rahman to fight him in a mandatory title defense or be stripped of the belt. Tyson is the WBC No. 1 ranked challenger, while Lewis, the former champion, was dropped to No. 2 after his loss to Rahman.

There is yet another force at work seeking a piece of the Rahman prize. As first reported in The Washington Times, Robert Mittleman a former co-manager of Rahman has urged Rahman to take an easy $5 million payday by making his first title defense against heavyweight Brian Nielson of Denmark. Nielson is a former sparring partner of Rahman's in Denmark or Baltimore, sources said.

Rahman, who earned $1.5 million for his fight against Lewis, stands to earn much more in a rematch with Lewis or a fight against Tyson. The HBO offer on the table is $14 million, with another $3 million for each of two more fights should Rahman lose and $5.5 million to $7 million for five more fights should Rahman prevail in a rematch.

Showtime's last reported offer for Rahman-Tyson was $13.15 million, with a $3 million non-refundable signing bonus, plus other financial perquisites. If Rahman defeated Tyson, he would have a five-fight deal with Showtime, receiving between $5 million and $8 million for each fight. If Rahman lost to Tyson, he would have at least one more fight with Showtime and possibly two if he won the first one.

Lewis' promoters at Main Event have contended that they have a contract that forces Rahman to fight Lewis next in a rematch. They have threatened to sue Rahman, his managers and promoter if they don't make Lewis his next opponent.

Rahman's managers maintain that the contract allows for an interim title defense. There have been reports that there are at least three different signed versions of the Rahman-Lewis contract, any of which likely would face a strong legal battle in addition to the two lawsuits that already have been filed by Tua and Tyson.

Where King's involvement leaves Rahman's promoter, Cedric Kushner, is unclear. King likely would seek options on Rahman's future fights. Four years ago, King tried to sign Rahman away from Kushner. Rahman accepted $125,000 from King but changed his mind and stayed with Kushner, who is suing King for interfering with his contract with Rahman. It is not clear what Rahman's current contractual status is with Kushner.

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