- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

NEW YORK Mike Tyson's chance to get a fight with newly crowned heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman took a huge leap forward yesterday with an edict by the World Boxing Council that Rahman must defend its version of the heavyweight title next against an opponent other than former champion Lennox Lewis or risk being stripped of the title.

In response to a lawsuit filed last week by Tyson, the WBC said a rematch between Rahman and Lewis would violate the organization's rules and that it would not sanction such a rematch.

"Under no circumstances will the WBC sanction a bout between WBC world heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman and Lennox Lewis without Rahman first fighting in an intervening world heavyweight championship bout against a different WBC ranked opponent," read a stipulation signed by WBC officials in response to the Tyson lawsuit.

If Rahman does go ahead with a rematch against Lewis, WBC officials stated that the belt would be declared vacant.

"In the event Rahman's next bout is against Lewis, and Rahman loses such bout, the WBC, pursuant to its rules, will declare the WBC world heavyweight championship title to be vacant," the WBC statement said.

Tyson, who is the WBC's No. 1 ranked mandatory heavyweight challenger, filed suit in a New York federal court Friday, charging that WBC rules prohibit immediate rematches and that Rahman must make his first defense against the mandatory challenger. The WBC agreed to enforce those rules, and Tyson agreed to drop the lawsuit.

That puts Tyson, the former two-time champion, in the driver's seat for a fight against Rahman.

Also, the Baltimore fighter risks losing the International Boxing Federation title he won from Lewis in a fifth-round knockout on April 21 in South Africa because of a lawsuit filed Wednesday by that organization's No. 1 challenger, David Tua.

The Tua lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey asked the courts to have the IBF enforce a rule which prohibits world championship contracts from containing any clauses for a rematch.

Tua's lawsuit claimed the contract between Lewis and Rahman was a violation of IBF rules. The lawsuit which could result in the IBF heavyweight title being declared vacant does not contend that Tua should be Rahman's next opponent. It merely contends that a Rahman-Lewis rematch cannot take place.

The WBC's action is the latest volley in the war between the two powers that run boxing: HBO, which has Lewis under contract, and Showtime, which has Tyson and Tua under contract. The battle for control of the heavyweight division ensued because Rahman had no obligations with HBO beyond his fight with Lewis, which has left him free to negotiate with both networks.

Showtime boxing chief Jay Larkin speculated that if Rahman-Lewis took place, it likely would be for no major heavyweight belt.

"If the WBC is taking this position on their rules, then the IBF, whose rules are much more clear cut and leave no room for ambiguity, should follow suit," Larkin said. "If that is the case, it makes an interesting decision for Mr. Lewis and Mr. Rahman. The rules are clear. An immediate rematch would violate both organizations' rules. Will Rahman fight Lewis with no belts at stake, and will Lewis want to fight Rahman with no belts at stake?"

However, the IBF seemed clueless about the situation. Hiawatha Knight the IBF president installed by the federal government, which has been monitoring the organization since its bribery scandal led to the arrest and conviction of IBF boss Bob Lee said yesterday she wasn't even aware they were being sued.

"I didn't know about any lawsuit," she said. "I'm glad you mentioned it. But I can't comment on anything if there is a lawsuit."

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. HBO's top offer is $14 million, with another $3 million for each of Rahman's two more fights should he lose, and $5.5 million to $7 million for five more fights should Rahman prevail in a rematch.

Showtime's offer for Rahman-Tyson was $13.15 million, with a $3 million nonrefundable 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 he lost to Tyson, Rahman would have at least one more fight with Showtime and possibly two if he won the first one.

Also, promoter Don King has offered Rahman $15 million to fight an undetermined opponent on his China show that includes World Boxing Association heavyweight champion John Ruiz, a King fighter, who will defend his title in a third fight against Evander Holyfield. Rahman's co-manager, Stan Hoffman, said they are considering all three offers but no decision may be made until May 20, after Rahman, a Muslim, returns from a trip to Mecca. He is scheduled to leave Sunday.

Lewis' promoter, Main Events, has contended that it has a contract that forces Rahman to fight Lewis next in a rematch and has threatened to sue Rahman, his managers and promoter if they don't make Lewis the next fight. Rahman's managers have maintained that the contract allows for an interim title defense. There have been reports of at least three different signed versions of the Rahman-Lewis contract, any of which likely would face a strong legal battle.

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