- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001

NEW YORK A news conference today in New York originally scheduled to announce World Boxing Association heavyweight champion John Ruiz's title defense against Evander Holyfield on Aug. 4 in Beijing also will focus on World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion Hasim Rahman's deal with controversial promoter Don King.

HBO, which had been involved in the bidding war for Rahman, had a final chance to match the deal but declined, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Early Friday morning, Rahman signed a contract with King that consisted of a $5 million signing bonus, a $5 million payday for fighting journeyman heavyweight Brian Nielsen on the China show and anywhere from $15 million to $30 million for his next fight, depending on his opponent Ruiz ($15 million), Lennox Lewis ($20 million) or Mike Tyson ($30 million), sources said.

The deal gives King control of all three major heavyweight titles, although his contract faces a gamut of legal action, starting today in New York, where a hearing is scheduled on a lawsuit by Lewis. The former champion claims to have a valid rematch clause in the contract he signed with Rahman and is seeking to block the contract Rahman signed with King.

Rahman's decision ended a bidding war that began after the Baltimore heavyweight scored a stunning upset by knocking out Lewis in the fifth round of their April 21 bout in South Africa. Because HBO, which has Lewis under contract and telecast the fight, did not have any options on Rahman's future fights, the Baltimore heavyweight champion was free to negotiate with the two powerful networks that broadcast fights, HBO and Showtime.

HBO's last reported offer to Rahman was $14 million, with another $3 million for each of two more fights should he lose a rematch and $5.5 million to $7 million for five more fights should Rahman prevail. The last reported offer to Rahman by Showtime, which has Tyson under contract, was a total package worth $19 million.

HBO had a chance to match King's offer before the deal was signed but opted not to, according to sources close to those talks. That left King, whose presence in the negotiations for Rahman was first reported in The Washington Times, as the winner, and the promoter was basking in the glow during the news conference following Felix Trinidad's win over William Joppy on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Standing on stage, with Ruiz and Rahman sitting near him, King took a swipe at HBO.

"They want to be the producer and the promoters," he said. "They try to disparage me every chance they get. But Ruiz, Rahman, Trinidad and Joppy they're not with HBO. They're with me."

Now a bidding war may start over the China show, which currently has no television deal. Both HBO and Showtime have said privately they will not pursue the show, but King remained confident he would be able to secure a contract for the card.

"I'm looking for a broadcast partner," he said. "I'm open for business, whoever will pay me the most money."

But the litigation that is expected to surround Rahman's contract with King may be scaring off the networks. Besides Lewis' suit (filed by his British promotional company and Main Events, his American promoters), Cedric Kushner, Rahman's former promoter, has vowed to sue, claiming he still has a valid promotional contract with Rahman that King violated.

Then there is the risk that Rahman may lose the IBF version of the championship. David Tua, the organization's No. 1 challenger, filed a lawsuit Wednesday demanding that the IBF strip Rahman of his title for violating its rules that prohibit signing any contract agreements with immediate rematches involved.

There are also issues involving the WBC belt. Tyson is the WBC's mandatory challenger and must get a chance to fight for that title by November. However, the former two-time heavyweight champion has vowed never to do business with King, his former promoter whom he is suing for $100 million, charging that King cheated him.

Rahman, interviewed on the pay-per-view broadcast of the Trinidad-Joppy fight, said he wouldn't be intimidated by lawsuits.

"Don King gave me the best deal," he said.

When asked about bypassing Tyson and Lewis as his next opponents, Rahman said, "They're not the champions anymore. I won't let them bully me. They won't force me just because they are threatening to take me to court."

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