- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Organizers of the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight announced last night that they reached an agreement to stage the embattled heavyweight bout in Memphis, Tenn., on June8.
The deal, the final blow to the District's futile attempt to land the fight, came in the final hours of a contractual deadline that would have allowed Lewis to fundamentally change the terms of their original deal or even pursue another fight,
Now, it appears Lewis will move forward with plans to fight Tyson.
"Lewis-Tyson is the matchup the whole world has been waiting for," Lewis said in a statement released by his promoters. "I am confident I will cement my legacy when I dispose of Tyson on June8."
Tyson's representatives also issued a statement from their fighter: "On June8, I guarantee I will knock Lewis out and regain my heavyweight championship."
However, only one of Lewis' two major heavyweight titles may be up for grabs, as confusion and chaos still surround this troubled fight.
Lewis (39-2-1, 30 knockouts) holds both the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles. Under a court order, Lewis was supposed to fight the IBF's No.1 mandatory challenger, Chris Byrd, by April22. However, the IBF's executive committee granted Lewis an exception to fight Tyson (49-3, 2 no contests, 43 knockouts), as long as a deal was finalized by yesterday. Otherwise, Lewis would have to begin negotiations to fight Byrd or else vacate his IBF title.
Early yesterday afternoon, IBF president Marian Muhammad said she had not heard from the organization's attorney about whether or not Lewis-Tyson had been finalized and approved.
"We will not be extending the deadline," she said. "We need to get official notification by 4:59p.m. today, the close of business. We'll know by the end of the day whether we will sanction Lewis-Tyson, or if Mr. Byrd will fight for what would probably be the vacant title."
IBF officials could not be reached for comment around 5p.m. yesterday to determine if they had been officially notified. But John Hornewer, Byrd's attorney, said one of the requirements that IBF officials demanded of Lewis-Tyson in the exception they granted to Lewis was that a contract for a venue would have to be in place and approved by the deadline. As of early last night past the 4:59p.m. mark cited by Muhammad Pyramid general manager Alan Freeman said he had no signed contract to play host to the fight. Freeman was frustrated by the inability to talk to anyone involved in the promotion, even as representatives of Showtime and Home Box Office, the two cable networks working in a cooperative agreement for the fight, were touring the Pyramid yesterday.
"I haven't been able to reach the people I need to," Freeman said. "I have not spoken to any of the principals. There are so many parties involved in this, I understand that even just one dissenting vote could kill the deal. We don't have a signed contract, nor have we been given the green light yet."
When Hornewer learned that there was no contract yet for Lewis-Tyson at the Pyramid, he said, "I guess the IBF is not sanctioning the fight." As organizers were releasing a statement announcing the fight, Freeman said they had a deal "in principle" to use the building.
Organizers hoped to announce they had an agreement in place on Friday for the fight to take place in Memphis, including a $12.5million site fee raised by local promoters, businessmen and casino interests in nearby Tunica, Miss. But those plans fell through when First Tennessee Bank refused to issue an irrevocable letter of credit to promoters sought by Showtime and Home Box Office.
Tennessee promoter Brian Young said the bank denied them the letter on "moral" grounds, and threatened to sue the bank. He also said he was confident they would be able to secure another letter of credit from another bank. But now it is not clear if Young has any role in the promotion. Neither he nor his company, Prize Fight Promotions, were listed on the release last night announcing the fight, and sources said much of the guarantee, as the fight stands now, is being put up by Showtime, Tyson's network, and his representatives, as the heavyweight will have to take less of a guaranteed purse which will pay each fighter $17.5million. Tyson reportedly owes Showtime about $13million for the cable network bailing the fighter out of tax problems. Young could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Lewis-Tyson had been scheduled for April6 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, as the hotel-casino was offering a $15million site fee to organizers. But those plans disintegrated when Tyson went berserk at a Jan.22 New York news conference to announce the fight and attacked Lewis and members of his entourage on stage.
A week later, the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to license Tyson, which sent organizers scurrying for a new location. Eventually, Tyson was licensed in Washington by the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission at a March12 public meeting, as well as in Tennessee and Michigan.


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