- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

Times change. We all know that. But at the International Boxing Federation's New Jersey headquarters, times really change.
One of the deadlines facing organizers of the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight was set by the IBF, which had granted Lewis an exception to a court-ordered mandatory title defense against their No.1 challenger, Chris Byrd, so that Lewis, the IBF and World Boxing Council title holder, could pursue a fight against 911 Mike.
That deadline was Monday, and early that afternoon IBF president Marian Muhammad declared that the deadline for the fight to be signed, sealed and officially approved was the close of business that day.
"We will not be extending the deadline," she said. "We need to get official notification by 4:59 p.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."
Well, the close of business came and went, and there was no signature from Lewis agreeing to the fight. In fact, they reportedly did not get a signed contract from Lewis until nearly two hours later.
Also, according to John Hornewer, Byrd's attorney, the terms of the exception required that a contract for a venue for Lewis-Tyson would have to be signed and approved as well by the deadline.
Nearly an hour later, Alan Freeman, general manager of the Pyramid arena in Memphis, where Lewis-Tyson supposedly was to take place, said he had no contract and, at that point, suggested the fight was far from a done deal.
"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."
Later that night, as organizers issued a release officially announcing the fight, Freeman said they had an agreement for the fight to be at the Pyramid "in principle."
Now it would seem that, based on the IBF deadline and the requirements spelled out in the exception to the court order, the fight would not be sanctioned by the organization. It would seem that Lewis would be forced to give up his IBF crown.
But then, at the IBF, the clocks have no hands because all the hands are stuffed into somebody's pocket.
"There must have been a misunderstanding," said Darryl Peoples, IBF ratings chairman. "The fight is sanctioned. My understanding was that the deadline was at the end of the day, meaning before midnight."
This sort of thing can happen in a place where time really isn't time. At the IBF, time is money.
The IBF, like other sanctioning organizations, gets a sanctioning fee for each championship fight. For a huge payday like Lewis-Tyson, that could add up to $2 million for the IBF.
If the organization had stripped Lewis of its heavyweight title, it would have had Byrd fight another top-ranked contender, probably Fres Oquendo. The purse on a fight like that would have added up to maybe $300,000.
A 4:59 p.m. deadline would have cost the IBF up to $1.7 million. Therefore, what you have is a misunderstanding.
Everything about Lewis-Tyson is what's wrong with boxing. The guy Lewis should be fighting is Byrd, but he is the opposite of 911 Mike a decent human being and a talented fighter at the top of his game. He followed the IBF rules and did everything they asked of him to be the No.1 contender, and they stuck it to him for his efforts. As a result of a lawsuit filed by David Tua when Lewis was trying to regain his championship last year in a rematch with Hasim Rahman, the IBF set up a tournament to determine a mandatory challenger for Lewis' title. Byrd beat Maurice Harris and Tua to gain that position, but now finds himself passed over as the IBF granted Lewis an exception, with a federal judge's approval, to the court order.
Joe Dwyer, the IBF championship chairman, set up that tournament, and, after the organization granted Lewis the exception, expressed his disgust with the whole scenario unfolding.
"Lennox Lewis has no intention of fighting Chris Byrd," Dwyer sad. "No one wants to fight [Byrd] because of his abilities. He is the last person anyone in the heavyweight division wants to fight."
911 Mike is the No.1 WBC challenger. He got into this position by fighting once in the past 17 months, a lackluster seventh-round technical knockout of a cream puff named Brian Nielsen in October. Currently, Nielsen is ranked 18th by the WBC and is not ranked by the IBF nor the World Boxing Association. 911 Mike neither deserves his No.1 ranking nor this fight against Lewis, but, as Clint Eastwood said in "Unforgiven," "Deserving's got nothing to do with it."
This is the fight everyone supposedly wanted: Lewis-Tyson. In this case, everyone may get what he deserved because I still think there's a better chance of Elvis being in the ring on June 8 in Memphis than 911 Mike.


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