- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

Traditionally, when a mega-fight like Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson is made, it needs Las Vegas money behind it multi-million dollar payments from casinos to hold such fights and built-in ticket sales from casinos and hotels throughout the city for their high-rolling clients.

Nothing, though, has been traditional about this proposed fight since it was run out of Las Vegas after the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to license Tyson on Jan. 29, one week after Tyson got into a brawl with Lewis at a New York news conference officially announcing the fight.

That decision scuttled the planned fight for April 6 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which had been willing to pay up to $15 million in what is known as a "site fee." That sent the parties Tyson's advisers and cable network Showtime in particular on the road to find a place to license Tyson and stage the fight. But the most important question of all hasn't been answered where will the money come from to put on the fight? Who will promote the fight with a potential $50 million purse to be split between the two fighters?

After being rebuffed in Texas and Georgia, organizers found a welcome reception in the District, which now appears to be the leading candidate to play host to Lewis-Tyson on June 8 at MCI Center.

But the circumstances surrounding this fight are so unusual and chaotic that what is true one day might not be the next. There are at least two other cities, Detroit and Memphis, that are also considered high on the list for the bout; Tyson already has been licensed in Tennessee a decision that has not yet been made in the District. The D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission is expected to act on Tyson's application at a public meeting Tuesday.

Numerous international locations also are vying to have the fight. A report yesterday from the BBC indicated that Madrid is "in prime position." Ruben Martinez, the European Boxing Union president, claimed that if a venue for the fight was not set by yesterday, negotiations could begin for the fight to take place outside the United States.

Sites from Beirut to Jakarta also have been reported as players in this drama.

Right now, though, the focus seems squarely on the District. Gary Shaw of Main Events, Lewis' promoter, came to town yesterday to meet with the three members of the D.C. commission to make final the documents for a boxing license for Lewis. On Tuesday, Tyson flew in from his training camp in Hawaii to meet with commission members and doctors to discuss, among other things, his psychological condition.

The multi-million dollar question, though, is how organizers will be able to stage a fight in a city that is hardly a fight town. MCI had difficultly drawing crowds for the two previous fight cards there, both featuring local fighters who had become world champions.

And the District does not have the kind of casino money that Las Vegas has behind it. How can Washington hold this fight when it appears there will be no site fee and organizers may have to pay up to $200,000 to rent MCI for the fight?

"I'm not privy to the economics, but I don't see how they are going to make it work," said Fred Sternburg of America Presents, Tyson's former promoter who was involved in negotiations for a bout that fell through last June at MCI against David Izon.

The way it will work is to have two components driving the financing the live gate and, a much bigger piece, pay-per-view sales.

"Pay-per-view will be the engine that drives this train," said promoter Rock Newman. "This is an event that transcends boxing, and is a compelling and riveting must-see. This could be the first two million home pay-per-view."

Still, to make money, you have to spend money, and it's not likely that Tyson or Lewis will step in the ring unless a good portion of the purse is guaranteed. That money is probably going to come from the two competing cable networks that are working together on the fight.

"What will probably happen is that the networks, who know that this fight will generate a certain amount of sale, will say that they will guarantee, let's say, the equivalent of pay-per-view sales up to one million homes," said one promoter, who asked not to be identified.

"At $50 per buy, that would come to $50 million, of which half would go toward the promotion, and that would be used as a basis of a guarantee. Then each fighter could get more money based on a percentage of the buys over that guaranteed amount."

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