The heavyweight poker game continues

For a few brief hours it appeared Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, two of the biggest players in the poker game which has effectively crippled the heavyweight division, had shown their hands. But the announcement of match between the pair was quickly retracted. SecondsOut Assistant Editor Clive Bernath tries to make sense of the latest round in the title sweepstakes.

Picture the scene. Lennox Lewis is sitting in a New York federal court with his whole team around him trying to execute an injunction that would stop WBC/IBF and IBO heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman from defending his titles against David Izon in China on August 4.

The reason for the court action is because when Lewis lost his world titles to Rahman after being knocked out in the fifth round in South Africa in April, the contract Rahman signed for that bout stated that should Lewis lose then he would be entitled to an immediate rematch.

Rahman then signed with rival promoter Don King some days after the win, meaning a split with his original promoter Cedric Kushner, with whom Rahman had signed the Lewis contract. Fearing being frozen out of the heavyweight picture Lewis took court action and has repeatedly stated all along that he wants is his titles back. The injunction is also being forced to prevent Rahman from fighting anyone else first.

So imagine my amazement when I switched on my PC and scanned the national papers on Tuesday to see that Lewis has now struck a deal with Mike Tyson for a double header $120 million deal. The press statement had come from Lewis’s business manager Adrian Ogun’s London office.

The release in England said that the fight had been set and that broadcast rivals HBO, who have Lewis under contract and Showtime who have Tyson’s signature had come to an agreement for a two-fight deal. The first fight would take place on December 8 and the rematch in May.

That in itself is bizarre. But just hours later Lewis’s lawyer Judd Burstein added a new twist to the fold by retracting the original statement from London, saying the deal was not set between Tyson and Lewis and that it was “ premature and inaccurate”.
Now forgive me for asking but shouldn’t the left hand know what the right hand is doing? After all Lennox Lewis is a multi million pound business. Of course the Lewis camp and Tyson’s people are talking, that is all they have been doing for the last six months.
I suspect if Lewis and Main Events, his American promoters, fail to topple Rahman in court, then the only option would be to go for a Tyson fight. And the same goes for Tyson, who does not relish working with ex-promoter Don King again. If Rahman can go his own way, King, having already got WBA champ John Ruiz and Evander Holyfield in his camp will once again have the heavyweight division sewn up.
So lets presume that is the case. Both Lewis and Tyson will be left out in cold unless they play ball with King. That is not likely to happen so the only option is to fight each other. But will the boxing fan buy it, even if by some miracle HBO and Showtime come to some arrangement?

We must remember that the last time Lewis was seen in the ring he was sprawled out on his back in a South African ring, the victim of, according to some experts a mediocre challenger. At nearly 36 and having suffered a heavy one-shot knockout Lewis may well be past his sell by date.

So could Iron Mike. Take a look at Tyson’s last four fights. Firstly Orlin Norris, that was scored a no contest when Tyson hit Norris after the bell. The second and third fights in Britain were all but ‘events’, with Briton Julius Francis been dispatched in less than two rounds in January 2000 and fellow American Lou Savarese lasting just one round five months later. Both men were very clearly out of their depth. Then in October last year, Tyson’s last outing, he was again involved in controversy when Andrew Golota to quit in the third round. That result was later changed to a no contest.

Bearing in mind the aforementioned and that Tyson will be 35 at the end of this month, and that the world title may not be at stake would you part with your hard earned cash on pay per view? The other factors are who will screen it and what is it worth to TV giants HBO and Showtime? You can bet your life that the cable networks no longer place the same value on the fight as the fighters do themselves.

Neither Lewis/HBO or Tyson/Showtime could agree on a terms before Lewis lost his crowns. At least the fight was worth something then, but now I’m not so sure. Lewis’ stock has gone down dramatically since the Rahman defeat, can he get it back. That is a question that only Lewis knows the answer to.

Maybe we are all missing the point. The object of both TV networks is to have control of the lucrative ‘world’ heavyweight title. Linear champion Rahman is not signed to ether, yet.

Will Lewis get his chance to regain the richest prize in sport or will Rahman and a certain fuzzy haired gentleman be sitting at the negotiation table with HBO on one side and Showtime on the other? A New York court will provide the answer to some of my questions very soon.
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