Tyson could win title in ring, lose 1 in court Showtime-HBO standoff could result in forfeiture of champ's WBC crown

September 07, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS -- Caught in the byzantine world of professional boxing, Mike Tyson stood to win one world title and lose another in challenging Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand Garden tonight.

Tyson, bent on reunifying the heavyweight crown, was a 17-to-1 favorite to dethrone the relatively obscure World Boxing Association champion.

But at the same time, boxing-business pressures were still in play that could remove the World Boxing Council belt Tyson captured in this same ring when he knocked out England's Frank Bruno in three rounds in March.

Lennox Lewis, another British heavyweight, had sued Tyson in New Jersey Superior Court in March 1995, claiming the WBC had deemed him mandatory challenger for Bruno's title, not Tyson.

Judge Amos Saunders agreed and ordered Tyson to make Lewis TC his next rival or risk forfeiture of his newly won crown. Tyson also was ordered to pay Lewis a $4 million "step-aside" fee to proceed with the Seldon match, originally scheduled in July.

"Boxing has become so political," Tyson said. "The ones who suffer are the fighters -- myself, more than anyone."

Boxing sources say Saunders has allowed the two parties a "two- to three-week window" to negotiate a match before stripping Tyson of his title. But no one is confident the stalemate will end after a month of meetings.

Basically, it comes down to a showdown between the two warring cable-television powers -- Showtime, which supports Tyson and promoter Don King, and HBO, which backs Lewis and Main Events Inc.

"HBO has stopped every deal that could have been made," said Showtime executive Jay Larkin. "They always come up with new excuses and act saintly. . . .

"But what HBO won't admit is that it is protecting its exclusive contract with Lewis, just like we are with Tyson. We have an awful lot of money invested . . . and we're not about to give it away."

Asked about the court ruling, Larkin said: "We felt it was unfair and too broad. We [with King] paid the $4 million because it was too late to reschedule the Seldon fight. Judge Saunders can interpret the law, but he can't be a matchmaker, too. He can't tell Tyson who he has to fight. That's like indentured servitude."

King says that during repeated negotiations with Lewis representative Panos Eliades, he raised the ante to $16 million to entice Lewis into the ring with Tyson next June. By then, Tyson is expected to have unified the three major titles -- WBC, WBA and the International Boxing Federation crown held by Michael Moorer.

"Every time, Panos would seem to agree," King said. "Then he'd talk to Abraham and come back with some new demand, some that seemed ludicrous. HBO even wanted a five-fight option on [IBF welterweight champion] Felix Trinidad. . . . What does that have to do with Lewis and Tyson?

"Right now, Lewis is . . . taking money [$4 million] for nothing.

"It makes no sense. Why would he pass up $16 million to get $2 million to fight Oliver McCall for a vacated title? He's got a good chance of getting knocked out again," added King, recalling McCall's previous second-round knockout of Lewis.

The stumbling block remains control of the fight. To step aside, Abraham wants Eliades to pay HBO $750,000 and would need a commitment to his network for a possible rematch.

"We'll shoot craps," said Larkin. "We're willing to do that if we get the first fight."

But the best bet is that Tyson vs. Lewis will not happen anytime soon in the current climate.

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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