Lennox Lewis' fourth-round knockout of heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman on Nov. 17 has cleared the way for a long-anticipated spring 2002 pay-per-view blockbuster against Mike Tyson.
The fight would provide a major boost for an anemic PPV-event business. But the contest faces several roadblocks, including a scheduled Tyson tune-up in January and negotiations between rivals Showtime Event Television and Home Box Office PPV.
But sources said SET and HBO PPV have already reached an agreement in principle for a co-promoted Lewis-Tyson fight in April.
The deal is necessary because Showtime has TV rights to all Tyson fights, while HBO has a multi-fight TV deal with Lewis. Both programmers want the economic benefits of what is expected to be a huge payday for operators.
Showtime Networks executive vice president of corporate strategy and communications Mark Greenberg confirmed that the two sides are talking, but said no deal has been finalized.
But first, Greenberg said Tyson would take an interim PPV fight Jan. 19 against heavyweight journeyman Ray Mercer. The bout — Tyson's first PPV event since he drew 400,000 buys for an October 2000 contest against Andrew Golota — will retail for a suggested $39.95, Showtime said.
"What we've seen this year is that PPV needs some help, and this fight will give the industry a revenue lift, as well as some momentum for a more significant payday," Greenberg said.
That might not sit too well with HBO PPV, which was hoping to immediately get Tyson in the ring with Lewis. Sources close to the situation said that HBO doesn't want to jeopardize a Lewis-Tyson bout by putting the fighters in interim bouts.
Lewis' camp, however, is in negotiations with top heavyweight contender Vladimir Klitschko for a possible late-winter fight.
Representatives from HBO PPV could not be reached for comment at press time.
Another fly in the Lewis-Tyson ointment could be boxing promoter Don King. King, who promotes Rahman, may look to finagle his way into negotiations for a Lewis-Tyson bout. Lewis has said he may include King in future promotions, and it's unclear whether the boxing impresario had promotional rights to future Lewis fights built into the Rahman-Lewis contract.
For his part, Tyson currently has a multimillion-dollar lawsuit pending against King, his former promoter, and has vowed never to fight again on a King-promoted card.
Tyson advisor Shelly Finkel said Lewis is mandated to fight Tyson next year. Tyson is the World Boxing Council's No. 1 contender, which automatically gives him a title shot against Lewis.
Finkel also said a lawsuit filed last summer on behalf of Tyson against then-heavyweight champion Rahman also mandated that Tyson receive an immediate title fight, but Tyson stepped aside to allow the Rahman-Lewis fight, according to Finkel.
Published reports indicate that if all the stars align, there could also be a Lewis-Tyson rematch next fall.
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