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Tyson, Jones Head 2003's Fight Card

While Mike Tyson's on-again, off again heavyweight fight with Clifford Etienne — slated for Showtime on Feb. 22 — captured headlines last week, Home Box Office PPV was firming up its 2003 calendar.

Middleweight boxing champion Roy Jones Jr.'s highly anticipated move to the heavyweight division, a first ever Monday night pay-per-view event and a potential Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson rematch are on HBO PPV's card for the first half of 2002.

The network will launch its 2003 schedule March 1 with light heavyweight boxing champion Roy Jones Jr.'s attempt to wrest the heavyweight championship from John Ruiz, HBO PPV senior vice president of sports operations Mark Taffet said.

The network will support the fight — which carries a suggested retail of $49.99 — with a major multimedia promotional push, beginning this week. The effort includes a radio stunt featuring nationally syndicated personality Howard Stern and Playboy Enterprises Inc.

As part of HBO PPV's "Heavyweight For A Day" promotion, Stern will conduct a nationwide contest to find the man "who least personifies being a heavyweight," said Taffet. The contest winner will get to escort Playboy
magazine's March 2003 Playmate, Penelope Jimenez, to the fight.

On March 31, the network will attempt to attract viewers to Monday night boxing with a four-bout card, featuring such fighters as World Boxing Organization junior bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel and lightweight contender Angel Manfredy.

Taffet said the card, which will retail for $24.95, is a test to see if viewers will migrate to PPV boxing outside of the traditional Saturday night slot.

"It's also our attempt to come up with new and innovative ideas to re-energize the category," Taffet added.

Potentially on tap for June 21 is a rematch between heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and former heavyweight champion Tyson — assuming "Iron Mike" looked good in his slated bout against Etienne. Their first fight last June, in which Lewis knocked out Tyson, was the most lucrative fight in PPV history, generating more than $103 million.

But at press time, some question remained as to whether the Tyson-Etienne fight would take place. Early last week, Tyson called off the fight after complaining of flu-like symptoms apparently brought on by an infection stemming from a tattoo recently inked on his face.

Several hours after Showtime announced the cancellation, the fight was back on, after Tyson said he was fit to fight. Then Etienne said he was out. At press time, the combatants were scheduled to go.

Much like the first event, Showtime Event Television and HBO PPV would co-promote the redux. "Assuming that Tyson is successful on Feb. 22 and wins convincingly, we'll hopefully put together a Tyson-Lewis rematch, tentatively scheduled for June 21," Taffet said.

On May 3, HBO PPV will offer a doubleheader PPV event featuring De La Hoya and featherweight champion Erik Morales, although Taffet would not confirm opponents for each fighter. Published reports, however, said De La Hoya would face former junior middleweight champion Yory Boy Campas.

HBO PPV had also planned a September rematch between De La Hoya and former welterweight champion Shane Mosely, but last week the fight was nixed after Mosely reportedly asked for more than the $4 million HBO PPV offered.

But Taffet said HBO PPV was still working to salvage the fight.

"No fight that is worth making has ever been made easily," he said. "Like we have done for this industry for the past 10 years, we will continue to make all efforts to deliver a pay-per-view megafight for the fall."

In other boxing news, broadcast network NBC will team with its Spanish-language network Telemundo to air live fights in May. The gloves drop on the three-week project May 3, with Telemundo offering a live fight in Spanish at 3 p.m.. NBC will pick up the remaining fights from the card in a 90-minute telecast starting at 3:30, according to representatives from both networks.

The deal marks NBC's first return to the pro ring since 1992. The major broadcast networks abandoned boxing during the 1990s after failing to draw adequate ratings and advertisers to support live events. Boxing for the most part is relegated to pay services HBO and Showtime, as well as ESPN2's weekly Friday Night Fights series.