Holyfield spurns the people's choice for Holmes in Vegas


Ignoring the cry of boxing fans across the country, TVKO has decided to bankroll Evander Holyfield's heavyweight championship match against Larry Holmes at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on June 19.

"Everything is set," said promoter Bob Arum, who represented Holmes in negotiations with TVKO and Holyfield's financial team of Dan Duva and Shelly Finkel. "We'll have a press conference in New York on Thursday."

The Holyfield-Holmes matchup finished a distant third in a telephone survey conducted Tuesday night by USA Network during its rerun of Holmes' surprising, 12-round victory over previously unbeaten Ray Mercer.

Asked to choose among three proposed heavyweight bouts, fans voted overwhelmingly (42 percent) in favor of a showdown between the division's two dinosaurs -- Holmes, 42, and George Foreman, 44. A match pitting Holyfield against unbeaten Riddick Bowe received 30 percent of the votes, and only 16 percent preferred to watch Holyfield vs. Holmes.

"TVKO called us early the next morning, anxious to hear the results," said USA Network publicist LeslieAnne Wade. "But, obviously, they'd already made up their minds."

Holyfield will receive an estimated $16 million, and Holmes, who reigned as heavyweight king from 1978 to 1985, a reported $7 million.

Actually, Holmes was Holyfield's third choice as a title opponent.

The champion had been guaranteed at least $30 million to defend his title against Mike Tyson. But this dream match was postponed twice before Tyson was removed from the heavyweight title picture Feb. 10, when he was convicted of rape in Indianapolis.

Bowe, then ranked No. 2 by the World Boxing Council, was next in line for Holyfield, and was reportedly offered close to $8 million for his first title shot. But Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, waited too long to agree to terms, and Duva and Finkel turned their attention to Holmes.

Even though a fight with Foreman might have proved more profitable, Holmes has made it clear that getting another championship match was his prime ambition.

"I might make a bigger payday fighting George," Holmes said after whipping Mercer, "but that's not why I came back. I'm not in this for the long haul. I can't do what Foreman did and wait three years for a title shot. I don't have the time or patience. I said I would hang up my gloves for good if I didn't get a title shot. I don't plan on serving as some young guy's punching bag."

Arum, president of Top Rank Inc., who will co-promote the fight with Duva and Main Events Inc., was in a no-lose situation. Arum serves as promoter for both Holmes and Foreman, Holyfield's two most viable opponents, once Tyson and Bowe were rejected.

Foreman, who lost a 12-round decision to Holyfield in April, has signed to fight Alex Stewart in Las Vegas on April 11.

On the outside is promoter Don King, who controlled the heavyweight division until Tyson suffered a stunning upset to 40-1 underdog Buster Douglas in Tokyo two years ago.

King's strong ally, WBC president Jose Sulaiman, has told the Holyfieldcamp he will allow the champion to have an "interim" match against Holmes before having to face the mandatory challenger. Only this week, Donovan "Razor" Ruddock replaced Bowe as the WBC's leading contender, bringing cries of protest from Newman.

Holyfield vs. Holmes has been in the works for several weeks, but a dispute over the fight date delayed settlement. TVKO and the fight promoters wanted to make certain there would be no conflict with the NBA Finals.

"We didn't want everyone watching [Chicago Bulls star] Michael Jordan for free on network TV when we're trying to sell a fight on pay per view," said Arum.

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