Heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman of Baltimore will announce today that his first world title defense will be a rematch against Lennox Lewis, the man he knocked out on April 21 to win the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation crowns, sources close to the fight negotiations said yesterday.
Rahman will sign with Home Box Office for a pay-per-view bout worth $14 million, the sources said. The deal ends a two-week bidding war for the fighter's services between HBO and Showtime.
However, Steve Nelson, Rahman's co-manager with Stan Hoffman, would not confirm that a decision had been made yesterday, nor would he say whether either network had changed its offer since Friday.
But one source close to the negotiations said yesterday that attorneys for Rahman, HBO and Lewis' promoters, Main Events and Lion Promotions, had been "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" on some preliminary paperwork before the deal is signed and announced today.
"We believe that, ultimately, when we settle our deal, we will have given Hasim Rahman the best deal in boxing history," said Nelson. "We expect to make the announcement as soon as the deal is signed."
Asked if Rahman's camp was leaning in a particular direction, Nelson said, "We are."
Nelson did not disclose a date or site for the rematch.
Rahman, 28, had no ties to either network and was in the unique position to negotiate with both. Lewis is contractually obligated to HBO, and Mike Tyson, the No. 1 contender for the WBC version of Rahman's crown, is with Showtime.
HBO's total offer is a guaranteed $17 million - the $14 million for the Lewis fight and a total of $3 million for two more bouts regardless of how Rahman (35-2, 29 knockouts) fares in the Lewis rematch. Should Rahman win, HBO would give him a six-fight deal with escalating purses from $5.5 million per fight to $7 million.
Showtime, which sweetened its proposal Friday, has offered a guaranteed $16.25 million for a Tyson bout. The Showtime offer also includes a five-fight deal worth between $6 million and $10 million a bout if Rahman beats Tyson.
Both HBO and Showtime's offers give Rahman the option to fight Lewis (38-2-1, 29 KOs) or Tyson (48-3, 42 KOs) on the other network if he wins his first title defense.
Rahman, an Abingdon resident, arrived in New York from Baltimore yesterday to discuss the offers for the first time with his co-managers and his promoter, Cedric Kushner.
"We went over the deals with Stan, Rock and everybody, and there was analyzing," Nelson said.
Nelson said the threat of legal action from both sides "had zero bearing on our decision."
At issue in the negotiations was a rematch clause in the contract for the April 21 Rahman-Lewis fight. Pat English, a lawyer for Main Events, had threatened legal action if Rahman chose Tyson before Lewis.
Tyson on Friday filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in New York in an attempt to force his fight with Rahman before one against Lewis.
WBC rules require a non-mandatory challenger - which Rahman was against Lewis - who wins a title to face the No. 1 contender. However, hours after Tyson's action was announced, WBC president Jose Sulaiman issued a statement that supported a Rahman-Lewis rematch.
"In regards to the rematch [with Lewis], the WBC is not forcing the item, as Rahman is on a stage of voluntary defenses," Sulaiman said. "We will accept Rahman's decision in regard to his next defense. A rematch is not forbidden."