Rahman puts HBO on pause


The Hasim Rahman-Lennox Lewis rematch isn't a done deal after all.

Rahman, the world heavyweight champion from Baltimore, decided not to sign a deal with Home Box Office for a rematch with Lewis after Shelly Finkel, an adviser to Mike Tyson, on Tuesday asked Rahman to reconsider a Showtime offer.

Rahman's co-manager, Steve Nelson, said he, Rahman, co-manager Stan Hoffman and promoter Cedric Kushner met earlier Tuesday in New York to discuss the two deals. There Rahman decided to accept HBO's guaranteed $17 million deal instead of Showtime's $16.25 million offer to fight Tyson, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Rahman returned to Baltimore yesterday but could not be reached to comment. Rahman, a devout Muslim, is expected to leave for Mecca next week - perhaps by Tuesday - said his uncle, Haleem Ali.

"There will be no deal signed today," Nelson said yesterday from Manhattan, where he and Hoffman are with middleweight champion, William Joppy, who fights Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Rahman missed a 9 a.m. meeting at Kushner's office with HBO representatives to finalize the deal, according to network sources. Lewis is under contract with HBO.

"That's because I went back to Rahman, I spoke to him, personally, and now he has more to think about," said Finkel. "I spoke to Hasim Rahman during the late afternoon. That's all that I'm going to say."

Showtime senior vice-president Jay Larkin said no one from his staff was present when Finkel met Rahman. He did not comment on whether Finkel told Rahman that Showtime's offer was improved.

"I think Shelly's purpose, in the meeting that he confirmed to you, was to make sure that the champ was presented with the full picture," Larkin said. "We were concerned - and the fighter was concerned - that our offer was not being conveyed to him in the most clear manner."

The networks have been negotiating for nearly three weeks. Both deals give Rahman permission to fight Lewis or Tyson on the other network if he wins his first title defense, and both offer indemnity. Rahman, 28, won the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles with a fifth-round knockout of Lewis on April 21.

Showtime's deal, which includes a non-refundable signing bonus of $3 million, offers $13.15 million for his first title defense; there would be an additional five bouts with purses ranging from $6 to $10 million if Rahman beats Tyson. If Rahman loses to Tyson, he is still guaranteed at least one network fight.

HBO's package would be for seven fights, including a title defense worth $14 million, if Rahman beats Lewis; the deal also guarantees two bouts with a combined purse of $3 million if he loses to Lewis.

Promoter Don King was back in the equation again by making a $15 million offer to Rahman's management team yesterday.

"But then, Don King always thinks he's still in the picture, that's why he's Don King," said a source close to King, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "In fact, Rahman might be the beneficiary of Don's bravado. The networks may keep upping the offers fearing that he'll swoop in."

King wants Rahman to fight an opponent to be determined on the undercard of John Ruiz-Evander Holyfield III, the World Boxing Association heavyweight title fight scheduled for Aug. 4 in Beijing.

Tyson, the WBC's No. 1 contender, filed a lawsuit on Friday in the U.S. District Court in New York in an attempt to force Rahman to fight him. David Tua, the IBF's No. 1 contender and a 12-round loser to Lewis last fall, yesterday filed a lawsuit with the New Jersey District Court, claiming that the rematch clause in the contract for the Rahman-Lewis fight violates IBF rules.

WBC and IBF rules do not sanction immediate rematches, but WBC president Jose Sulaiman earlier this week issued a statement supporting a Rahman-Lewis sequel.

Joe Dwyer, championship coordinator for the IBF, said that his organization's rules call for the belt to be stripped from a champion who fights a return bout before first facing the top-rated challenger. However, Dwyer also said "every new IBF champion, which Rahman is, has up to one year" to defend vs. the No. 1 contender.

"But if Rahman fought Tyson," Larkin said, the lawsuits would be moot.

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