The stakes continue to rise for Baltimore's free-agent heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, who is considering three multi-million-dollar deals, two of which were improved in the past two days. The latest offer, from promoter Don King, is worth a reported $25 million.
The offers are from Showtime to fight Mike Tyson; from King for a possible unification bout against the winner of an Aug. 4 World Boxing Association title fight between John Ruiz and Evander Holyfield; and from HBO for a rematch with Lennox Lewis.
Rahman knocked out Lewis on April 21 to earn the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles.
Rahman is believed to have held a meeting with King late last night in New York. King reportedly proposed a deal that could be worth $25 million in an effort to forge the unification bout. King's previous bid had been $15 million.
Early yesterday morning, Rahman said he had met with King on Tuesday night - only hours after Tyson's adviser, Shelly Finkel, had informed him of an improved, $19.25 million bid from Showtime.
The late Showtime bid caused Rahman to hold off on signing a guaranteed $17 million contract with HBO for a bout against Lewis.
"The amount of money Shelly was talking about, I said, 'I have to take a second look at this,'" said Rahman, 28, who has no ties to Showtime or HBO.
The champion, meanwhile, described King as "very much a player" in the bidding to win his services.
The House of Boxing Web site, citing sources close to the negotiations, reported that Rahman's contract with promoter Cedric Kushner, who has been with him for all but eight of his bouts, has expired.
According to the Web site, Rahman would get $10 million for an interim fight - possibly against his former sparring partner, Brian Nielson, or David Izon - on the undercard of Ruiz-Holyfield, and another $15 million for a bout against the winner of that title fight.
The Web site reported that neither Rahman, his co-managers Steve Nelson and Stan Hoffman, nor King was present at last night's annual Boxing Writer's Dinner in New York. King, in town to promote tomorrow night's William Joppy-Felix Trinidad middleweight championship bout, was supposed to present Trinidad with the Fighter of the Year award.
King and Kushner have a contentious history with one another. Kushner still has a $12 million lawsuit pending against King for "attempting to steal and bribe" Rahman in 1998.
Reached on his cellular phone late last night, Rahman said: "I'm in the middle of a blockbuster deal right now."
King joins a bidding war for Rahman's service that has raged since April 21, when the 20-1 underdog earned the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles with a fifth-round knockout over Lewis.
A devout Muslim, Rahman (35-2, 29 KOs) is leaving for Mecca on Tuesday, and will return on May 20. He said the decision on whom he'll fight next could come "in the next couple of days" or when he returns from his sojourn.
"I wanted to wrap this up as soon as possible and not let this thing drag on. I want to focus on preparing my body [for boxing]," Rahman said. "But the difference is, when you start adding millions to the pot, it becomes worth it to let it drag on a little while longer."
Lewis (38-2-1, 29 knockouts) and Tyson (48-3, 42 KOs) are contractually obligated to HBO and Showtime, respectively.
In other developments, Tyson, the WBC's No. 1 contender, withdrew his lawsuit against the WBC in exchange for the organization's promise that it will not sanction a Rahman-Lewis title bout.
According to a court document obtained by The Sun, the WBC has decided that if Rahman fights Lewis and loses, the title would be declared vacant. Apparently, a Rahman victory over Lewis on HBO would allow him to return to Showtime and put the WBC title on the line against Tyson.
David Tua, listed as the IBF's No. 1 contender, has filed a suit similar to Tyson's against the organization in an effort to block a Rahman-Lewis rematch even though its president, Hiwatha Knight, agrees that a rematch clause violates IBF policy.
But IBF attorney Linda Torres said Rahman, as the new champ, has up to a year from the date he won the title to defend against the No. 1 contender.
In addition, IBF championship chairman Joe Dwyer said Tua's status as the top contender is contingent on his winning a box-off against the winner of tomorrow's bout in New York between Chris Byrd and Maurice Harris.
Tyson successfully contended that a Rahman-Lewis bout would violate the WBC's "direct rematch policy," which prohibits immediate rematches, according to the court document.
Rahman knows he could wind up fighting in court if he chooses anyone but Lewis, whose side has threatened to sue if it doesn't get a rematch. "I'm not going to make a decision without consulting with my attorney," Rahman said.