Rahman signs with Don King


World heavyweight boxing champion Hasim Rahman of Baltimore has signed with Don King Promotions for a reported $5 million and is apparently being pointed to a title defense against journeyman Brian Nielsen of Denmark for another $5 million.

Rahman's longtime promoter, Cedric Kushner, confirmed in a statement released yesterday that Rahman signed with King on Thursday night, ending nearly four weeks of negotiations for his services between cable giants HBO and Showtime.

USA Today reported yesterday that Rahman (35-2, 29 knockouts) earned $5 million for signing with King and is expected to later sign for $5 million to make his first title defense against Nielsen (61-1, 43 KOs) on Aug. 4 in Beijing. The bout would be on the undercard of the World Boxing Association title fight between champion John Ruiz and Evander Holyfield, which is being promoted by King.

Rahman, the 28-year-old World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champ, turned down a guaranteed $19.25 million deal from Showtime to fight Mike Tyson, who is contractually bound to that network. The Abingdon resident also eschewed a guaranteed $17 million deal from HBO for a rematch with Lennox Lewis, who has ties to HBO.

Rahman earned his title belts with his fifth-round knockout of Lewis on April 21 in Brakpan, South Africa.

Neither Rahman, co-managers Stan Hoffman and Steve Nelson, nor King could be reached yesterday.

USA Today reported that if Rahman defeats Nielsen, King would match the champion against the Ruiz-Holyfield winner for $15 million, followed by a fight with either Lewis, for $20 million, or Tyson, for $30 million.

Neither Ruiz nor Rahman has ties to any network, so King is free to negotiate the Beijing card with either HBO or Showtime for television rights to their fights.

Eric Bottjer, Kushner's senior matchmaker, said Kushner "absolutely" has a contract with Rahman. House of Boxing Web site, citing sources close to Rahman's negotiations, reported that Kushner's contract with Rahman has expired. Kushner, who has promoted all but eight of Rahman's 37 bouts, convened with his attorneys early yesterday and said he plans to take legal action against Rahman and King.

Kushner and King have been at odds in the past. In 1998, Kushner filed a $12 million lawsuit against King, charging he attempted to "steal and bribe" Rahman. The suit is still pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kushner's statement yesterday accuses King of coercing "Hasim Rahman into signing some sort of promotional agreement," and vows to "pursue this matter to its end."

"It's unfortunate that a young man with such a bright future could be subjected to legal action which threatens to stall his promising career," Kushner said. "We don't have all the facts in our possession, but I'm sure Rock was not aware of all the legal implications in dealing with another promoter."

Pat English, the attorney for Lewis' New Jersey-based co-promoter Main Events, has already filed a lawsuit, and Shelly Finkel, Tyson's adviser, has threatened a lawsuit.

"Lennox Lewis already has filed suit against Rahman and Don King Productions in the United States District Court of New York," English said, "primarily for breach of contract."

English also said he will sue King for tortious interference, charging that King induced Rahman into breaking his contract with Lewis' promotional team. English will also pursue an "injunctive relief" declaration that would prevent Rahman from fighting anyone but Lewis, whom he argues was contractually obliged to a rematch.

Rahman told The Sun earlier this week that he expected a court battle, no matter with whom he signed. On Thursday, he met "for a couple of hours" with renowned New York boxing attorney Milt Chwasky, according to Chwasky. The attorney has represented Riddick Bowe, Michael and Leon Spinks and Arturo Gatti. Chwasky would not comment on the details of their meeting.

The timeline of the order of defenses King has scheduled for Rahman - particularly the window between his fight with Nielsen and his mandatory defense against Tyson, the WBC's No. 1 contender - could be a problem. Rahman, in accordance with WBC rules, must fight Tyson on or before Nov. 11, leaving little time for an interim bout between Rahman and the Ruiz-Holyfield winner should Rahman defeat Nielsen.

"But Mike Tyson is the No. 1 contender to the WBC title. We have a mandatory on Nov. 11, and that's the date we'll hold on to," Finkel said. "Rahman has a chance to fight either Tyson or Lewis and he picks Nielsen? But nothing surprises me with Don King."

Three years ago, King and Tyson filed identical $100 million lawsuits against each other stemming from a past promotional dispute. Tyson had vowed never to work with King, but sources indicate that King will attempt to use a title fight for Tyson as a way of settling their monetary differences.

Under the terms of Rahman's deal with King, a rematch with Lewis could be delayed indefinitely.

"We tried to deal above the table, tried to do the best for our fighter. We gave Rahman a shot when we didn't have to give him a shot," said Gary Shaw, Lewis' promoter with Main Events. "It doesn't help Rahman to fight a guy like Brian Nielsen. We will be putting everything in the hands of our lawyers."

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