NEW YORK - Promoter Don King introduced heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman of Baltimore as his fighter for the first time publicly at about 2:20 a.m. yesterday during a news conference at Madison Square Garden.
King, who signed Rahman to a guaranteed $10 million deal during a meeting with the fighter and co-managers Stan Hoffman and Steve Nelson on Thursday night, posed for pictures yesterday while standing between Rahman, the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champ, and John Ruiz, the World Boxing Association champ.
The scene transpired hours after Felix Trinidad took William Joppy's WBA middleweight title with a fifth-round knockout as part of King's middleweight championship series.
"Now we have all three of the heavyweight belts and the middleweight champions," said King, who will announce the terms of his deal with Rahman during another New York news conference at noon today. "They have to come to me."
"They" are the cable networks Home Box Office and Showtime. Rahman has no ties to either. Lennox Lewis, whom Rahman knocked out April 21 for his championship belts, is contracted to HBO. Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, the WBC's No. 1 contender, is contractually bound to Showtime.
For signing with King, Rahman was given $5 million on the spot - a $4.5 million check and $500,000 cash, a source close to negotiations confirmed. The total package, if Rahman continues to win, reportedly could be worth $75 million. Rahman turned down guaranteed deals of $19.25 million and $17 million from Showtime and HBO, respectively.
King, Rahman and his co-managers could not be reached yesterday.
For his first title defense, Rahman is being pointed toward a bout with a former sparring partner, Denmark's Brian Nielsen, for a purse of $5 million. Rahman's bout would take place in Beijing, China, on the undercard of the Ruiz-Evander Holyfield III fight set for Aug. 4. If Rahman wins, King then would try to match him against the Ruiz-Holyfield winner for $15 million, followed by either Lewis for $20 million or Tyson for $30 million.
Rahman's contract with his previous promoter, Cedric Kushner, reportedly has expired because Kushner was said to have failed to pay Rahman $75,000 before the Lewis fight.
"If he'd just handed over a check then, he'd still be Rock's promoter," HBO senior vice president Kery Davis told the Boston Herald.
However, Eric Bottjer, a matchmaker for Kushner, said the contract remains valid. Kushner could not be reached yesterday.
King has not yet secured a network for the August show, and his actions have sparked several lawsuits that could threaten those negotiations.
"Cedric Kushner still says he's Rahman's promoter. There's litigation," Davis told The Sun. "We're studying the situation. We're weighing our options."
Showtime executive Jay Larkin could not be reached yesterday.
Kushner, who has promoted all but eight of Rahman's bouts, said Friday that he expected to file suit today. Kushner already has a $12 million suit pending in U.S. Supreme Court, charging King with trying to "steal and bribe" Rahman in 1998.
Gary Shaw of Lewis' New Jersey-based co-promoter, Main Events, said Friday that he expected Lewis' lawyer, Pat English, also to file a suit today against King for inducing Rahman to break his contract with Lewis' promotional team for a rematch.
English said Lewis' London-based promoter, Lion Promotions, filed a suit on Friday, also in New York, charging Rahman and King with breach of contract.
WBC rules call for Rahman to defend against Tyson by Nov. 11. Rahman almost certainly would have to fight Tyson before the Ruiz-Holyfield winner or risk being stripped of the WBC title.