King gave Rahman (35-2, 29 knockouts) a $5 million signing bonus during a meeting in a New York hotel Friday morning, reportedly in the form of a $4.5 million check and $500,000 in cash, as part of a deal worth up to $75 million if Rahman wins four consecutive bouts.
The move by Rahman, who denied receiving the $500,000 cash portion of the bonus, ended a fierce bidding war between Showtime and HBO and sparked three lawsuits.
Rahman eschewed a guaranteed $20 million from Showtime to fight Mike Tyson (48-3, 42 KOs), and a guaranteed $17 million from HBO for a rematch with Lennox Lewis (38-2-1, 29 KOs). Rahman's fifth-round knockout of Lewis on April 21 in South Africa earned him the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles.
"Showtime and HBO fumbled the ball," said Rahman, a devout Muslim who will be joined by his trainer, Adrian Davis, when he leaves for a pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) today. "The position I'm in with Don is not a position where he can take advantage of me. I made my deal out of a position of strength. I'm not this poor, little guy. I'm in a power position."
Rahman's deal is expected to earn $5 million for his first defense on Aug. 4 against Denmark's Brian Nielsen (61-1, 43 KOs) on the undercard of the John Ruiz-Evander Holyfield World Boxing Association title fight in Beijing.
A win over Nielsen would set up a $15 million unification bout against the Ruiz-Holyfield winner, after which King hopes to match Rahman against either Lewis or Tyson for $20 million or $30 million, respectively.
U.S. District Court Judge Miriam Cedarbaum will hear arguments tomorrow in New York from attorneys representing Rahman's former promoter, Cedric Kushner; Lions Promotions (Lewis' co-promoter with Main Events); and Tyson. All three want to block the Nielsen fight. The judge has promised a trial for the first week of June.
"They're looking to stop Aug. 4. [But] Don King has agreed in writing to indemnify our side," said Steve Nelson, Rahman's co-manager, along with Stan Hoffman.
Peter Flemming, King's attorney, will contend his client's contract is "valid and enforceable."
Judd Burstein, attorney for Lions Promotions, is suing Rahman for breach of contract.
"The court can't force the fight, but it can rule he can't fight anyone else, the theory being he'll live up to his contractual obligations," Burstein said.
Kushner's attorney, Richard Edlin, said his client has a valid contract with Rahman because Kushner paid Hoffman the $75,000 required to renew Rahman's contract after the Lewis fight. Kushner agreed to pay Hoffman upon returning from South Africa, and said Hoffman signed a document upon being paid.
But Nelson said Kushner's contract expired because he didn't pay before Rahman fought Lewis.
"Cedric knows that the due date for the $75,000 was April 12. He makes that concession in his court papers," Nelson said. "He did not try to tender the $75,000 - and we have this in writing - until April 24. He was advanced enough money from Lions Promotions prior to the bout to make the $75,000 payment - he just did not expect Rock to win."
Tyson, the WBC's No. 1 contender, also has filed suit against King, reportedly for $75 million. Tyson is due a mandatory title fight by Nov. 11.
"The contract between King and Rahman calls for Rahman to fight the Ruiz-Holyfield winner, which excludes a mandatory fight with Tyson on or before Nov. 11," said Dale Kinsella, Tyson's attorney.
But Nelson said Rahman-Tyson "doesn't have to happen in November. There's so much money around, it can be worked out."
Said Nelson: "We're confident the Kushner suit will be dismissed. We're not concerned about the Tyson suit, and there's no way the Aug. 4 fight [against Nielsen] can be stopped because the papers are clear that we're allowed an interim bout."
Rahman might have signed with HBO on May 8 if the network had delivered a reported $3.15 million signing bonus.
"The deal was: I sign the contract, they have the check. To me, that equates to cash and carry," Rahman said. "They presented me with the contract, and they didn't have the check. I had to explore other opportunities."
Later that evening, Rahman met with Tyson's adviser, Shelly Finkel, then with King. Finkel said he offered Rahman a $5 million signing bonus and $15 million more to fight Tyson. He also said Rahman was "given the option" to be a free agent if he beat Tyson.
King made an offer that night, and another, two days later.
"HBO was negotiating for Lewis, Showtime was doing it for Tyson," Rahman said. "Don King had an opportunity to get another portion of the title, the WBA, which HBO and Showtime didn't have."