After two hours of arguments yesterday, a U.S. District Court judge in New York set a June 11 trial date for separate lawsuits filed by boxer Lennox Lewis and promoter Cedric Kushner against heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman of Baltimore and promoter Don King, with whom Rahman signed a deal last weekend.
Judge Miriam Cedarbaum threw out a third lawsuit filed by former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
Lewis, through Lions' Promotions, co-promoter with Main Events, alleges breach of contract against Rahman, claiming he violated a rematch clause with Lewis by signing a four-fight deal worth $75 million with King that would exclude the ex-champion as his first title defense.
Kushner is suing Rahman, alleging breach of contract, as well as King, claiming that he illegally coerced Rahman into a deal with a $5 million signing bonus while the local fighter was still under contract.
Although Cedarbaum will hear both cases on the same date, she may rule separately in each case.
Despite the trial date, Joseph Pizzuro, an attorney for King, claimed victory, because the judge did not grant the opposition's request for an immediate injunction.
The injunction would have prevented Rahman from signing for a $5 million fight with Denmark's Brian Nielsen on Aug. 4 in Beijing on the undercard of a World Boxing Association heavyweight title fight between champion John Ruiz and Evander Holyfield. An injunction also would have prevented King from promoting the Rahman-Nielsen fight.
"They wanted a permanent injunction, which the court denied until the case," Pizzuro said. "They wanted interim relief, and the judge refused to grant that. They wanted a trial as an alternative, a trial on Monday [May 21], and the judge denied that and set a schedule for June 11-12 with a possible hiatus until June 18."
Pat English, an attorney for Main Events and Lewis, also was pleased with the outcome.
"The judge, despite arguments from the King camp as to why this matter should be delayed, made it completely clear that she's not going to delay it," said English. "She will reach the final resolution on the rematch clause and separately on the Cedric Kushner claims against Rahman and King."
Lewis was also happy that a trial date has been set.
"I am extremely pleased that Judge Cedarbaum is providing me with the opportunity to prove that Rahman has to give me the rematch," Lewis said in the statement. "I gave him the chance of a lifetime, and he then refused to live up to his end of the bargain. Obviously, he is afraid to fight me, because that will be the end of what will turn out to be a very short gravy train."
Rahman could not be reached for comment. Rahman, a devout Muslim, and trainer Adrian Davis departed for a one-week pilgrimage to Mecca on Thursday.
Rahman's attorney for yesterday's hearing, Michael Armstrong, said he was not retained until Thursday and that he was still familiarizing himself with the case's specifics. However, Rahman's deal with King assures compensation for legal expenses.
Kushner's claim rests heavily on a $75,000 fee that was to be paid to Rahman before the April 21 fight in South Africa in which Rahman upset Lewis to win the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles.
Steve Nelson, Rahman's co-manager, says Rahman's contract expired, because Kushner failed to pay the $75,000 by the due date, April 12. Kushner says he had an agreement with Rahman's other co-manager, Stan Hoffman, to pay the $75,000 fee after returning from South Africa. Kushner says he has documentation signed by Hoffman that he received the $75,000 on April 24, extending Rahman's contract.
"I suppose we'll have to wait a couple of weeks to get the legal opinion and the judge's decision, but I know for sure that there are people that were led to believe that I had not paid the $75,000 that now know the truth," said Kushner.
Kushner strongly denied claims by Nelson that he "did not try to tender the $75,000."
"Absolutely not true," said Kushner. "Steve Nelson is Stan Hoffman's messenger boy. He has no formal standing with Rahman, and therefore, there was no reason for me to have any dialogue with him. More importantly at Mr. Hoffman's insistence [Kushner says he was told by Hoffman] not to discuss any business matters pertaining to Rahman with him."
English said Cedarbaum "threw out" a reported $75 million lawsuit by Tyson. As the No. 1 contender for the World Boxing Council belt held by Rahman, Tyson asserted that he was owed a bout with Rahman before a rematch with Lewis.
"Technically, the judge asked Tyson to watch from the sidelines by way of his litigation until the June 11 trial is over," said Dale Kinsella, Tyson's attorney. "The rulings that she makes may or may not affect what Mike does."