BBC in ring with the 'bad guy' of boxing

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The Independent Online

At a time when professional boxing faces worldwide condemnation because of the behaviour of the former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, the BBC is negotiating with the controversial American promoter Don King to stage a series of fights in this country.

It is a move which, in the present climate, is certain to cause disquiet, although it is endorsed by the director-general, Greg Dyke, a boxing enthusiast and one-time ringside reporter.

Although the BBC insists no final deal has been struck, boxing sources say five dates have been offered to Mr King. The first of these will go ahead on Tuesday 12 February, when the British heavyweight whom he promotes and manages, Danny Williams, from Brixton, will defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Londoner Keith Long at the York Hall, Bethnal Green.

As Mr King does not have a licence to promote in this country, he will be represented by TKO promotions, a company run by Eugene Maloney, brother of Frank Maloney, who managed the present world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis until their recent acrimonious split.

Last night, Frank Maloney said he understood that five dates had been offered to Mr King by the BBC for the exclusive use of his fighters in this country.

This was denied by the BBC, whose head of boxing strategy, Mike Lewis, told The Independent on Sunday: "There is no five-fight deal." However, he agreed that there were "ongoing discussions" and that there would be further talks with him when the 70-year-old promoter arrives here next month for the York Hall fight.

It is likely that an agreement will be reached for the BBC, which returned to the big-time boxing arena last year after a long absence with the exclusive signing of the Olympic super-heavyweight champion Audley Harrison, to present Don King's fighters in a series of UK promotions.

Britain's leading promoter, Frank Warren, expressed surprise at the liaison. "You wonder why they seem so keen to get into bed with Don King. In the past I have offered them the use of several of my fighters, including a brilliant world champion, Joe Calzaghe, but they are not interested."

The York Hall tournament will be the first to be televised on a weekday by the BBC for years. It is currently taking a battering because of its £1m, 10-fight deal with Harrison, who has fought only three times since turning professional a year ago, and failed to impress. The calibre of his opposition has been questioned and he has been injury-prone. He is expected to have his next fight for the BBC in April.

Mr King, a multi-millionaire who served a four-year jail term for manslaughter, has a certain notoriety as a promoter, being accused by several of his former fighters – including Tyson – of ripping them off financially. But a BBC insider said: "No one here sees any problem in dealing with Don King, who is an established international promoter."

He has no connection with the proposed Lewis-Tyson bout, which is now in jeopardy after Tyson's outburst at their New York confrontation last week. Tyson appears before the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Tuesday in support of his application for the renewal of his licence to box in Las Vegas, where the $100m fight is scheduled to be held on 6 April.

Although the commission is said to be reluctant to sanction the fight, because of Tyson's apparent mental instability and possible impending charges of sexual assault, it is under considerable pressure from the Las Vegas casino owners and business community following the recession that has hit the gambling citadel since 11 September.

And yesterday, the World Boxing Council, whose title Lewis holds, said it would approve the fight even if it was vetoed by the Nevada Commission, enabling it to be held elsewhere if necessary. This could be New York, where last week the WBC president Jose Sulaiman was knocked unconscious in the platform brawl sparked off by Tyson. "This fight will be sanctioned by our organisation in any city or any country where it is held," said Mr Sulaiman. The WBC stands to receive a hefty sanction fee from the fight.

Despite the rekindled enthusiasm for boxing, it appears that should it take place, the BBC will not bid for the British rights of the Lewis-Tyson bout. The BBC is concerned that using licence-payers' money would create too much negative publicity and this would be a fight too far. In any case, it is unlikely the BBC's coffers would be deep enough to outbid Sky.

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