Boxing: Lewis v Holyfield unification bout proposed for April

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The Independent Online
Boxing's long-awaited heavyweight showdown between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield may happen as soon as April - if the sport's television paymasters can cut a deal. Ken Jones reports.

The key to a contest between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis that would produce an undisputed heavyweight champion is held by Seth Abraham, the chief executive of Time Warner Sports and its cable subsidiary, Home Box Office.

The result of negotiations that lasted for 14 hours at the offices of Holyfield's promoter, Don King, on Sunday, and involved five attorneys, is that Holyfield will put up the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation championships against Lewis's World Boxing Council version - if Abraham thinks that the fight is financially viable.

Bearing in mind that Holyfield would be paid $25m (pounds 15.4m) against the $12m Lewis has agreed to, Abraham must investigate the possibility that the contest would be attractive enough at a price of around $50m to bring in a million subscribers.

This was hinted at yesterday when Lewis's principal promoter, Panos Eliades, said: "We've agreed to terms and entered into a contract. Now Don King [whose cut would come out of Holyfield's purse] has to agree with Holyfield to accept the balance available."

More important is the possibility that, in order to get the contest, HBO might be prepared to take a loss based on the fact that its chief rivals, Showtime, dropped around $10m on the recent contest between Holyfield and Michael Moorer. The experience emphasised that Holyfield is still not a big attraction, while Lewis has yet to become big box office.

A date, 25 April, has been set tentatively for the fight to take place in Las Vegas, although pending negotiations with three casinos, Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand and the Mirage, could bring it forward a week.

Eliades added that the winner would defend against Mike Tyson later this year if an indefinite suspension imposed on the former undisputed champion for biting Holyfield's ear last June is lifted after 12 months.

The difficulty there is that Tyson is locked into a contract with Showtime, who are closely associated with King. It means that HBO cannot base their estimate on the notion of pulling in Tyson to fight the winner between Holyfield and Lewis - which would generate more money than any fight in history.

Meanwhile, Lewis is happy with the way things are progressing. "I'm pleased that a deal has been done," he said yesterday, "but, like all things in boxing, I'll believe it's happening when I stand face to face with Holyfield in Las Vegas."

In fact, Holyfield could still decide that it makes more sense to take a mandatory defence against Britain's Henry Akinwande, rather than risk the $40m he could get for a third fight against Tyson.