Money talks - but not to Bruno

Harry Mullan believes Britain's world champion has sold himself short
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The Independent Online
AS MIKE Tyson learned to his cost in Tokyo six years ago, disputes outside the ring can damage a champion just as effectively as the best- delivered left hook. He fought Buster Douglas with his mind elsewhere, distracted by the chaos into which his life was collapsing at the time, and was flattened in the 10th round in the biggest upset in heavyweight history.

Frank Bruno's obvious unhappiness with the financial arrangements for his WBC title defence against Tyson in Las Vegas on 16 March could have an equally demoralising effect, even though the pounds 4m he is guaranteed ought to be enough to ensure his financial future. The champion, who is self- managed, accepted promoter Don King's offer (which was inclusive of television revenue) only to find that the decision to make this the test run for pay-per-view in Britain will generate millions which were not included in his calculations. Sky's announcement had suddenly tossed a lot more money into the pot - and none of it was going to Bruno.

Sky executives claim 10 million subscribers, and are surely being overly cautious when they predict a five per cent take-up for the fight. Considering that they estimate around 80 per cent of their subscribers watched Bruno win the title from Oliver McCall in September 1995, and given the blizzard of hyperbole to which we will be subjected in the next few weeks, one would have expected the take-up to be nearer 50 per cent. But even on their own figures, five per cent represents additional revenue of pounds 4,975,000 - and that is making the unlikely assumption that all those 500,000 subscribers pay before 1 March. Latecomers will have to find an extra fiver.

Nigel Benn, who defends his WBC super-middleweight title against the 36-year-old South African Sugar Boy Malinga at Newcastle Arena on Saturday, will watch developments in the Bruno affair with a close personal interest, since he and Naseem Hamed are two of the few British fighters with the potential to persuade armchair punters to pay to watch them in action.

Saturday's fight, screened by Sky at no extra charge, should be a routine victory: although Malinga gave him a desperately close fight in 1992, that was only a 10-rounder and in boxing, more than any other sport, four years is a long time.

For Benn, a close friend and training companion of Bruno, the golden handshake will come in championship unification matches against WBO title- holder Steve Collins of Ireland or the man whom even Benn acknowledges is No 1, America's IBF champion Roy Jones. Benn insists he will retire this year, but for the 22-year-old Hamed the future is unlimited. His earning potential, given a fair slice of the pay-per-view action, is enormous. His first involvement may be against IBF champion Tom Johnson of the United States, who also defends his title on the Newcastle bill, but the real pay off could come in a super-featherweight title challenge against the ageing, but still magnificent, Azumah Nelson of Ghana later this year.

Frank Warren, who promotes all three and is King's associate, describes pay-per-view as "a gamble". If all gambles were as safe, Las Vegas would become a ghost town inside a week.

The only loser in all this is Bruno. Whatever the moral obligations, there is no legal requirement for King to pay him any more than the contracted figure. Bruno signed the deal, after all, although he must have been aware of the widespread speculation within the industry that this would be the first pay-per-view experiment.

A more robust negotiator could have held out for a clause covering that option, perhaps based on a percentage of the extra revenue generated. But even his basic fee of pounds 4m raised a few eyebrows amongst men with more experience in making the tough deals. British rival Lennox Lewis wrung almost pounds 6m out of the same promoter for a much easier defence against Tony Tucker in Las Vegas three years ago. Maybe before signing away a fortune Bruno should have reflected on the old legal maxim that he who represents himself has a fool for a client.