Fresh off signing World Boxing Council heavyweight champion
Lennox Lewis to a long-term deal, Time Warner Sports offered International Boxing
Federation and World Boxing Association champion Evander Holyfield $20 million to fight
Lewis sometime in December.
"We've secured a site and made a guarantee to
Holyfield for $20 million," said Mark Taffet, senior vice president of programming
operations for Time Warner Sports. "We felt that we needed to present the entire
package [to Holyfield] so that we can make the fight. It's the fight that the public
wants to see and that the sport needs."
Holyfield, however, may not be able to take the offer. The
fighter is promoted by Don King, and he has a distribution deal with HBO rival Showtime
Networks Inc. The two sides have clashed before over purse and distribution issues.
Jay Larkin, vice president of sports and event programming
for HBO, said Holyfield is still under contract to fight Henry Akinwande. The two were
scheduled to fight June 6, but the bout was canceled after Akinwande was stricken with
hepatitis. If Akinwande can clear a battery of tests this week, the fight could be
rescheduled for late August.
Larkin, however, said Showtime would not stand in the way
of a Holyfield-Lewis bout if Holyfield wants the fight.
"We are in a business-driven environment, and we make
our deals within a business environment, not an ego environment," he said.
The offer matches the figure that Holyfield asked for when
the two fighters failed to negotiate a unification bout earlier this year, but Time Warner
would not guarantee the money. At the time, the company was in talks with Lewis to renew a
long-term deal that expired this summer.
But with a long-term agreement in hand -- which will keep
the London-based fighter on HBO and TVKO through 2000 -- the network felt compelled to try
to set up the Holyfield fight, despite the potential of losing money.
Lewis' first fight is expected to air on HBO Sept. 26,
against No. 1 contender Zeljko Mavrovic.