Boxing promoter Don King last week threw a wrench into what operators had hoped would be a resurgence of the pay-per-view heavyweight boxing category.
In an 11th-hour deal, King signed heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman to a multifight deal, usurping attempts by both TVKO and Showtime Event Television to set up lucrative PPV fights between Rahman and either Lennox Lewis or Mike Tyson, respectively.
Instead, King last week announced plans to showcase Rohman as part of his China-bound Aug. 4 heavyweight title fight card between Evander Holyfield and World Boxing Association champion John Ruiz.
"I want to unify the heavyweight division much like we're doing with the middleweights," King said, referring to the middleweight championship series that AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Time Warner Sports is currently distributing for pay-per-view. "We'll unify the title and take on all comers, and that includes Lewis and Tyson."
Rahman signed a $5 million deal to fight journeyman Brian Nielsen, said King. From there, Rahman would fight the winner of the Holyfield-Ruiz fight to unify the title.
If Rahman wins, the contract calls for him to earn upwards of $20 million to fight Lewis or $30 million to fight Tyson, sources said.
Rahman spurned more lucrative deals from both Showtime and HBO. Sources said TVKO offered the fighter as much as $17 million for a Lewis rematch, as well as millions more for future bouts, whether he won or lost.
Showtime reportedly offered Rahman $20 million to fight Tyson, also with options for future SET-distributed fights.
But King still faces several hurdles in carrying out his China plans. He has yet to secure a distributor for the event, and representatives from TVKO and SET said they are not currently in negotiations with King for the event.
At a prefight gathering for TVKO's May 12 Felix Trinidad-William Joppy PPV event, King said he is looking for a partner for the event and would be open to talking to Viacom Inc., AOL Time Warner Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. or News Corp.
King also hasn't secured the date with In Demand.
"There have been preliminary inquires on the date, but no deal specifics have been discussed," said In Demand senior vice president of programming and development Dan York.
King said In Demand won't allow him to secure the date and threatened to take legal action if the slot is given to another event distributor.
King also faces legal action from several other parties vying to stop the Rahman-Nielsen fight. Former Rahman promoter Cedric Kushner filed suit against King and Rahman for alleged breach of contract. Kushner claims Rahman is still under contract with him.
Lewis' promoters, Lions Promotions and Main Events, also filed a breach-of-contract suit, claiming the contract Rahman signed for the first fight compels him to grant Lewis an immediate rematch.
Tyson has also sued the pair for not immediately scheduling a bout with him. Two weeks ago, the WBC said Rahman must fight its No. 1 contender, Tyson, before he fights a rematch with Lewis, or he will be stripped of the belt.
In U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum was expected to hear arguments from all parties last Friday and set an official court date, most likely in early June, sources said.