New Jersey and California are the leading candidates to host the orphaned Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight, now that Nevada has closed its doors to the troubled Tyson.
Citing Tyson's checkered past in and out of the ring, five members of the Nevada Athletic Commission voted 4-1 Jan. 29 to deny Tyson his boxing license, placing HBO Pay-Per-View and Showtime Event Television's plans for the pay-per-view megafight in limbo. Executives from both sides, though, expressed cautious optimism that the April 6 fight could still be salvaged.
Showtime and HBO — which, in an industry first, are co-promoting the fight — are looking at "several" other venues for the event, originally set for Las Vegas. Both companies were optimistic Tyson would be licensed, despite the ugly melee that took place between the two fighters during the Jan. 22 press conference announcing the bout.
But the Nevada commission — considering Tyson's actions at the press conference, at which he also verbally assaulted a reporter, as well as past incidents — denied the request after a nearly three-hour hearing last Tuesday.
The commission also turned down a last-minute ploy by Tyson's lawyers to withdraw the license request, so the fighter could apply in another state without the stigma of Nevada's rejection.
Showtime executive vice president of corporate strategy and communications Mark Greenberg said he was disappointed in the commission's decision, but fell short of criticizing the verdict. The companies are now looking at "several options" for fight venues in the U.S. and abroad, he said, but would not reveal further details.
Sources said Los Angeles' Staples Center and New Jersey's Meadowlands Sports Complex are the frontrunners, however.
Even if a deal for a new site can be signed, the bout must still clear a number of hurdles. Lewis, who holds the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Association heavyweight belts, has yet to decide whether he still wants to fight Tyson.
Lewis, who claims Tyson bit him during the press-conference brawl, said in a statement that he wants to "consider carefully the reasons expressed by the commission in denying the license" before determining whether to go on with the bout.
Both Showtime and HBO would also have to restructure the economic terms of the fight. Based on a multimillion dollar upfront guarantee from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, the fighters were expected to receive about $17 million apiece. But it's doubtful that another venue would ante up as much, thereby jeopardizing the fighters' purses, sources said.
HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg said he was not "overly confident" that the obstacles facing the fight will be resolved in time for the April 6 date, although the company is still working toward that goal.
"Given the realities of where everything sits at this moment, I'm guarded in my optimism for a positive outcome," Greenburg said.
The industry had been awaiting the event, which would have surely lifted the PPV boxing category from the doldrums of previous years. The category generated just $93 million in 2001, compared with $116 million in 2000 and $219 million in 1999.