Temporarily shut out of the heavyweight championship picture, rivals Time Warner Sports and Showtime Event Television are quietly negotiating a huge fall pay-per-view fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson.
Representatives from SET and TVKO would not comment on the matter, but sources close to the situation said executives from TVKO, the PPV arm of Time Warner Sports, and Viacom Inc.-owned SET are talking about pitting the two former champions in an August or September bout.
"It's in the early stages, and anything can happen, but they're talking," said the source.
For months, a pairing of the two heavyweight pugilists was a long shot. That's because Time Warner Sports, which has a contract with Lewis, and Tyson rightsholder SET were unwilling to compromise on an agreement.
But the landscape changed dramatically when promoter Don King signed current International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman to a multifight promotional deal. Rahman — who knocked out Lewis in April to win both titles — rebuffed a proposed $15 million deal from TVKO for a rematch with Lewis. He also turned down a $20 million deal from SET for a Tyson fight.
Instead, Rahman signed a $5 million deal with King to defend his crown against journeyman Brian Nielsen in China on Aug. 4. The fight is set for the undercard of the World Boxing Association title bout between champion John Ruiz and Evander Holyfield.
King has yet to secure a TV distribution deal for that event.
From there, King's game plan calls for Rahman to square off versus the winner of the Holyfield-Ruiz contest to unify the title, and then earn an eight-figure payday by tangling with either Lewis or Tyson sometime in 2002.
Without the championship belts on the line, a Lewis-Tyson fight lacks the high profile it would enjoy if Lewis still wore the crown. Nonetheless, industry observers predict the fight could generate from 800,000 to 1 million buys.
Meanwhile, the lighter weight classes continue to set the pace for the PPV boxing business. TVKO's May 12 Felix Trinidad-William Joppy junior middleweight championship fight generated around 300,000 buys, HBO senior vice president of sports operations Mark Taffet said. The buy-rate was comparable to TVKO's April 7 Prince Haseem Hamed-Marco Antonio Barerra matchup.
Trinidad's next fight is a Sept. 18 middleweight-championship unification PPV event against Bernard Hopkins.
"Given his last performance, September should provide a big payday for the PPV industry," Taffet said.