Purse-Fee Dispute Kills Holyfield-Lewis Bout

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The much-anticipated Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfieldpay-per-view unification bout has apparently been KO'd, with both fighters nowlooking at alternatives.

While it's unclear whether a spring Lewis fight wouldbe offered via PPV, sources said Showtime Networks Inc. wants to develop a Holyfield PPV-boxing event in April or May from South Africa, which could also include a musical concert.

Talks on a Lewis-Holyfield fight fell through late lastmonth (Dec. 24), after the two sides had initially reached a tentative agreement,according to sources close to the situation. The stumbling block seemed to be over highpurse fees, which PPV executives felt cannot be made up by PPV revenues.

Time Warner Sports, which would have distributed the event,said the overall purse for the bout -- including upfront guarantees for the fighters --would have forced the network to generate close to 1 million buys. Time Warner indicatedthat it was willing to accept a deal that would have made economic sense at more than550,000 buys, but fewer than 900,000 -- the mark reached by November's MichaelMoorer-Holyfield fight.

'We were unwilling to guarantee money well in excessof fights such as Holyfield-Riddick Bowe I and II, each of which did in excess of 900,000buys,' said Mark Taffet, senior vice president of TVKO. 'The terms wereunreasonable for this fight.'

Sources close to the situation also said that Time Warnerwould not make a deal unless it could have options on future Holyfield fights. PromoterDon King holds those rights, and he has a business arrangement with Time WarnerSports' rival, Showtime Event Television.

It's not surprising that Time Warner would be cautiousin guaranteeing upfront money for a Lewis-Holyfield fight. Although the unification boutis currently the most lucrative event in the heavyweight division, neither fighter is aproven PPV draw.

Sources said Holyfield is asking for upward of $20 millionfor the fight, with Lewis looking to pull some $10 million to $15 million.

Already in the hole for $30 million to $35 million beforemarketing and costs for the undercard, Time Warner would have to generate almost 1 millionbuys at $23 to $24 -- about one-half of the suggested $45 retail rate -- to generate aprofit.

With SET taking an estimated $10 million loss onNovember's Holyfield-Moorer event, and with neither fighter able to break 600,000buys without more marketable opponents -- such as the banned Mike Tyson, George Foreman orBowe -- Time Warner is not willing to go out on a big limb for the fight.

'This was the biggest fight in the heavyweightdivision for 1998, but we don't feel [that the deal] was an appropriate risk for theevent,' Taffet said.

Operators expressed disappointment, but they were notoverly surprised that a Lewis-Holyfield fight could not be set.

'I budgeted for a major heavyweight fight in the firsthalf of the year, so this is not good news,' said one top 10 operator, 'but,given the state of boxing today, I'm not surprised.'

Hugh Panero, president of Request Television, said thebreakdown in negotiations is indicative of a growing phenomenon in sports where the incomeexpectations of athletes has exceeded the overall revenue potential of the sport.

'Sports talent continues to push the envelope onsalaries and purses; there needs to be more leverage created so that the consumer can winout on this,' Panero said.

With the deal apparently dead, both fighters are looking atother opportunities for the first half of 1998. Sources close to the situation saidHolyfield may fight South African Frans Botha in the spring on PPV in a telecast thatwould also include a concert, marking the first combined boxing-music event.

Representatives from SET would not comment on the matterlast week.

Meanwhile, the Lewis camp is looking at a potential springfight against former heavyweight champion Buster Douglas or contender Shannon Briggs, whorecently won a controversial decision over George Foreman.

It's unclear whether the Briggs-Lewis fight wouldappear on PPV or Home Box Office, but Douglas promoter Bob Arum recently said thatLewis-Douglas would most likely be slated for PPV.

Even without Lewis-Holyfield, Panero said the PPV-boxingbusiness will continue to thrive, particularly with the continued development of Oscar DeLa Hoya and the potential reinstatement of Tyson, who was banned from the sport afterbiting Holyfield's ear during their June bout.