Memphis okays June 8 fight for Tyson-Lewis

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The Associated Press

MEMPHIS – Memphis wanted the attention, and Mike Tyson needed a place to fight.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

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MEMPHIS – Memphis wanted the attention, and Mike Tyson needed a place to fight. It took awhile, but the match was finally made.

Memphis ended up the winner in the bid to land Tyson’s fight with heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, getting a fight that Nevada rejected and several other states found objectionable.

One of the biggest fights ever was salvaged when promoters agreed Monday for Tyson and Lewis to meet for the heavyweight title. It’s not Las Vegas, but for Memphis it will be the big time.

”It certainly will boost the tourism awareness for that city,” said John Wade, Tennessee’s tourism commissioner.

A fight that could make more than $100 million – and pay each fighter more than $20 million – is now scheduled to take place at the 20,000-seat Pyramid arena, where ringside seats will fetch $2,500.

Weeks of trying to keep the fight alive culminated Monday in an agreement for Lewis to defend his IBF and WBC heavyweight titles against the once-feared former champion,

The fight is an intriguing matchup of boxer versus puncher, though it might have lost some of its appeal as the two boxers argued for years over whether they should meet, and Tyson has been largely inactive.

”We now have close to 11 weeks before the fight and I believe everything is fine,” Finkel said. ”Mike is ready to fight.”

The fight that was rejected by Nevada boxing officials after Tyson misbehaved at a January press conference ended up in Memphis after a road show in which it was shopped to various cities around the country.

In some cities – including Washington, D.C., and Detroit – it was welcomed. In others, politicians gave Tyson a chilly reception and suggested promoters look elsewhere.

Memphis landed it with promises of a $12.5 million site fee – not to mention a willingness to overlook Tyson antics that included a brawl and outburst at the January news conference first announcing the fight.

In return, the city hopes to gain a reputation as a major player in sports.

Those close to the negotiations said Memphis promoters still had not come up with the $12.5 million letter of credit and may not be involved with the fight. The money obstacle reportedly was overcome when Tyson’s camp agreed to take its money only after the Lewis camp was paid.

Promoters formally announced the fight Monday night, just before a deadline by the International Boxing Federation. The IBF gave Lewis until Monday to make the fight or else fight No. 1 contender Chris Byrd.

The much-shopped bout was in jeopardy as late as Friday when local promoters couldn’t come up with the site fee after a bank refused to issue a letter of credit because of ”moral issues.”

Production representatives of the HBO and Showtime networks were in Memphis on Monday to tour the Pyramid arena in advance of the pay-per-view telecast.

The fight originally was going to be April 6 in Las Vegas, but Nevada boxing authorities refused to give Tyson a boxing license after an outburst at a January press conference.

Finkel said the delay will help sell the fight because considerable publicity has been generated while the fight was being shopped around and negotiated.

”We’ve had a seven-week commercial basically since the press conference in New York,” Finkel said.

Tyson and Lewis each are reportedly guaranteed $17.5 million to fight for the IBF and WBC titles Lewis holds, and could earn millions more if the fight grabs the attention of the public.

Promoters also stand to make a bundle, with projections that the fight could gross $100 million from the site fee and pay-per-view sales.

The fight not only had to be made Monday to meet the IBF deadline, but it was also facing other deadlines. Cable operators needed to keep the date open, and organizers generally need at least two months to properly promote the fight.

Lewis (39-2-1, 30 KOs), last fought on Nov. 17 when he stopped Hasim Rahman in the fourth round of their rematch. Tyson (49-3, 2 NC, 43 KOs) hasn’t fought since beating Brian Nielsen in the seventh round on Oct. 13 in Copenhagen.