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Memphis emerges as fight site favorite, but DC still in running

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Memphis emerged as a favorite Tuesday to land the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fight, following a two-day visit by promoters that left the city's mayor excited about the possible June 8 bout.

Tyson manager Shelly Finkel said meetings with arena officials, local politicians and casino executives convinced him the fight could be held in Tennessee.

"It's been good," Finkel said. "There have been no negatives."

Finkel, though, said Washington, D.C., is still in the running, and that Detroit has an outside chance of landing the fight. He said the site would be announced by the end of the week.

"It's both cities, and Detroit is still pushing," Finkel said.

On Tuesday, Matt Resch, spokesman for Michigan Gov. John Engler, said the governor's office was informed by the Department of Consumer and Industry Services that Tyson's license had been renewed through August.

Finkel and Gary Shaw, head of Main Events, Lewis' New Jersey-based promoter, spent Monday and Tuesday in Memphis after abandoning an earlier meeting in Washington, D.C., on that city's bid for the fight. It was their second trip to Memphis in the last week.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said Tuesday he spent an hour with the fight promoters answering questions about security, hotel accommodations and airport connections. He said he came away from the meeting with high hopes the city will get the fight.

"I discerned the discussions were very serious and that Memphis was indeed under major consideration for this fight," Herenton said. "I think I gave them great confidence in our ability to handle the fight."

Washington, D.C., had been considered the front-runner for the fight, but promoters postponed a scheduled Friday meeting with operators of the MCI Center arena and haven't rescheduled it.

No one has come forth in the nation's capital to fund the $12.5 million site fee sought by promoters, though the city is considered attractive because those involved in the pay-per-view believe the fight would get more publicity and generate more sales in Washington, D.C., than in Memphis.

Finkel indicated Tuesday that casinos in nearby Tunica, Miss., would be involved in the fight if it were in Memphis, though he said they would not be putting up the site fee directly. Finkel and Shaw had been working with Brian Young, a small-time fight promoter from Nashville in trying to line up financing.

"It's not the casinos, per se," Finkel said.

Finkel said next Monday's deadline for finalizing the fight would be met. Lewis had extended the deadline until Monday, the same day the IBF says it will take its version of the title from Lewis if he doesn't have a title defense ready.

"We'll have a decision by the end of the week," Finkel said.

If the fight goes to Memphis it would be held at the Pyramid arena, where general manager Alan Freeman said it would seat about 20,000. Freeman said ringside tickets would probably be $2,500.

"It does sound like everybody's pretty positive this thing has got a good chance of happening," Freeman said. "All the major hurdles have been cleared. It's just a matter of fine tuning it now."

The fight would likely generate revenues of around $100 million from ticket sales and pay-per-view revenues, making it one of the biggest fights ever from a financial viewpoint.

But promoters have had problems getting someone to come up with an advance on the live gate, with Tyson's promoters at one point reportedly offering to guarantee the money if the fight were in Washington, D.C.

At a meeting last week in New York, representatives of the two sides argued for hours over details of the bout, and Lewis reportedly said he did not want to fight in Washington because it is a Tyson stronghold.

Lewis also reportedly asked for a guarantee he would get more money if Tyson fouled him, a request that was denied by the Tyson camp.

If the fight were held in Memphis, it would be at the Pyramid, which seats more than 20,000 for boxing.

Herenton, a former Golden Gloves fighter as an amateur himself, said the fight would provide a big economic boost for Memphis as well as make the city a name for itself in the sports world.

"It would certainly place Memphis on the national agenda for major sporting events," the mayor said. "This event would bring enormous visibility and attention to a great southern city."

The fight was originally set for Las Vegas, but Nevada boxing authorities in January rejected Tyson's bid for a boxing license following a press conference in New York where he and Lewis wrestled and threw punches.


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