WBC News (10/7)

Regarding the events of the last several months that forced Mike Tyson to relinquish the WBC heavyweight world title and the WBC to withdraw its recognition of him as champion, WBC president Jose Sulaiman issued this statement:

"The following is a brief report to put into perspective the recent years, and recent events, of the heavyweight division in the WBC.

"After Mike Tyson lost the championship to Buster Douglas in February, 1990, the WBC ordered a mandatory defense between the new champion and No. 1 ranked Evander Holyfield with the condition, due to the controversial circumstances of the Tyson vs Douglas fight, that the winner fight Tyson next. After nearly two years as the No. 1 contender without receiving an opportunity to fight for the title, Tyson signed to fight Holyfield, but the fight was cancelled when Tyson suffered a rib injury. Before they could fight, and while he was still the No. 1 ranked official challenger to the title, Tyson was imprisoned, and only then taken out of the WBC ratings.

"While he was incarcerated, the WBC ordered a title eliminator between No. 1 ranked Razor Ruddock and No. 2 ranked Riddick Bowe, which was accepted by both in writing. After making such commitment, Bowe decided to pull out of the agreement and instead fight Pierre Coetzer of South Africa. The WBC then ordered the eliminator to be between Ruddock and No. 3 ranked Lennox Lewis, with the winner to be the official challenger for the world championship; Lewis won the fight. Main Events, who had the promotional rights to Holyfield, informed the WBC that Holyfield would not fight Lewis because he did not have a marketable name, but would fight Bowe instead. The Holyfield vs Bowe fight was authorized by the WBC with the condition that the winner fight Lewis. Bowe won the title, but instead of honoring his written agreement to fight Lewis, he refused to pay the WBC sanctioning fee and threw the championship belt into a London waste basket.

"The WBC proclaimed Lewis the heavyweight champion of the world. His first defense was against mandatory challenger Tony Tucker, which earned him approximately $10 million, the largest purse of his career. He lost the title when he was knocked out by Oliver McCall in the second round in September, 1994. At the WBC convention in Sevilla in November, he requested an immediate rematch, which was denied. He was going to be rated No. 6 or 7, but was finally rated No. 2. An elimination bout against Lionel Butler was approved, to prove his merits after his dramatic knockout loss. In Sevilla, the WBC voted to allow champion McCall two voluntary title defenses, the first in January or February, the second in March or April. These dates were postponed, due to McCall's unavailability, to April and September, when he lost the title to Frank Bruno. Also in Sevilla, the WBC voted unanimously, excepting three abstentions, to approve Tyson, upon his release from prison, as the No. 1 ranked contender and official challenger, which was exactly his previous position. The WBC was criticized for this by some in the press in the United States and Great Britain. In the days preceding his fight with Butler, Lennox Lewis started a campaign of slanderous and offending statements against the WBC, and called the WBC officers 'racketeers and politicians.' Lewis went on to defeat Butler, and Tyson had two ten-round fights.

"At the 1995 WBC convention in Chiang Mai, Frank Bruno requested, in compliance with WBC rules, that his next defense be against No. 1 challenger Tyson. The WBC approved his request, with the winner of the fight commited to fight Lewis in or about September, 1996. In response to this WBC ruling, Lewis sued the WBC and Bruno in the High Court of England in order to stop the fight. The High Court dismissed Lewis' lawsuit against the WBC, and ordered Lewis to pay the WBC's and Bruno's legal costs in defending the lawsuit. Lewis' representatives then took their case to the county court in Passaic, New Jersey, seeking to enjoin the WBC from sanctioning the Tyson vs Bruno fight as a WBC championship event. On March 15, 1996, the county court judge declined to do so. Nevertheless, he ordered that Mike Tyson could not fight and Don King could not promote any championship fight that did not include Lennox Lewis. The judge ruled that the WBC could not declare the title vacant, or sanction any other heavyweight championship fight. In effect, the judge ruled that Tyson could have no other plans to continue his great boxing career except to reach an agreement with Lewis. (Ironically, the county court judge also ruled that the WBC and Bruno could not recover their legal costs incurred in the British litigation.) Tyson won the title from Bruno on March 16, and planned to next fight Bruce Seldon.

"Later, Seldon and his promoters filed a motion before the county court judge requesting permission to fight Tyson in accordance with the terms of a contract that been entered into by Tyson and Seldon prior to the court's May 15 ruling. Inexplicably, the county court judge refused to do so. In May, 1996, Tyson and Lewis entered into an agreement to settle the litigation pending in Passaic County. Under the agreement, Lewis agreed to accept $4 million to step aside and allow the Tyson vs Seldon fight, but Tyson had to relinquish the WBC title afterwards. The agreement also said that the WBC could not sanction the fight (I would like to note this greedy agreement, which has no reason or explanation). Tyson caught the flu and the fight was moved to September. The WBC signed the Lewis-Tyson agreement in the spirit of cooperation in order to solve this unbelieveable mess. Without being invited to participate in the decision, we signed the agreement which made us a great loser - we did not sanction the fight, and lost one of the greatest champions that the WBC has ever had, a real source of pride for us. The WBC has stood by Tyson throughout his career, as we have for all boxers, through all difficult situations.

"The WBC was informed later that promoter Don King and Lewis representative Panos Eliades had reached an agreement for the Tyson vs Lewis fight. The fight was to be held in March, 1997, and would have paid Lewis $15-18 million (which included the step-aside fee for the Seldon and Holyfield fights). We were also informed that this agreement could not be finalized because the HBO network had an exclusive promotional deal with Lewis, and would not accept the fight unless Lewis was to fight Riddick Bowe first, another fighter promoted exclusively by HBO, and fulfill other commitments.

"Consequently, the Tyson vs Seldon fight was held and the WBC was later informed by Tyson's attorneys that he would relinquish the WBC title, to our extreme disappointment and sadness. The WBC Board of Governors voted, very reluctantly, to vacate the heavyweight title. No one on the Board could accept or understand why Tyson's championship was lost on the desk of a judge rather than in the ring. The WBC will always profoundly suffer due to this decision, which we consider a miscarriage of justice and an insult to the sport of boxing.

"It's very ironic that while Lewis sought an opportunity to fight Tyson, and succeeded in forcing him to relinquish the title due a court's ruling, he apparently never had the ability to accept the fight because of his exclusive promotional agreement with HBO."

The purse offer for the vacant WBC heavyweight title fight between Lewis and McCall was held at the WBC offices in Mexico City on September 26, and was attended by representatives of the bidding promoters as well as a large number of reporters from different newspapers and news agencies.

Don King Productions, representated by attorney Alfonso Gonzalez Uribe, won with a bid of $9,152,990. Main Events, represented by Frank Maloney and Michael Koribianics, bid $6,151,000, and Cedric Kushner Promotions, by confidential fax, bid $5,206,000.

The winner of the fight, in accordance with WBC rules and regulations, must make his first defense against the WBC's No. 1 ranked official challenger, who will be designated at the upcoming convention in Buenos Aires.

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