HBO executive Seth Abraham had a simple plan. Backed by his company's money, he would stage a heavyweight unification boxing tournament and eliminate the alphabet confusion. No more separate WBA, WBC and IBF champions. Just simply a world champion.
Nice idea, but no way would it ever work, said people familiar with boxing. It's impossible to get the fragmented world of boxing to unify on anything, they said.
Still, a deal was signed on Jan. 17, 1986, that brought together the top heavyweights for a series of fights that supposedly would yield one heavyweight champion.
But the tournament, of course, didn't go according to plan. If it had, Mike Tyson would already have fought Michael Spinks for the unified title. And HBO would have scored a tremendous coup by cornering the biggest heavyweight fight of the decade.
Instead, Tyson will fight Tony Tucker in the culmination of the tournament Saturday night at Las Vegas.
But, still, there are those who are amazed the tournament went this far.
"Through nine fights, we survived the bickering, the lawsuits and the in-fighting," said Abraham, who oversees programming operations and sports for HBO. "I'm quite satisfied. The winner Saturday night will be the champion of all three of boxing's sanctioning bodies.
"I'm not trying to kid anyone. We would surely have preferred Tyson-Spinks to Tyson-Tucker. But we're still ending up with what we set out to accomplish, and that is staging a unified championship fight."
Tyson, who has a 30-0 record and 25 knockouts, is the World Boxing Assn. and World Boxing Council champion. Tucker, 35-0 with 29 knockouts, holds the International Boxing Federation title.
Spinks lost his IBF title when he bolted from the HBO tournament to fight Gerry Cooney. HBO went to court to stop the Spinks-Cooney fight and lost, but has appealed in an effort to collect damages.
HBO's coverage Saturday night will begin at 6:30, with the fight set for 6:53. Both fighters will be profiled before the fight, and the tournament will be reviewed. The announcers will be Barry Tompkins, Larry Merchant and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Add boxing: Presuming that Tyson beats Tucker, as he is favored to do, a Tyson-Spinks fight may still be a year away. Tyson plans to pick up some pocket change with a world tour before fighting Spinks. He has already been offered $10 million to fight a yet-to-be-determined opponent in Japan, according to Abraham.
When and if Tyson and Spinks do get together, the fight will be shown on pay-per-view television and in closed-circuit establishments, and the take may be close to the $60 million Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler drew in April.
Channel 2 is apparently very close to a deal with Jim Lampley.
A New York source said Thursday that the deal was complete, but Channel 2 spokeswoman Andi Sporkin said: "That news is premature."
Sporkin added that a decision on Jim Hill's replacement probably will be made early next week.
The New York source said Lampley will start at Channel 2 on Oct. 1 and will also take Hill's spot as a National Football League play-by-play announcer for CBS, meaning he will be teamed with Ken Stabler.
Hill's debut on Channel 7 Monday had its rough moments. During a live remote interview with Tom Lasorda on the 4 o'clock news, the Dodger manager's earplug malfunctioned, but not before he got in a dig.
"Jim, I knew you when you were poor," Lasorda said, referring to Hill's big-bucks contract with Channel 7.
Said Hill: "Tommy, as you know, you can't believe everything you read in the papers."
On the 11 o'clock news, after reporting that a three-way tie at the U.S. Women's Open had forced a playoff, Hill said that "tomorrow's playoff will be televised live at 1 p.m. right here on Channel 2 ."
It was only a matter of time before he made that understandable mistake. But, in this case, it was a double error because Channel 7 wound up not carrying ABC's coverage of the playoff.
A New York source said that CBS has signed Billy Cunningham to a one-year contract and that he may replace Tom Heinsohn.
The source said that Cunningham may be the network's No. 1 NBA commentator next season, then Julius Erving, if he's ready, would take over. Cunningham would be ineligible to continue because of his involvement as part owner of the new NBA franchise in Miami, which will begin playing in 1988-89.
Another source said that CBS is still trying to hire NBC's Marv Albert as its No. 1 play-by-play man on the NBA, but not until 1988. Albert has a year left on his NBC contract, and his current employer is negotiating to extend it.