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Fighting Over Staples' Hot Date

Arum and Goossen both want to stage cards Oct. 4 in L.A., and neither seems willing to budge.

June 28, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Since Staples Center opened, it has struggled to get fights. This week, the struggle has been between two promoters who both want the arena Oct. 4.

Bob Arum and Dan Goossen are after that date, Goossen to stage a nontitle heavyweight bout between Evander Holyfield and James Toney, Arum for what was to have been Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales III. Instead, it may be Morales and Barrera fighting other opponents, or Morales without Barrera altogether if Barrera remains embroiled in a legal dispute with his former promoter, John Jackson.

Caught in the middle are the two major pay-per-view outlets. Showtime has the rights to Holyfield-Toney and HBO has a deal with Arum.

Staples Center President Tim Leiweke is negotiating with both Goossen and Arum but also remains interested in a Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko rematch, which could be held in December. A source close to Lewis, however, told Staples Center officials that the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion has soured on L.A. because he was booed last Saturday when his fight against Klitschko was being stopped because of a deep cut over Klitschko's left eye. Although the decision went to Lewis, Klitschko drew the cheers.

"We are interested in all three fights," Leiweke said.

"Oct. 4 is our date," Arum said by phone from Puerto Rico, where he has a card tonight. "We had that date first. We are going to dig our heels in and stick to that date. To go with the other show, we think, would say that Hispanic fighters don't matter. They do matter. We want to go on that date, Tim Leiweke wants to go on that date and I hope we can finalize it this week."

Holyfield, a four-time heavyweight champion, has been guaranteed $5 million to fight Toney, the International Boxing Federation cruiserweight champion, who will get $3 million to move up to heavyweight. To make a profit, Goossen would need a site fee of $4-5 million, according to Arum.

"I may have to come to Bob for a loan," Goossen said sarcastically, adding, "I saw Bob lose millions on fights when I worked [for Arum's Top Rank Boxing Organization].

"Arum always does his rain dance on other promoters' fights, hoping they will get rained out. That's what he gets his pleasure out of. I told James that Evander will try to rip his head off and he understands that. I knew Bob would try to rip my head off. The difference is, James and Evander will have a referee to watch out for low blows, while I don't have one watching out for me.

"Look, I have fully executed agreements with all parties and we are going ahead with this fight 100%. I will get a site in the next five or six days."

Both promoters want their fight on the first weekend in October, before postseason baseball heats up, but Arum said he could move to Oct. 11 if necessary. Both promoters have also been talking to Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center, and Goossen hasn't ruled out an East Coast site.

Staples remains the hot site, even though only 7,466 of an announced crowd of 15,939 paid full price for tickets to Lewis-Klitschko last week.

Leiweke escaped unscathed financially because he'd pulled out his site fee when Lewis' first opponent, Kirk Johnson, dropped off the card. Considering that the live gate for last week's card, with $950 ringside seats, was slightly more than $2.5 million and prices for Holyfield-Toney figure to be much lower, Leiweke isn't expected to offer a big site fee for Oct. 4. Arum could live with that because his total guarantee for both sides in a Morales fight would be less than $2 million. A low site fee could hurt Holyfield-Toney.

"I would rather be looking for a site than looking for a fight," Goossen said, referring to the uncertainty over the Arum card.

That uncertainty was caused by Barrera's recent move from Jackson and former manager Ricardo Maldonado to Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. Stephen Espinoza, attorney for both Barrera and De La Hoya, maintains the split is a done deal and the only issue is whether Barrera ended his contracts with Jackson and Maldonado "fairly or unfairly." If it was done unfairly, Espinoza said, there will be financial damages.

Jackson, however, isn't letting go easily. He has a contract with Barrera and HBO that could prevent the cable network from showing Barrera's fights until the issue is resolved.

"It's in court now," Jackson said. "Everything is in the hands of my lawyers."

Would he try to prevent Barrera from fighting on Oct. 4? "I assume we will," Jackson said.

If Barrera is kept out of the ring, Arum says, he won't be dissuaded from going on with Morales and a credible opponent.

"That sounds like a real big winner," said Goossen, maintaining the sarcasm. "I'm standing in line to buy that pay-per-view right now."

Mark Taffet, HBO senior vice president, sees no sense in two pay-per-view shows going head to head.

"If Bob Arum wants to continue to pursue Oct. 4, then Bob Arum is going to do that and that's where all the fun starts," Taffet said. "It is never our preference to have two pay-per-view shows on the same night. It makes no sense. Usually, calmer heads prevail.

"The question is whether Holyfield-Toney can find an appropriate site that can support the purses of the two fighters. There is only a short window of opportunity for that to happen."

If it does happen, it appears that Holyfield-Toney will get Oct. 4 and Arum will stage his show a week later.

Leiweke appears to hold the cards in this high-stakes game, the same man who, when the Lewis fight appeared on the verge of collapse a few weeks ago, cashed in his chips.

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