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International: Showtime, HBO ready to rumble

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International: Showtime, HBO ready to rumble

Both AOL Time Warner's HBO and Viacom's Showtime have lowered the gloves, so to speak, and agreed to an unprecedented joint production of the pay-per-view event. It's as if Coke and Pepsi suddenly joined forces on a new drink.

HBO and Showtime are jointly marketing the fight as "Lewis-Tyson Is On." The message: Here is the bout the public has thirsted for. Lewis twice lost his title and Tyson's legal problems had delayed the event.

The fight promotions share the logos of both networks, but the telecast itself will be non-branded. The nets declined to specify an ad budget.

Much of the credit goes to HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg and Showtime's executive voce president of corporate strategy and communication, Mark Greenberg, friends from their days at HBO before Greenberg left for Showtime in 1989.

When Lewis said his legacy as the best fighter of his era wouldn't be complete without beating Tyson, Greenburg realized he needed to make a deal with his Showtime counterpart. There was no way the fight could come off unless an agreement was reached. Lewis is contractually obligated to fight on HBO. Tyson has a similar arrangement with Showtime. Neither side was willing to let its fighter appear on the other network.

But half the pie is better than no pie at all. Financially, the fight is already a windfall. The telecast will cost an all-time boxing pay-per-view high of $54.95, and experts expect it to break the $100 million sales record set by the second Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight in 1997. The networks will split revenue 50-50, except the loser's network gets $3 million extra to compensate for the fact the winner's network will later run the bout.

In fact, call this a one-night stand. Four times in the last six weeks, HBO and Showtime have counter-programmed each other's boxing shows, forcing fight fans who subscribe to both cable networks to go 12 rounds with the remote control. For this one event, however, the co-op effort appears to be working.


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