Lawsuit Could Pay Back Fans KO’d By Holyfield-Tyson II - The Washington Times - April 22, 1998
Lawsuit Could Pay Back Fans KO’d By Holyfield-Tyson II
By: Thom Loverro
The Washington Times
April 22, 1998
If you paid to watch Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson II on June 28 and felt robbed when the fight ended on a Tyson disqualification in the third round, you may have a chance to take a bite out of Tyson, Don King and Showtime cable by getting your money back.
Las Vegas oddsmakers would call it a long shot, but a group of lawyers representing fight fans who purchased the pay-per-view telecast (a $50 charge in most cases) - a fight that ended when Tyson was disqualified in the third round for biting Holyfield twice - have filed a class-action lawsuit looking for payback.
The suit seeks damages against Tyson, King (the promoter of the fight) and Showtime (the cable channel that put on the pay-per-view event). It was the biggest pay-per-view event in history, with sales between 1.8 million and 1.9 million locations. The suit also seeks damages against others involved in the telecast, including Viacom, which owns Showtime.
If they are successful, it would send shock waves through the sports world, setting a precedent to hold athletes financially accountable for the outcome of events. For cable and pay-per-view operators, it would end an era of the buyer-beware freedom they have enjoyed.
"This would open up a huge Pandora's box," said Lawrence Weinstein, one of the lawyers representing Tyson in this case. "There has been no case in the history of sports in this country in which fans have been allowed to sue athletes on the basis of their performance or conduct in the boxing ring or playing field."
Because of that, Weinstein and lawyers representing King, Showtime and Viacom have filed motions to have the suit - certified in the state of New York - dismissed. A hearing on those motions is scheduled for today in the Supreme Court of New York.
Chicago attorney Kenneth Moll and the more than 30 law firms nationwide participating in this class-action suit - which includes anyone who paid to see the fight, regardless of whether they have been in touch with any of the attorneys in the case - believe otherwise. They say they have the case that will force athletes, promoters and cable operators to accept responsibility for events that fail to deliver as advertised.
"Nobody has ever challenged this," Moll said. "This is a precedent-setting case. Against Mike Tyson, our argument is our money went to pay to see a complete fight. Unintentional disqualifications, those happen. But an intentional act . . . it's a matter of intent, and because we can show that he intentionally did this, this is a good case to go ahead with."
Tyson was suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission for his actions, a ban that also was enforced throughout the country. He will be able to apply for reinstatement in July, and plans are in the works for Holyfield-Tyson III by spring 1999 if Tyson is reinstated.
Tyson was also fined the maximum allowed by Nevada regulations - $250,000 - but still managed to come away with an estimated $27 million payday. Moll said Tyson is their primary target.
"If we had disgorgement of profits from Mike Tyson, we probably wouldn't be going after Don King and Showtime," Moll said.
But since Tyson's finances are in disarray - he claims that he was bilked out of millions by King and is suing his promoter to get out of his contract - Moll said they have included King, Showtime and Viacom in their lawsuit. King is facing his own uncertain future, currently standing trial in New York on wire fraud charges.
"As far as Showtime and Don King, they were joint ventures and are liable for the wrongful acts," Moll said. "Because Mike Tyson did this, and Showtime and Don King profited from it, they are liable. But we told them at the meeting all we are interested in is disgorgement of profits for Mike Tyson, and to offer anybody who saw it and who was truly dissatisfied with it, a refund on the next fight."
The defendants chose not to settle.
"They want to see how this motion to dismiss goes," Moll said. "Now, if we win, I believe we will be sitting at the bargaining table."
In the suit, the plaintiffs charge that Tyson planned on getting disqualified if he felt he was losing the fight. Tyson had lost the first two rounds to Holyfield, and suffered a severe cut in the second round because of a head butt, and, though he appeared to be winning the third round, bit Holyfield twice. He was threatened with disqualification by referee Mills Lane after the first bite.
"If Tyson believed he was going to lose, he would eliminate himself from the fight in an open, notorious, and blatantly gruesome and unmistakably illegal manner, designed to cause fight officials to disqualify him," the suit states. "This scheme and device was developed by Tyson for the purpose of preventing another loss, as he had suffered in Tyson-Holyfield I, and to attempt to ensure a rematch with Holyfield in the future with another large payday for himself."
Weinstein said the fact that Tyson may have intentionally fouled Holyfield does not set this event apart from other competitions affected by disqualifications.
"Disqualifications of athletes for intentional rules violations are almost an everyday occurrence in professional sports in America," he said. "In the week before we filed our brief in this case, 10 players in the National Hockey League were disqualified for deliberate rules violations, in that one week," Weinstein said. "It happens all the time, and there is simply no distinction that can rationally be drawn between the Tyson-Holyfield fight and any other similar incident."
But Moll said the fight was not just affected by the disqualification. As a result, it simply never happened.
"If you go see a baseball game, and it gets rained out, what happens?" he asked. "You get a rain ticket. You get your money back. If you go to see a concert, and they don't show up, you get your money back. It wasn't a complete fight. People paid money to see a complete fight."