Published: November 2, 2004
The heavyweight legal battle over the Danny Williams-Mike Tyson fight is in its third month. At the center the fight in the courts is Chris Webb, the upstart Louisville boxing promoter who improbably brought Tyson to Louisville for one last shot at a comeback. Webb is facing off against Frank Warren, a media magnate in England who manages Williams and 40 other fighters and owns one of the world’s largest sports promotion companies.
The legal wrangling, being staged in federal court in Louisville, involves about $10 million by Webb’s count.
In one suit filed by Webb’s Straight-Out Promotions, Webb contends that a company chartered in Gibraltar owes the company at least $2.7 million in international broadcast revenues from the July 30 Tyson fight.
Webb says Warren controls the company; Warren says, through his lawyers, that he has nothing to do with it.
In a second suit, Webb says Warren cut him out of a deal to jointly promote Williams’ next three fights and evenly split the proceeds after Williams pulled the upset of Tyson and suddenly became a world heavyweight contender.
“They walked out on their obligations for obvious reasons Danny Williams is now worth a lot of money,” said Michael Tigue, Straight-Out’s attorney.
Warren’s lawyers say he owes Webb nothing and that he aborted the Williams deal because Webb failed to pay for the boxer’s services.
Many are still awaiting paychecks from the Tyson fight, among them, ring-card girls who were promised $150 each and a pair of investors whose lawyers say they are out $800,000.
The event’s coordinator, veteran Philadelphia fight man Burt Watson, said he was paid Oct. 15 after taking out a criminal warrant against one of Webb’s backers.
Webb, 33, said he has had trouble paying Straight-Out’s creditors only because he has not been paid himself.
Webb alleges in one lawsuit that a Gibraltar company, Brearly (International) Limited, defaulted on a proposed agreement to pay Straight-Out $2.7 million seven days before the fight for the right to broadcast it in 90 countries outside the United States. The proposed deal also called for Straight-Out to earn 45% of the receipts over $2.7 million, according to the lawsuit.
Webb also alleged in the lawsuit that Brearly breached the agreement it later signed with Straight-Out under which Brearly agreed to pay $3.2 million directly to Tyson and Showtime, which offered the fight on pay-per-view in America, court records show.
According to Webb’s lawsuit, Brearly never paid that amount, nor has it turned over any other profits that were supposed to go to Straight-Out.
Brearly’s owners are not identified in the lawsuit or in corporate records that The Courier-Journal obtained from Gibraltar.
But Webb told the Kentucky Athletic Commission at a public hearing on Oct. 27 that Straight-Out agreed to the international TV deal with Warren.
Warren has said in interviews with British press that he owes Webb nothing but that Webb owes him $170,000 to $180,000 for delivering Williams for the fight at Freedom Hall.
Warren “is in the same position as everybody else who hasn’t been paid by Chris Webb,” said Stephen Heath, a lawyer for Warren’s Sports Network.
Webb’s second lawsuit reveals how the Tyson fight almost didn’t go on as 17,273 fans awaited the opening bell in Freedom Hall.
According to Straight-Out’s complaint, it had agreed to pay Warren’s Sports Network $350,000 to co-promote Williams’ upcoming fights, with $50,000 due before the Tyson fight. But Williams said he would not leave his dressing room unless the advance was paid to directly to him, the lawsuit says.
Straight-Out contends that Warren’s representative in Louisville, Andy Ayling, authorized payment of the $50,000 directly to Williams but also demanded that Straight-Out pay the balance of the $350,000 before the fight.
Webb’s company complied, and wrote checks covering the balance, according to the lawsuit. But Straight-Out stopped payment on one $100,000 check three days later, Webb acknowledged, after Warren’s company told him that it wasn’t going to honor the deal to share the riches from Williams.
Williams is scheduled to fight Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko on Dec. 11 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for the WBC world heavyweight title.
Lawyers for Warren and Brearly, including their Louisville attorney Ed Stopher, are trying to have the lawsuits thrown out on the grounds that they should have been filed in England and Gibraltar, respectively.