SHOULD REMATCH CLAUSES BE OUTLAWED?

BY Charles Jay ON June 17, 2002
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There has been a lot of discussion about rematch clauses in boxing over the past year or two; this kind of talk certainly escalated as a result of Lennox Lewis' battle to get his rematch clause with Hasim Rahman enforced. Those speaking in opposition pointed out that this clause was against the Ali Act, since it was "coercive".

Such a notion represents a misinterpretation of the Act.

What not enough people know is that the Ali Act doesn't prohibit rematch clauses, nor does it prohibit so-called "coercive" clauses in contracts. It merely prohibits those coercive provisions that extend themselves beyond one year.

However, if Rahman would have gone ahead and exercised the option of taking an interim fight against someone else, with the intention of then going ahead with the rematch with Lewis, as per the rematch clause (depending on which way you read it), THEN it might have ventured into territory where it would have been in violation of the Ali Act.

That's because the clause was going to bind another party, before the fact, to an obligation where, if the interim challenger would have beaten Rahman, he would have to turn around and fight Lewis for a specific amount of money, for a specific promoter, on a specific network.

While you can have an option on the "immediate" opponent, you can't transfer that option to somebody else. It would appear that if a contract with two fighters bound a third fighter to do something, there would have to be something improper in that.

But that's kind of getting away from my point. That's not why I'm against these mandatory rematch clauses as they relate to title fights.

When any fighter complies with a clause like that, he runs the risk of putting himself in a position where he is going to be forced to violate SOMEBODY'S edict. Whatever he does, he's liable to wind up getting sued.

For instance, look at Rahman's situation. When he beat Lewis, Mike Tyson was the WBC's #1 challenger. The Tua-Byrd winner (as it turned out, Byrd) loomed as the IBF's #1 challenger. Rahman had a rematch with Lewis contracted for. If he chose to fight Lewis voluntarily (i.e., without a court ruling), he could have been sued by Tyson. If he chose to fight Tyson, Lewis could sue him. And if he waited to fight the Tua-Byrd winner, Lewis AND Tyson could sue him. If he had fought Brian Nielsen or David Izon, EVERYBODY could have sued him.

What the rematch clause effectively can do is paint the fighter into a corner where he can not, by definition, avoid one or all of the following:

1) Lawsuits from mandatory challengers

2) Lawsuits from TV networks

3) Actions by sanctioning bodies, which may include stripping the fighter of the title and maybe even litigation.

Therefore, a fighter in the position faces:

a) Heavy expenses to fight litigation on more than one front;

b) Loss of titles he won in the ring;

c) Alienation from TV outlets, of which there are few.

Which, in turn,

-- Jeopardizes him financially in the immediate sense, not to mention his future earning power and bargaining power.

Why should a fighter to compelled to comply with such a clause? And how could any clause, which, by definition, puts a fighter into that unavoidable position, be enforceable?

Just because something is agreed to doesn't necessarily mean it is legal.

Any boxing legislation which is subsequently written, in order to be responsible, needs to include a provision wherein any rematch clause that is entered into, and which concerns obligations related to a championship, shall be unenforceable, if such enforcement mandates that a fighter default on other agreements or obligations that would put his position as a titleholder - and in turn his potential earning power - in jeopardy, or which would put him into a position where he can not move ahead with any plans without sustaining some kind of civil action.

It's all about keeping as much stuff out of the courts as possible, because in the end, all the litigation does not benefit fighters, promoters, or the sport. It just creates a full employment program for lawyers, who have enough money already.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2002 Total Action Inc.

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