When Fox nabbed the Nov. 4 Mike Tyson heavyweight bout against Buster Mathis Jr. for the crucial November sweeps period, industry savants were perplexed as to why Viacom-controlled Showtime, which had multiple-fight rights, along with promoter Don King, made the deal (see story, page 36). Sure, there was the $10 million Fox forked over to the duo for the rights, but that figure fell far short of the estimated $25 million they would have grossed if the event had gone pay-per-view as originally planned.

Showtime president Matt Blank explained the short payday away, saying it was a means to rebuild a franchise for the convicted rapist after his pay-per-view comeback prooved a disappointingly quick bout with Peter McNeely. Moreover, sending the Tyson fight to free TV was a way to derail prime competitor Time Warner’s plans for a pay-per-view fight, Evander Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe, the same night.

But there was one other reason Viacom brass let the Tyson fight go to Fox, and like much that is left unsaid in this business, it has to do with Tele-Communications Inc. chairman John Malone. TCI, in a partnership with Fox parent News Corp., owns Request TV, the largest U.S. pay-per-view distributor, which had already committed to the Holyfield/Bowe bout. Now Time Warner will have to switch the date on that fight, so Request TV is off the hook on what could have been a losing proposition.

Viacom brass knew Malone wanted the Tyson-Fox deal to happen. Moreover TCI has a deal pending to buy Viacom’s cable systems for $2.25 billion, in addition to a raft of other unfinished business the companies have to complete. “Viacom wants to make nice with Malone these days and he wanted the fight to go to Fox,” says an industry insider familiar with the Tyson deal. “It was worth it (to Viacom) to take the financial hit to make other things it has going with Malone work.”

Meanwhile, with Fox in business with ex-con Tyson and King, who has a manslaughter conviction on his rap sheet and is currently under indictment for mail fraud, more than one person has suggested the following new slogan for the network: “Now more than ever: The network of’America’s Most Wanted.’”

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