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Don King once stomped a man to death over a puny gambling debt, so the folks at Player’s Lounge have gotten off easy so far. King is merely suing the favored watering hole of the city’s power brokers, alleging that the Southeast bar showed his pay-per-view telecast of the Mike Tyson-Peter McNeeley fight last year without paying him.

In a complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court, King avows that Player’s “intercepted, divulged and published” the event for the purpose of profit. And for that alleged trickery, King is asking for $110,000 plus lawyer fees.

According to Lloyd Malech, a D.C. attorney representing Don King Productions, a national network of undercover investigators working for the promoter went from bar to bar on fight night trying to catch cable pirates in the act. The bar-hoppers were paid from $100 to $200 for each “hit.” Those working the nation’s capital reported back to the Ohio-based King that Player’s Lounge stole the fight. After confirming the showing, King’s men proposed a package requiring the bar to pay the proper fees plus some mad money. When those talks fell apart, Malech says, he filed the suit, which doesn’t say how Player’s allegedly intercepted the scrambled signal. Other local bars were caught poaching Tyson-McNeeley, Malech says, but only Player’s wouldn’t agree to settle. (Those settlements prevent him from disclosing the names of the other people who stole the fight, Malech says.)

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The bout was Tyson’s first after getting out of prison for the rape of Desiree Washington, so even with a tomato can like McNeeley as his opponent, the telecast brought in huge numbers. According to Innovative Sports Marketing and Management, a pay-per-view production firm in Hoboken, N.J., the telecast brought in the largest pay-per-view audience ever at that time (a total since eclipsed by Tyson’s two encounters with Evander Holyfield, both of which were also King productions).

Malech, like any good lawyer working the fight game, boasts that his side’s case is all but unbeatable, and likens Player’s chances to those of McNeeley against Tyson. McNeeley went down twice in the first round before his corner man threw in the towel.

“The federal statute is very clear on this matter,” he says. “If we show that [Player’s] showed the fight, and that they didn’t have license, then they’re going to be found liable, and the judge must award statutory damages. We have witnesses ready to testify, and we will get them. We’ve never lost yet, and I don’t see how we could lose this one.”

While licensing fees vary based on the venue’s capacity, most establishments pay between $1,000 and $2,000, according to Innovative Sports Marketing and Management. If Player’s is found to have stolen the fight willfully, a minimum fine of $10,000 will be assessed under federal guidelines for pay-per-view theft. The maximum penalty is $110,000 plus legal bills. At press time, Player’s Lounge had not yet been served with the King suit.

A Player’s employee who refused to give her name but identified herself as the owner said, “I don’t know anything about [the suit].”

“I haven’t had no fights here,” she said. “The only one I’ve had is in my home, and that’s in Virginia.”

Malech’s herd of bar-hoppers will likely be heading out incognito on Sept. 13, when Oscar De La Hoya bashes Hector “Macho” Camacho. No word on whether Player’s will be there when the bell sounds.CP