Look under a rock and that's where you'll find the same sort of environment where most of the wheeling and dealing takes place in the byzantine world of professional boxing. Which brings us to Saturday night's junior middleweight title fight in New York between Sugar Ray Leonard and World Boxing Council champion Terry Norris live on Showtime, the cable network that has Cher, among others, to thank for its first telecast of a Leonard bout.

Say what? Showtime's got who, babe? And how did Miss See-Through Pants Queen figure into The Sugar Man's being fired as a boxing analyst by Home Box Office, the very same cable network that also paid him so handsomely in purses for 11 fights since 1978?

Like everything else in this sport without scruples, everyone's got an explanation that makes perfect sense.

The people at HBO say they were never given an opportunity to bid on the Leonard-Norris fight, and that is the main reason Leonard was dropped as an HBO analyst after 10 tuxedoed years. Ross Greenburg, HBO's vice president and executive producer/sports, says he has no bitter feelings toward Leonard, but blames Leonard's longtime attorney and adviser, Mike Trainer, for the split between the network and the fighter.

"Mike Trainer blatantly sold the fight directly to them {Showtime} without putting it on the open market," Greenburg said yesterday. "Once that happened, it did not seem consistent to us to have Ray Leonard as our broadcaster. I can't answer as to why {Trainer} did it, only he can tell you for sure.

"I still consider Ray a good friend. I admire him as a fighter and as a person. I have no bone to pick with Ray, and he is still very marketable as a fighter. There is definitely interest in this fight, and interest in Ray. If he loses, I truly believe he'll hang it up for good. If he wins, of course we'd be interested in talking about his next fight. . . . I never shut the door."

Trainer confirmed that he did indeed slam the door on HBO, and offered a rather intriguing explanation. He said it went all the way back to his negotiations with the cable network on behalf of Las Vegas hotel magnate Steve Wynn, the promoter for the Evander Holyfield-Buster Douglas fight last October. Trainer was working for Wynn, trying to sell the delayed broadcast (DB) rights for Holyfield-Douglas to the highest bidder.

He said HBO made him an offer of $2 million, and never upped the ante, "even though I was told there were other people willing to go to $3 1/2 million," Trainer said. "I went back to them and said 'Fellas, you're not gonna' get it at that number.' They said 'Sorry, that's as high as we're going.' I went back to Steve {Wynn}, and he said talk to Showtime, and they bought the DB.

"I also did some research on this, because I couldn't understand why HBO wouldn't budge. I found out that HBO was mad at Steve Wynn because they thought they would get the DB on a Cher concert at The Mirage {Wynn's Vegas hotel}. But Steve told me he never had any kind of understanding with them on that. That's why they never went higher on Holyfield-Douglas."

Once he sold Holyfield-Douglas to Showtime, Trainer says the people at HBO accused him of negotiating in bad faith. "Because of that climate," he said he decided not to offer them Leonard-Norris, and HBO then decided not to use Leonard on boxing telecasts "because they thought the only way to get at me is through Ray. Sure enough, they punished Ray. It was just vindictiveness."

Seth Abraham, president of Time-Warner Sports, HBO's parent company and the man responsible for acquiring boxing for the network, says he has heard all of that before, describes it as "Mike banging his shoe. . . . This was a business decision. Vengeance and retribution were not on my mind. . . . Cher was never in the ring, Holyfield and Douglas were never in the concert. One thing had nothing to do with the other. We made them a prudent offer. I heard that Steve {Wynn} was incensed at the number . . . but that's what we were willing to pay.

"Ask me the $64,000 question. Would I have bid on the Leonard-Norris fight? I don't know. It would have been a question of how much. I did like the site . . . I've heard {Showtime} paid $2 million for it. We would have gone higher than that. If Mike had said to me 'That's the number,' I probably would have {gone higher}. I would have liked to have had that opportunity."

The beneficiary of all this nonsense is Showtime, a network that now goes into 10 million homes compared to HBO's 18 million. This will mark Leonard's first appearance in a non-pay-per-view fight in eight years, and Showtime is looking for a huge viewing audience, and the possibility of adding to its subscriber base.

The network is offering a package deal to cable viewers -- for a $10 fee, they can get the fight and a free month of Showtime, which also offers big-name entertainment specials and first-run movies, just like HBO. The delayed broadcast of Holyfield-Douglas provided the network its highest non-movie audience in its history, and Jay Larkin, vice president for original programming who negotiated the deal with Trainer, says he expects an audience close to that Saturday night.

He also expects 50,000 people to take advantage of what he described as a "$10 impulse buy, and of that number, if we keep any of them as regular subscribers we're ahead of the game. . . . Boxing is far and away the best single acquisition tool we have {to attract new subscribers}. People want to see marquee fights and big-name boxers. You can't get much bigger than Ray Leonard."

Larkin also is a realist. He knows Leonard's appearance on Showtime may only be a one-time deal. In fact everyone in boxing knows it. Today's enemy is tomorrow's best friend.

Said HBO's Greenburg, "Mike Trainer likes to burn bridges, I like to build them. But they could come back to HBO, absolutely. . . . I never keep my phone off the hook."

Added Trainer, "One thing about boxing, it's a very fluid sport."

Bob Costas will replace veteran announcer Marv Albert on the play-by-play for Sunday's NBC telecast of the NBA All-Star Game because of the death of Albert's mother, Alida, on Tuesday night, the network announced yesterday.

Albert's younger brother Steve, scheduled to call the Leonard-Norris fight on Showtime, also will miss that telecast. He will be replaced by Bruce Beck, who has appeared frequently on boxing events telecast by the Madison Square Garden network.