A palpable buzz coursed through the Glenarden Municipal Town Center late last month for an otherwise unremarkable four-bout boxing card. The sport's grapevine was busy. Talk of a big MCI Center show--possibly with the Washington area's four champions all fighting--was everywhere that night.

One problem: The Don King Productions show is anything but a done deal.

"We were close, then things changed. It happens a lot in this business," said Bobby Goodman, vice president of boxing operations for Don King. "Now we're juggling around a couple of dates."

The MCI show was originally planned for Sept. 25, a week after the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad welterweight showdown in Las Vegas. The card, which would be televised on Showtime, could include Takoma Park's 140-pound World Boxing Association champion Sharmba Mitchell (45-2), and Washington's 160-pound champs William Joppy (26-1-1) and Keith Holmes (33-2), who hold the WBA and World Boxing Council titles, respectively.

Complications arose when DKP had to push back a show involving Julio Cesar Chavez from later this month to early September. That card, which is also likely to include the Will Grigsby-Ricardo Lopez 108-pound International Boxing Federation title fight, has fueled the uncertainty.

"We're looking for a site and date now for the Chavez thing, so it's really holding us up," Goodman said. "I don't know yet what we're going to do other than that, yes, Don King really wants to go back and do a show at the MCI Center. We expect it to get done, we're just not sure when."

MCI Center spokesman Matt Williams said the arena has been in discussions with King's people but that nothing has been finalized. A Showtime spokesperson confirmed that the cable network has a time slot reserved for boxing on Sept. 25, but that there is no agreement that says it has to be the MCI Center card.

King put on a show April 24 at MCI Center that included Mitchell, Holmes and 115-pound IBF champ Mark Johnson (37-1), also of Washington. That show drew 11,437 in paid attendance, according to DKP.

If the card happens, one fight almost certain to be included would be a third battle between King fighters Joppy and Julio Cesar Green (24-3), the mandatory challenger to Joppy's title. Green and Joppy have split their two fights, both in New York. Green won the first bout in August 1997 despite being knocked down twice; Joppy came back to win a unanimous decision in January 1998.

Holmes and Mitchell, also both promoted by King, are likely to be on the card. Johnson (37-1), called by many the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, is promoted by Cedric Kushner and is not expected to be part of the show.

Said Goodman: "Mark Johnson is a great fighter, a talented fighter--just not a Don King fighter."

Johnson's Birthday Gift

Johnson may not get on the MCI Center bill, but he is in action Friday (9 p.m., ESPN2) against Mexico's Jorge LaCierva (15-2) at Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Conn.

Johnson has won 36 straight bouts and will be fighting on his 28th birthday. To celebrate, Kushner's people got him what he really wanted--a fight.

"Mark's been anxious to get in the ring, but he's very tough to find fights for because, really, no one wants to fight him," said Eric Bottjer, chief matchmaker for Kushner.

"Basically, I've been calling everyone I can think of. I ask them, 'So, how much is it worth to you to fight Mark Johnson?' But what they hear is, 'So, how much is it worth for you to get your [butt] kicked by Mark Johnson?' "

The fight is reportedly worth about $25,000 to LaCierva, known as a strong body puncher whose last loss was more than two years ago. Johnson's purse is in the low six figures.

Ballard Missed at DKP

The stabbing death of Washington heavyweight Jerry Ballard last week was still being felt in south Florida, home of DKP, which promoted Ballard.

"It's been a real dark time around here since we heard about Jerry," said DKP spokesman Greg Fritz. "The death just rippled through this entire organization."

Fritz said King had entered discussions with Ballard about a new, multifight contract last month.

Police said they have no new information regarding Ballard's murder. . . .

Washington's Andrew Council stopped Floyd Williams 1 minute 20 seconds into the second round Saturday in Tunica, Miss. Gary Lee, the manager for Council (30-6), said he is hopeful his fighter can get on that MCI Center card, whenever it happens. Lee said he is trying to get Council a rematch with Keith Holmes, who won a decision over Council in 1994.