At 81, Don King Still Manages to Mutilate Boxing
By Ivan G. Goldman
Undefeated light heavyweight Ryan “The Irish Outlaw” Coyne, who’d been training to challenge Nathan Cleverly for his WBO belt on Showtime this Saturday night, was just dropped from the card in favor of Shawn Hawk. Hawk, 23-2-1 (17KOs), earned the title shot by losing a lopsided decision against Eleider Alvarez for the lesser NABO title in Hawk’s last outing.
If they ran baseball like this, St. Louis, after losing the National League series to San Francisco, would have earned a spot in the World Series against Detroit. If you wonder why boxing is no longer a major sport, ask yourself how baseball fans would react to such naked atrocities. Would networks still be willing to pay an estimated $12.1 billion for the right to cover the next eight years of games? Not a chance.
Two words explain why Coyne, 30, a St. Louis alumnus of the now-defunct “Contender” series, was bumped from the Showtime card headlined by Abner Mares against Anselmo “Chemito” Moreno: Don King. Coyne is locked in a drawn-out contractual battle with King, making him legal poison to other promoters.
No matter how many times King gets caught cheating or otherwise damaging the athletes who trust him with their careers, it seems every generation of fighters must learn the King lesson all over again. The last-minute announcement of Coyne’s replacement came from Frank Warren, who promotes Cleverly. The Cleverly team, which had been training for southpaw Coyne, now learns it’s been hiring all the wrong sparring partners.
King’s spidery embrace of Coyne is reminiscent of his punishing relationship with talented heavyweight Tim Witherspoon, who, complaining about King to reporters, once told them he’d trained only five days before a big fight “because I don’t care anymore. … If I don’t get paid the way I should, why should I care?” It was all documented by outstanding investigative reporter Jack Newfield in his book Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King. The late Newfield documented King’s dealings up to its publication in 1995. Since then King paid a $7.5 million settlement to Terry Norris, who said King and his manager conspired to underpay him for years. Also, Mike Tyson dropped a $100 million suit against King in exchange for a $14 million settlement. They joined a parade of fighters who’d won lawsuits or settlements against him.
Among Newfield’s findings: King, in addition to taking a promotional cut from Witherspoon, coerced him into signing a managerial contract with King’s son Carl that awarded Carl 50 percent of all purses. Buried in the fine print of Tyson’s legal forms was a $52,000 annual stipend to King’s daughter Debbie for being president of the Tyson fan club.
“Don’s specialty is black-on-black crime,” Witherspoon said, but the list of complaining fighters includes non-blacks such as Julio Cesar Chavez and now, of course, Coyne.
In 1997 HBO released a movie based on Newfield’s book, changing the title to the less menacing Don King: Only in America. The script portrayed King as a cheery, rather harmless rogue, passing lightly over events that included the time he kicked and pistol-whipped a much smaller man to death on the streets of Cleveland. The victim, Sam Garrett, owed him $600. Garrett’s last words were “Don, I’ll pay you the money.” King pleaded it down to non-negligent manslaughter and served under four years. Eventually he was pardoned by Ohio’s Republican Governor Jim Rhodes. In another instance, King fatally shot a man in the back and got off on a plea of self-defense.
When its movie came out, HBO was then as it is now locked in an intense rivalry with Showtime, and King practically owned the heavyweight division. Clearly HBO didn’t want to see all those fighters on Showtime. I happened to attend a special pre-release at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. Newfield, who was paid for the rights to the book, flew in from New York to watch the mangled film. When I asked him what he thought of HBO’s version, he answered evasively and most unhappily and I let it go.
At age 81, King isn’t the mighty boxing force he was then, but he still has teeth. Ask Coyne.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE