Larry Holmes – Former World Heavyweight Champ: “If you stay in a room with promoteor Don King for an hour he’ll con you into anything. That’s why I talk to him on the phone. So I can hang up”.
- In predicting the winner in boxing matches we’ve all been wrong a number of times. And any ‘expert’ who claims that they’ve predicted the winner every time is not to be trusted.
However, stating that, I take a little pride in the fact that during the 10 years that I’ve written this column for Island Connections I’ve been fortunate to have had an over 90 per cent success rate in some 40 odd fights. I get a real buzz when I get one right, and I feel like hiding in my apartment when I pick a lemon.
I got a real kick a few weeks ago watching Bermondsey’s David Haye take the Russian Nikolai Valuev relieving him of his WBA heavyweight belt, to become the first Brit to win two world titles at different weights overseas. Haye won the WBC and the WBA cruiser weight world titles in Paris two years ago when beating the Frenchman Jean-Marc Mormeck by way of an incredible come-back-from-behind seventh round stoppage. What annoyed me personally about that fight was the lack of interest by the press, radio and TV before and after the fight. We had a true Brit, brave enough to venture into an undisputed world champion’s comfort zone of his home city to win two major titles and he hardly got a mention. Let me put this straight. That was one of the best performances ever by a British fighter, for not only had Haye to show his mettle in front of Mormeck’s own fans, but had to drain off nearly two stone in weight to do it, having put on the extra weight for a previous heavyweight contest. Yet afterwards he still wasn’t a household name it appeared, even in his own household. Then of course he made a clever move by signing to take on the biggest heavyweight world title holder in history and the thought of David attempting to slay Goliath seized the imagination of not only boxing fans but the public at large, whose logic suggested that Valuev, ‘the beast from the East’, being seven stone heavier and nine inches taller with an eight inch reach advantage, would be able to eat the Brit for breakfast.
The fight turned more or less exactly how I forecast it would, so I was chuffed to bits. I wrote that Haye had the power, speed, mental strength and the ability but would be asking for trouble if he stood in front of Valuev, and that I hoped to see Haye using his left jab and moving around his opponent, circling quickly to his right to limit the slower Valuev’s use of his big right-handers.
I wrote that when the gigantic Russian steps over the top rope for his entrance into the ring, then looks down at Haye with a hard stare, it might just turn out to be the most ferocious thing the Giant will be able to do all night, stating, ‘I can’t see Haye knocking the big man out because he has a granite chin, but I can see him winning clearly on points’. And so it came to pass – so I didn’t have to hide out for a few days.
I’m certain in his first title defence next year we will see the old David Haye with all his guns blazing as he blasts out the American John Ruiz, who is of similar stature to Haye. I think he’d better KO Ruiz just in case any of the judges for the fight are as bad as one of the judges for the Haye vs. Valuev contest, who scored the bout a draw. Judge Juan Ruiz García of Spain was the culprit. He must be the only person out of the millions who watched the fight on TV, or the thousands present in the stadium, who didn’t think Haye had won easily. On second thoughts I shouldn’t be at all surprised for the one and only Don King was involved in the promotion as the promoter of Valuev, and when this man is on the scene you can expect anything.
Don King really became unstuck on the 11th February 1990 in Tokyo when Mike Tyson, who at the time was controlled by King, was knocked out by the 42 to 1 underdog Buster Douglas. With Tyson’s $100 million future in ruins, King immediately announced that they were protesting the decision, but people in boxing were having none of it. Ring historian Bert Sugar, writing in Boxing Illustrated magazine in America, screamed out in words, “and the result is a knockout by Douglas, They cannot take that away from Douglas nor the boxing public”. With the rest of the media agreeing with Bert Sugar and going crazy, Don King and the WBC president José Sulaimán, fearing a Congressional hearing, backed down.
Don ‘Only in America’ King has evaded the clutches of the law for years. Starting out in business some 55 years ago as a numbers racketeer, he had his first brush with the law by shooting dead a man who tried to rob his numbers house. He was acquitted on a self-defence plea, then quickly rose to the top in the gambling underworld where he was known as ‘the numbers czar’. However in 1966, while holding a gun in one hand, he beat and kicked a man called Sam Garrett to death in a street. Apparently Garrett had lost a bet with King to the tune of $600 and hadn’t paid. Found guilty for second degree murder King was sentenced to serve up to 20 years in jail, but was paroled after four when the charge was reduced to manslaughter.
Within three years he had established himself in his new career in boxing and with his genius in his ability to make the hard-sell he convinced the corrupt Zaire government to pay Muhammad Ali and George Foreman $5,000,000 each in 1974 for what would turn out to be a ‘rumble in the jungle’ epic.
Don King has made so many enemies in the boxing business that you wouldn’t know who to start with and he’s evaded the police, the IRS, the FBI, the Supreme Court and the Federal Grand Jury with a schedule of misdemeanours with which he has been accused for so long. You can forget it. But one thing you can’t forget is the fact that the slithery King could promote boxing more effectively than anyone else on the planet.
By George Reed
This article appears in the print edition 605 of Island Connections