by David P. Greisman
“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!”
~ William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act III Scene ii
The most poetic promoter until Lou DiBella’s tirade following Vernon Forrest’s decision victory over Ike Quartey, Don King, his life and his Hall-of-Fame career have been Shakespearean drama with fuzzy hair.
He ran gambling operations, was connected with homicides and spent more than four years in prison. He became an avid reader.
“Jail was my school. I had one of the most delightful times under desperate conditions,” King told scribe Thomas Hauser. “I read Aristotle and Homer. I got into Sigmund Freud. When I dealt with William Shakespeare, I got to know him very well as a man. I love Bill Shakespeare. He was some bad dude. Intellectually, I went into jail with a peashooter and came out armed with a nuclear bomb.”
He became a promoter, raised millions for charity and millions more for himself and his fighters. He became a legend, a public figure, a man of controversy and yet a legitimate celebrity.
He was criticized but, unlike King Lear, never ostracized, in spite of the nature of a sport in which money talks and lawsuits fly, and despite the charges hurled at him from fellow promoters and fighters both prominent and problematic.
He is 75, five years younger than Lear was, and with no signs of slowing down or giving up his King-dom. But for all the praise that has energized his trademark smile and flag-waving, there are also enough accusations about his calculations to send the man out into a storm, asking for thunderbolts to singe his white head due to the ingratitude of man.
“Don King has made a lot of fighters rich. And Don King has made a lot of fighters poor,” former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes told Hauser.
Two of the few constant things in boxing: Don King and his large stable of champions and contenders. Don King and his court appearances.
Sometimes one leads to the other. Some of King’s fighters appear rarely, fortunate to be assigned to a massive King undercard while waiting for the payday or opportunity promised either contractually or implicitly. The undercard appearances act, in a way, like the eight-team battle royale at TNA Wrestling’s upcoming pay-per-view show, designed to give the remaining talent a payday in lieu of a push. But for a few, it’s not enough.
“If Don is not going to let me fight for one of those titles, then he needs to give me a release, simple as that,” said heavyweight Larry Donald last week to an interviewer. “That is the bottom line. Why is he going to just keep me on the shelf when I know I have a lot left in this game and can win a title?”
One unhappy fighter, light heavyweight Tomasz Adamek, had filed a lawsuit against King, as, like Donald, he had not fought since last October. The action essentially kept Adamek on ice until a compromise was made that would suit both (but especially King).
“I am happy to announce that I lived up to my end of the deal by delivering the rematch that Tomasz Adamek wanted with Paul Briggs and he has kept his part of the bargain by dropping the action against me,” Don King said at a recent press conference for next month’s Nicolay Valuev-Monte Barrett card, on which Adamek will face Briggs.
The King and his court appearances. Legal battles in which King is sometimes the plaintiff, sometimes the defendant. Mike Tyson. Evander Holyfield. Hasim Rahman. Chris Byrd. Terry Norris. Travis Simms. ESPN.
It’s the kind of burden, invited or otherwise, that drove Lear to rave madly about perceived injustices:
“Let the great gods,
That keep this dreadful pother o’er our heads,
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch,
That hast within thee undivulged crimes
Unwhipp’d of justice: hide thee, thou bloody hand;
Thou perjur’d, and thou similar man of virtue
That art incestuous: caitiff, to pieces shake
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practis’d on man’s life: close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents, and cry
These dreadful summoners grace.—I am a man
More sinn'd against than sinning.”
Not King, no, although his reply to Hauser is as much Shakespearean as it isn’t Lear-ean:
“Despite the vicious and scurrilous attacks upon me, I have pledged that I will remain steadfast and true to all of my brothers and sisters and to my dreams. There's no end to the poisonous darts and arrows that my adversaries propel at me. But I just keep pursuing my dream and waving the flag and believing in America.”
Add one more thing to the list of constants in boxing that, for better or worse, may be appreciated while it’s still around: Don King and his oversized personality.
The 10 Count – John McEnroe Edition
1. “You Cannot Be Serious,” part one: Less than three months after knocking out designed opponent Jeremy Bates on cable television, Evander Holyfield will face former heavyweight contender Fres Oquendo on a November pay-per-view.
Against Bates, Holyfield had packed the American Airlines Center in Dallas based off of his popularity and reputation. But a major reason behind fans’ spending large amounts of money for tickets was the special atmosphere present at boxing matches. When it comes to forking over $45 for a pay-per-view, however, there has to be a must-see factor.
Last month’s Hasim Rahman-Oleg Maskaev II PPV show couldn’t do satisfactory numbers, even though a heavyweight belt was at stake and veteran Bob Arum was handling the promotion. How many people are going to pay for a 44-year-old Holyfield and a visually unappealing Oquendo, especially when November already has the Carlos Baldomir-Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales III pay-per-views sandwiching Holyfield-Oquendo?
2. “You Cannot Be Serious,” part two: Oleg Maskaev’s first heavyweight title defense may be coming against Peter Okhello in December in Moscow, according to veteran boxing writer Michael Marley.
How Okhello, at 18-4 (16), deserved to be twelfth in the World Boxing Council’s heavyweight rankings is beyond comprehension, especially as his only noteworthy appearances have been losses to Sinan Samil Sam, Kali Meehan and cruiserweight measuring stick Imamu Mayfield.
3. “You Cannot Be Serious,” part three: Okhello’s ranking may not even be the worst recent decision by the aforementioned sanctioning body.
As pointed out by Dan Rafael, the WBC has Erik Morales ranked first in its lightweight rankings despite Morales’ only bout at 135 being an ugly loss to Zahir Raheem. In the meantime, Raheem has dropped all the way to fourteenth after losing to current WBO trinket holder Acelino Freitas.
4. “You Cannot Be Serious,” part four: In a brief on another boxing Web site, heavyweight Lance Whitaker taunted Oleg Maskaev about the current WBC heavyweight titlist’s kayo loss to Whitaker five-and-a-half years ago.
“You have a chance to show your countrymen and to prove to your fans that me crushing you in two rounds back in 2001 was a fluke,” Whitaker said through an interviewer. “I’m sure Maskaev wants to avenge his devastating loss to me the same way Hasim Rahman did.”
Whitaker, of course, failed to mention that – unlike Rahman and Maskaev’s semi-dubious paths to title opportunities – his 2005 campaign merely included two wins over tomato cans and knockout losses to Luan Krasniqi and Sultan Ibragimov.
5. “You Cannot Be Serious,” part five: Joe Mesi ‘s fourth comeback bout is Friday against Jason Weiss. While Mesi’s recent appearances have shown that he remains a fraction of the fighter he had been prior to suffering multiple subdural hematomas in a win over Vasiliy Jirov, Weiss, at the age of 36 and with a 3-1 record, will never be at the level where he should oppose Mesi.
6. “You Cannot Be Serious,” part six: After weeks of uncertainty about HBO’s Oct. 14 Boxing After Dark date, the show has been canceled, according to Dan Rafael. As chronicled by Steve Kim in recent weeks, the broadcast initially had TBA vs. TBA in the main event and Andre Berto vs. TBA on the undercard. Now? Nothing, a conclusion that is just one more item on the string of bad luck and bad choices befalling the supposedly revived broadcast franchise.
7. “You Cannot Be Serious,” part seven: John Ruiz hired the Germany-based Wilfried Sauerland as his new manager, replacing the emotional but tantrum-prone Norman Stone. The issue? This means that Ruiz is still planning on fighting. You cannot be serious.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: With all the recent events in the life of WBO featherweight titlist Scott Harrison, it’s a surprise he hadn’t previously ended up in this recurring feature. Aside from pulling out of fights with Joan Guzman and Gairy St. Clair, Harrison has reportedly battled with depression and alcohol problems. The WBO granted him a disability extension on his next title defense, but with an upcoming bout against Juan Manuel Marquez, the legal distractions are piling up.
Reports from across the pond are that after Harrison appeared in court last week for a separate case, he was arrested and charged with three counts of assault, two breaches of the peace and one fraud. One hopes that, even if it means Harrison is never to box again, he is given either the help he needs or the punishment he deserves, whichever is more pertinent.
9. “Boxing Safety, Fighting Irish” Update: In his second game of the 2006 NCAA football season, Notre Dame’s Tommy Zbikowski had seven tackles and returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown. With the Fighting Irish’s 41-17 rout of the Penn State Nittany Lions, Notre Dame improved to 2-0 and will face the also-undefeated Michigan Wolverines on Saturday.
10. The Contender Update: In this second season’s second quarterfinal match, first-week underdog Cornelius Bundrage won a five-round unanimous decision over Walter Wright, who had dominated Andre Eason in his previous bout on Mark Burnett’s boxing reality show.
This week’s episode will contain two fights, Michael Stewart-Grady Brewer and Norberto Bravo-Gary Balletto, with the winners joining Bundrage and Steve Forbes in the semifinals.