King aims to KO Warren

Ian Burrell on the big-time boxing promoters about to go toe-to- toe in the High Court
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BOXING promoter Don King will this week attempt to deliver a knockout blow to the empire of his English rival Frank Warren.

The booming voiced American with a hairstyle like an ice-cream cornet will fly into London for what promises to be one of the bitterest legal bouts in British boxing history.

Mr King claims he is owed millions of pounds by the British promoter following the break-up of their partnership in December. Mr Warren denies it.

The Independent on Sunday has learned that Mr King has applied to the High Court for a receiver to be appointed and placed in charge of Mr Warren's business affairs.

The American has also applied for a committal order, which could lead to Mr Warren being jailed or fined, because he claims the Briton has failed to comply with a court order to release details of his bank accounts.

But Mr Warren is fighting his corner. He believes that the receiver ploy will be thrown out by the judge. The committal order he sees as a scare tactic.

It is a sorry end to a friendship that began in the 1980s and developed into a partnership in 1994, when Mr King claims he effectively bought a half share of Mr Warren's Sports Network empire.

Frank Warren manages some of the most exciting prospects in British boxing including the World Boxing Organisation featherweight champion Naseem Hamed and the rising Welsh star Joe Calzaghe.

Don King Promotions has dominated the world of boxing for more than two decades and has a huge stable which includes world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

Both have colourful backgrounds. Mr King once served a prison sentence for killing a man and is currently under investigation by the FBI for alleged insurance fraud. Mr Warren, who was once gunned down in the street, was last year arrested for alleged VAT evasion in a continuing investigation by Customs & Excise. In 1996, he was disqualified as a company director for seven years.

The Warren-King partnership lasted for just over three years. It finally fell apart when Mr Warren clinched a deal with the American cable network Home Box Office (HBO) to cover six Hamed fights for a reputed $12m (pounds 7.3m).

Mr King, whose fights are shown in the United States by the rival Showtime organisation, claimed that the HBO deal had been made behind his back.

Mr Warren's camp believe that the British promoter was given no option after Mr King failed to negotiate a deal with Hamed on Showtime.

They also trace the root of the fallout between the two men back to Frank Bruno's world-title winning bout with Oliver McCall in September 1995, when Mr King accused Mr Warren of not making him enough money.

By 5 December, two weeks ahead of Hamed's epic title Madison Square Gardens defence fight against American challenger Kevin Kelley, the partnership finally fell apart.

Mr King claims that Mr Warren is in breach of the court order but Mr Warren's camp said that the accounts of the partnership would be ready by mid-March and would show the profit due to each partner, if any.

The American claims he put several million pounds into the Sports Network coffers but Mr Warren argues that only an initial payment of $525,000 was given and has been amply repaid.

Much of next week's discussion will centre on whether the Mr Warren boxers remain as part of the assets of the King-Warren partnership.

The American says they do and that Mr Warren must pay him for his half share, which could cost Mr Warren tens of millions of pounds. He claims the partnership had been extended for a further three years, until 2000.

The Briton argues that the partnership is over and nothing more is due. Furthermore he claims the three-year extension is a forgery and points to a pending court case in America where Mr King is facing US government allegations that he doctored documents in an alleged insurance fraud.