Boxing: King's let-in clause

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SOMEBODY over there appears to like Don King, the ubiquitous American boxing impresario, he of the manic cackle and cunning mind, who has been on the outside looking in at the heavyweight division since Mike Tyson was sent down for rape.

One of King's strengths in these circumstances is a famous friendship with Jose Sulaiman, the president of the World Boxing Council and a prime mover in events that resulted this week in Lennox Lewis gaining a share of the championship without being required to step into the ring.

Thanks to Sulaiman's soft heart, King can now think grandly about thrusting himself back into the spotlight, regaining control of the richest prize in sport and taking gleeful advantage of people naive enough to suppose that Lewis's accession was decreed solely with the very best interests of boxing in mind.

In order to establish a clear perspective, and stressing that nothing criminal has taken place, let us go back to when the WBC announced that last October's contest between Lewis and Donovan 'Razor' Ruddock in London would be an official final eliminator for their version of the title. Further to that, the WBC obtained written pledges from Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe to defend against the winner before they contested the undisputed championship last month in Las Vegas. Failure to comply would lead to either man being stripped.

As King has a considerable promotional interest in Ruddock this was very much to his advantage until Lewis knocked out the Canadian to become the leading contender.

As you are doubtless aware, the story since then is that Bowe, who decisively outpointed Holyfield in an exciting contest, refused to accommodate Lewis and pre-empted the WBC's threat this week when theatrically casting its belt into a waste bin during a news conference in London.

Upon being acquainted with such an insult to its supposed esteem, the WBC, loftiest of four self-serving international administrations, immediately accorded the title to Lewis but with a significant proviso. Lewis, it seems, will be required by the WBC to put up the title first against Tony Tucker who went the distance with Mike Tyson for the International Boxing Federation championship in June 1987, his only defeat in more than 40 professional contests. Tucker is a King fighter.

If we look back only recently at the life and career of King up to his sixty-first year, we can easily understand why the connection is thought to be significant.

In denouncing the WBC this week, Bowe's volatile manager Rock Newman recalled the widespread criticism it came under (together with the World Boxing Association) for even considering King's suggestion that Tyson should immediately be reinstated as champion after being knocked out by the ultimately pathetic James 'Buster' Douglas in Tokyo.

As someone once put it, you have to remember that King has lots of hair, and no shame at all. 'They thought I was trying to change the verdict in Tokyo,' he said. 'I wasn't. I saw the biggest rematch in the world and I was just trying to put the money in my pocket. I am a living attestation to the American dream. I have totally eradicated the word failure from my vocabulary. I have a setback now and then. Failure, never.'

The suspicion now is that a door has been opened for King to the exasperation of Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, who until yesterday was under the impression that the WBC would agree to a voluntary defence before bringing Tucker forward as the mandatory challenger. 'I have letters to that effect,' Maloney claimed yesterday.

That can be described as living in a world that skirts reality, a world where every word is kept and promises are never broken.

It is not to suggest that the WBC have deliberately misled Lewis, only that it is always wise to study the small print, because in boxing nothing is ever what it appears to be. 'Lewis must defend against Tony Tucker first,' Sulaiman said, 'otherwise we would not have been right to strip Riddick Bowe.'

King, meanwhile, is studiously watching developments, hoping there is now enough evidence to bring about Tyson's release from prison on the understanding that he does not sue the state of Indiana where he was convicted earlier this year. Tucker. Tyson. Is that a familiar cackle we hear?