Boxing: Though many in boxing would like to, it is far too early to be writing off Don King

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The Independent Online
Towards the end of last year the American cable network Home Box Office put out a film that traced Don King's rise from numbers racketeer and jailbird to a position of almost absolute power in professional boxing.

Well acted, it was a reminder that King is never at a loss for suckers, even if he must recycle them; the church elders who were hustled into endorsing one of King's earliest promotions, the fighters who mistook bondage for generosity, the casino operators, even presidents who fell under his spell.

Unmitigated gall has been King's trump card - "Only in America" - since he got out of jail, an art form refined until it shone like the gold he has mined from the fight game.

In his time King has seen off the FBI, the Inland Revenue Service and foes in boxing. Nothing is forever but King seemed to be, his personal demands the reason why HBO found it impossible to fund a contest between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis that would have unified the heavyweight championship.

Until last weekend King was looking at the profitable alternative of a third meeting between Holyfield and Mike Tyson whose appeal against an indefinite suspension imposed for biting Holyfield's ear will be heard in June by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Last weekend changed things. Angered by a $7m (pounds 4.2m) tax deficit Tyson is reported to have fallen out violently with King and his co-managers, John Horne and Rory Holloway, in Los Angeles and split with them. This could prove more theatrical than anything else when Tyson is reminded of ring earnings in excess of $150 (pounds 91m) since being paroled three years ago and the many connections King can call on in boxing.

King's technique in these matters is to hold back the hammer blow until it becomes clear that nothing can be gained from negotiation. First, Tyson is likely to hear that regaining his licence in time to meet Holyfield later this year might be difficult without King's backing.

There are twists and turns in this, including King's claim on half the $2.2m (pounds 1.34m) fee to act as referee in a wrestling extravaganza, that have led Tyson into discussions with music entrepreneurs Jeff Wald and Irving Azoff who helped promote George Foreman's last fights.

During the time Tyson served for a rape conviction there were rumours that King was not working in his best interests. Soon after Tyson's release it became clear that he was no longer in King's pocket.

One thing for Tyson to consider, though vanity may blind him to it, is that he remains the most marketable figure in sport only through images formed from the first phase of his career in the ring and ongoing scandal. The fighter who lost twice to Holyfield bore no comparison to the one who once spread fear throughout the heavyweight division.

Many critics think him to be shot, and a certainty to be knocked out again in a third contest against the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation champion. "If the fight comes you can bet that it will be the richest in history," Michael Katz of the New York Post said yesterday, "but Tyson now is no more than a small heavyweight with short arms who is no longer intimidating. Holyfield would flatten him. So would Lewis."

King tried to calm the waters yesterday referring to Tyson's frustration and the need to get him back into training. Nevertheless we can be sure that he has lawyers looking at any possible loopholes. King has survived enough crises in his time for anyone to suppose that, at 66, he no longer has the zest or energy for confrontation. "A lot of people in and around boxing would like to see Don bite the dust," somebody said yesterday, "and losing Tyson would be a big blow to him. But you just can't write this guy off." According to Dr Elias Ghanem, who is chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and sympathetic to King, Tyson has already signed with Wald and Azof. "King, Holloway and Horne are in uproar about," he said. "They are going to stop it or sue."

One of King's secrets is words. Silly as some of them sound - "trickeration" has long been one of his favourites - they have helped spare King from taking the falls in boxing many wished for. He needs them all now because nobody's heart bleeds for him.

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