Boxing: King the master of waiting game snares his prey

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The Independent Online

There are some gentle souls who do not seem to understand how Lennox Lewis could go back on his word and hook up with Don King who has, more or less, re-established control of the heavyweight division. Didn't Lewis once check out of a hotel because King was in residence; didn't he make statements about boxing's most visible promotional figure that went perilously close to inviting a libel action?

The truth, however, means different things to different people, which is why Lewis will sign a four-fight deal with King if he he defeats Hasim Rahman at the Mandalay Bay complex in Las Vegas on Saturday night to regain the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight titles lost when he was sensationally knocked out by the American in South Africa last April.

So much for Lewis's independence, his frequently stated refusal to deal with King under any circumstances. So much for Lewis's lament that the draw called in the first of two title fights against Evander Holyfield had King's name written all over.

Since very little in the fight business is ever what it seems, let's go back a bit, to May 1993, when Lewis made a first defence of the WBC belt he was gifted on account of Riddick Bowe's refusal to accept him as the mandatory challenger.

In order to try and regain a foothold in heavyweight boxing following Mike Tyson's loss to James "Buster" Douglas, and subsequent incarceration for rape, King paid Lewis $9m (£6.25m) to take on Tony Tucker, a fighter in whom he had a controlling interest. A bigger gamble than King was used to taking (he had been unable to secure an option on Lewis), it failed when the champion gained a points decision before waving him goodbye.

King was furious, but nobody has ever understood boxing's inherent ridiculousness better than the former numbers boss who was put away for beating a man to death and has survived prolonged investigations by both the FBI and the IRS while declaring that his success is a tribute to the land of opportunity.

Maybe the present situation is in itself a commentary on the parlous state of boxing among the giants. But the truth of it is that Lewis, from the two Holyfield fights and defences against Henry Akinwande and Rahman, has probably earned more in association with King than any other promoter.

King's secret has always been words. Some of them sound as though his dictionary had no pronunciation marks and others just leap off his tongue willy-nilly. Nobody, however, has been better at putting on a fight, something Lewis has always known but was reluctant to admit until it suited him. From being a man who could not be trusted, King, at 70 years old, is now Lewis's idea of a terrific promoter.

Time waits for no fighter, so perhaps the indignity of what happened in South Africa, where he paid in full for taking Rahman lightly, brought Lewis to the conclusion that an alliance with King offers the best short-term future.

Thus, old loyalties, especially to Frank Maloney, the lively, little south Londoner who guided Lewis to the heavyweight championship, have been set aside as unnecessary impediments. Paying no account to the efforts Maloney put in, the great thinkers now advising Lewis called time on him, a confidentiality clause making his role as manager untenable.

The film of Budd Schulberg's novel "The Harder they Fall" – about the heavyweight Primo Carnera, released 46 years ago – focused on the exploitation of fighters by scheming promoters and managers. There is another side to this, the ingratitude that prompted one notable manager to declare that the loyalty of most fighters is no more tangible than that of a whore.

Nobody knows this better then King. It did not escape his attention when Lewis dumped John Hornewer, the attorney with whom he formed a productive association after winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics. That a rift developed between Lewis and one of his leading associates, the promoter Panos Eliades, who has since filed legal proceedings. That even Lewis's half-brother, Dennis, is no longer an active member of the team. Then the realisation that Maloney was out. All King had to do was wait, and there is nobody better at it.