Saturday, February 10, 2007

THE LIGHTS OF KINGVILLE


The surest thing about Don King is that you can always hear him coming before you can see him. His boisterous, cackle-like, shrill of a laugh is an unmistakable and full bodied, "Hah-hah-hah!"

Watch Don King work a room and you quickly begin to understand why some call him the world's greatest promoter. He'll shake your hand like you were a long lost friend even if he doesn't remember your name. He'll tell you your wife is beautiful even if she really isn't. After 30 years in boxing, his trademark hair do is still defying gravity and "D.K." is still making deals.

When he is introduced at fight cards around the world, Don King usually garners the loudest response. Watch him in a crowd with a group of fighters and the autograph hounds swarm around him like bees to honey while the very fighters he is promoting are left in the corner to ferment.

At age 75, King no longer burns the midnight oil making late night deals in dark hotel rooms and out of the way diners like he did during his hey-day. At his headquarters in Deerfield Beach, Florida he has been forced to lay-off 40% of his staff as the boxing business and King himself have slowed. Health problems and age have crept up on Don King as the years have passed, but he's still here. Gone are the multi-million dollar names like Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, replaced with no-names like Serguei Lyakhovich and Monte Barrett.

Not long ago, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Don King was making his rounds before the main event started. He is nothing if not positively jovial in public. He was glad handing with everybody from HBO network boxing czar Ross Greenburg to Sylvester Stallone to former WWE wrestler Dusty Rhodes and everyone in between. All the while, he was waving his miniature American flags, wearing his sequined jean jacket, erupting into fits of wide-mouthed laughter and huckstering to make another deal. Three decades in boxing and Don King shines brighter than any cigar-chomping septuagenarian has a right to.

As other boxing promoters have come and gone, King has soldiered on. He still makes the big deals, still tirelessly works the phones and still criss-crosses the globe, just not at the pace he once did. Commenting on King's recent business slowdown, veteran New York fight scribe Jack Hirsch quipped, "The lights are just about out in Kingville."

Don sees things differently of course and when asked why a fighter should sign with him, rather than another promoter, King has this to say, " I'm the traditional American dream and a trailblazer. I'm just glad and happy to be an American. I'm a money-getter. The rest of them are just small time when it comes to getting money. I get money in bundles. Hah-hah-hah!"

Well, last week, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Don flipped the switch back on in Kingville by signing Shannon Briggs out from under the nose of his arch-nemesis, boxing manager Shelly Finkel. Finkel had been stringing Briggs along and telling him he was surely the next opponent that would face IBF heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko in November at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, Finkel was quietly working behind the scenes trying to broker a deal with any other heavyweight he could find to take Briggs' place.

Like the Machiavellian days of old, King swooped in and signed Shannon Briggs to a promotional contract and a probable autumn bout with King's WBO heavyweight titlist Sergei Liakhovich. Just like that, Wladimir Klitschko and Shelly Finkel were without Briggs. King surprised everybody with his maneuvering and demonstrated a flash of his old brilliance by pulling the rug out from under another's business deal. King's shell game has always been about the heavyweights and he has always believed that if one can control the heavyweight division they will control boxing.

This week, King is chaperoning 7'0" tall, 325-pound, Russian, WBA heavyweight titlist Nikolai "The Beast from the East" Valuev on a barnstorming, coast-to-coast tour of America with stops in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The P.T. Barnum of boxing is drumming up interest in the gargantuan Valuev who is the tallest and heaviest fighter to ever hold a portion of the heavyweight title. King is co-promoting Valuev against Monte Barrett on an October 7th card in Chicago and he's pulling out all the stops to ensure a big crowd for the live gate.

Like Nick Benko promoted his giant Toro Moreno in the movie "The Harder They Fall" King will hustle Valuev to the American public as a larger than life giant capable of being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. It doesn't matter if Valuev can really fight because for King that's most of the fun - selling the unsalable and making the public buy it. King does nothing on a small scale and was poised Monday for a press gathering with his giant atop the Empire State Building in New York City. No truth to the rumor that King is going to have his Kong bat down a few biplanes.

Nearly 32 years after "The Rumble in the Jungle" we will get to see King beating his drums at his magnanimous, flamboyant and bombastic best as he touts the big Russian. "America is yearning for him to come," King bellows. "The bird of Russia is flying! The bird of Russia is singing! Everyone thinks he's just a big oaf, that he can't think, that he can't speak - I beg to differ. He may not be able to articulate in the way Muhammad Ali did, but as he grows, he will learn."

Don King is still here and the lights are back on in Kingville. Hah-hah-hah!

August 2006