Saturday, October 31, 2009

You Can't Keep a Good Man Down

Don King is back in Las Vegas and ready to promote the biggest fights of the people, for the people and by the people.

Try as they might, the power-brokers that rule the television boxing airwaves in this day and age have been unable to drive Don King completely out of boxing. The primary power-broker is of course HBO, who has displaced nearly every promoter in the sport not named Golden Boy.

But that's another story for another day.

Tonight in Las Vegas, the King makes his triumphant return to center stage at Phil Ruffin's Treasure Island Hotel & Casino. It will be the first fight card he has promoted in the city since Felix Trinidad squared off against Winky Wright back in 2005.

Although he is now 78-years-old, King has more energy than most people half his age. Over the past several years, as HBO has essentially refused to deal with him, King has been forced to promote outside the friendly confines of what he calls “the greatest country in the world” and he has hung his shingle in Mexico, China, Japan, Germany, Poland and France among other places.

So as Halloween night approaches, King is over the top with excitement at being back in business in Sin City amid the the land of neon lights. After all, it was here that he promoted everyone from Larry Holmes to Julio Cesar Chavez to Mike Tyson.

He is promoting a small card at Treasure Island in a 1,000 seat ballroom, which is a far cry from the days when, in 1982, he promoted Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney just down the street at Caesars Palace in front of nearly 30,000 people. But for King, who doesn't spend a second ruminating about his past, tonight represents a new beginning, of sorts.

“I have a great show. But more importantly I'm bringing back the excitement to Las Vegas,” King said on Thursday night. “This is the new economic stimulus program that I'm calling tender loving care – TLC. It's a chance for the people to come out here and be catered to by Phil Ruffin and we're taking it back to the time when this city was built. You know, Las Vegas was built on a handshake agreement and that's what we're bringing back out here.”

To say that King is frustrated with the way Las Vegas and the world of boxing is being run in this day and age would be an understatement. King was always a man who built his deals on handshakes and personal relationships. The world doesn't exist anymore that would allow he and Seth Abraham to hammer out the deal for a heavyweight tournament and Mike Tyson's exclusivity to HBO while sitting together at a table in an all night diner.

In 2009, when everything in the world has gone corporate and the casinos and television networks make their decisions based on some obscure algorithm that only makes sense to them, King has forged a relationship with Ruffin who recently bought the Treasure Island from MGM Mirage for a bargain basement price.

Ruffin, a billionaire that slinks away from the spotlight and hails from Wichita, Kansas - yet recently married Miss Ukraine - has made a fortune selling hand trucks and operating greyhound racing tracks and convenience stores. His quirky and diverse make-up is just the type of individual that King has gravitated toward and cut deals with on his journey to the title “world's greatest promoter.”

“What I want to do is put on some good shows out here where the fans all come up to me afterwards and ask 'When is the next one?' You know what I mean?” asked King.

“That's why I haven't been on the scene and you haven't seen as much of me over the past few years. I've been working, categorically so, to devise ways where I can still promote and not be held hostage by the networks. I've had to figure out a way to demonstrate a way to put on better fights than the ones they buy.”

King has nearly been swamped by Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. For the past several years, the promotional company has enjoyed such a warm and cozy relationship with HBO that King has been frozen out of dealing with the most significant economic force in the entire sport.

In an attempt to get back into big-time boxing in Las Vegas, King has teamed up with billionaire Phil Ruffin.

“They have their favorites,” said King. “So what happened to me is that I couldn't get no dates. Then the fighters get disgruntled because they give me a date - then they take the date away so the fighters are out. I just felt that if I can't do what they want me to do then I had to do something better. I'll put on bigger fights and work out my own deals and build a network for the people on the Internet.”

King's vision is that he will stage the big events absent the networks and bring the fights to the masses via his own Web site. Tonight's card is being televised by the Showtime cable network and will feature the IBF bantamweight title bout between Joseph Agbeko and Yonnhy Perez. However, the majority of the fight card will be made available on King's Web site for the paltry price of $5.99.

“I can put on shows with character,” said King. “I can keep the guys busy and keep them fighting. We got to work together to make this happen so we can develop these kids into world champions, which is what they want to be. Boxing is a global sport and what we can do is make these fights available to all people from all over the world at the time they want to watch it.”

Despite whatever critics King may still have left from the old days, he says none of that matters to him anymore. He says what is important is putting on fights the fans will enjoy and more importantly, under his own terms.

“Look, I ain't bragging, but I'm the best promoter in the world,” says King, who has promoted 7 of the top 10 pay-per-view events in boxing history according to buys. He has also promoted 12 of the top 20 highest-grossing live gates in the history of the state of Nevada.

King never ventures far without his sequined jean jacket which is adorned with slogans and several likenesses of himself.

“You know, it's like my good friend Muhammad Ali once said, 'It ain't braggin' if you can do it' King chuckles.

“This is going to a monster show on Saturday night. Over 100 countries have already signed on to televise this great night of fights,” he barks. “This city was built on a handshake and a word and that's what we're trying to bring back. This is a fight card for the people, by the people and for the people. Me and Phil Ruffin ain't got no contract, just a handshake with honor and integrity. And that's all we need, you know what I mean? I started with Cliff Pearlman at Caesars Palace; went on to work with Kirk Kerkorian at MGM; met up with John Fitzgerald, Henry Lewin and John Giovenco at the Las Vegas Hilton; returned to Caesars and Las Vegas Hilton with Arthur Goldberg, who partnered us with Mike Ensign and Tony Alamo at Mandalay Bay; and now I’m starting fresh yet again with another Las Vegas visionary in Phil Ruffin”

So for King, who is starting off small on his way back to the top, tonight represents the first step in the long slog back from being exiled to boxing's version of Siberia.

"You can't keep a good man down,” he bellows. “You can't keep a good man down.”

October 2009

No comments: