Ali in Ali's time, technology in technology's time, all together, man
Sometimes I wonder, if boxing journalism ever made room for factchecking in its reportage, would the sport collapse? Hey man, I'm just sayin'.
Not to pick on any news source or writer in particular, but I recently read "King not ready to fade away," written by David Mayo for RING magazine's Web site. I have nits to pick and half-assed ideas that cry out to be partially unpacked. Mayo writes:
"What happened to his once-vast boxing business this decade isn’t so much different than the many tales of woe that have struck other empires, big and small, at the same time. Too little discretionary income for his consumers, a lost lawsuit here, downsizing at his corporate office there, a few too many lost clients, a bit too much new competition."
I'm sure that there's not enough room in a short writeup of a night at the fights to unpack how King went from near-total domination of the boxing business to a Napoleon on Elba, but the reasons offered -- whether made up by King or projected by Mayo onto King -- are truly almost insulting when attached to a villain of King's scope and ambition. It's like saying that the FBI went after Al Capone because he was terrible at math, and got him because he made some mistakes in filling out his tax papers that a lot of people make in their returns. Don King is Icarus, stealing fire from the Gods -- mostly for himself, but still -- not some Willy Loman small-business schnook.
This argument also sidesteps the reality that, as Don [and the heavyweight division, the basket where he has always placed most of his eggs as a promoter] faded, his primary competition Bob Arum's Top Rank has only gotten bigger over the '00s and Golden Boy Promotions quickly rose from being essentially Oscar De La Hoya's self-promotion body to Arum's only direct competition for being top dog in the business. What's weird is that Mayo parks this argument at the lede but comes back to knock most of it down himself toward the end of the article.
"King still has a number of titleholders under contract, although he could put them all on one card and not have a decent pay-per-view show."
I don't have anything to take issue with here; I just miss the days when PPVs had more than one title fight on them. But then, the only PPVs that ever had that on a consistent basis were King's; other promoters line up an undercard that guarantees the received industry wisdom that no one buys a boxing PPV for the non-headline fights. This is true in the same way that the meals at Hooters are so terrible that no one goes there for the food.
"'I used my wit and grit and intellect, because that’s all I had,' King said."
Is there a better metaphor for how Don King rewrites his past to fit his present than how he's changed the no-nonsense moxie of his original, pre-I-need-a-pardon-for-my-manslaughter-conviction motto "Wit, Grit and Bullshit"?
"Golden Boy’s favored arrangement with HBO gnaws at rival promoters, although King enjoyed the same treatment for several years. Thirty years ago, he became the first promoter to sell HBO a heavyweight title telecast with the Larry Holmes-Mike Weaver fight, when King declined an $800,000 license fee from ABC to take HBO’s $125,000. The idea, he said, was to drive competition with a new television entity. After several years, the ultimate result was network television’s complete withdrawal from the boxing business."
OK, this sticks in my craw: First of all, most history books say ABC offered $750,000, not $800K, and that King insisted that they were deliberately low-balling their price. He sold the Weaver-Holmes fight to HBO cheap because ABC wouldn't pay the $1 million he wanted for it and HBO Sports president Seth Abraham charmed him by cold-calling his office to offer the $125K bid -- all HBO Sports could afford at the time -- for the fight. It was short-term spite over a quarter-million dollars, not long-term vision of healthier industry competition to be made that led to King's partnership with HBO. Ironically, it was largely King's spite over HBO not meeting his price for a multi-fight deal for Mike Tyson that led to the breakup of the HBO-DKP marriage and his decampment to Showtime and his own attempts at in-house PPV the last 20 or so years.
Also, in 1979 the memory of the United States Boxing Championship clusterfuck was undoubtedly still fresh in network suits' minds; "a Don King fight" was still radioactive to varying degrees at ABC/NBC/CBS, so there really weren't a lot of options for Weaver-Holmes if ABC had seriously low-balled their fee.
"'If you had Ali in Ali’s time, and technology in technology’s time, and if you had that all together, man, what are you talking about?' he said."
Man, what are you talking about, indeed.
"'I went there because of [Treasure Island Casino boss] Phil Ruffin. We made an agreement and shook hands, on his word, and he fulfilled every obligation of that commitment and handshake. That was how I started. I started on faith and the reliance on a word, a handshake. I have to say, Phil Ruffin’s handshake is better than most people you deal with under a contract. That’s how Vegas used to operate, and I found that in Phil Ruffin. He’s the chairman of the board. He doesn’t have any board he has to go get approval from, and he was a pleasure and a delight to work with.'"
Interestingly enough, even after reportedly selling the Casino's hall out for a Halloween night card aired on Showtime a few months ago, King's next big fight night -- light welterweights Devon Alexander vs. Juan Urango and a title match between light middleweights Cory Spinks and Cornelius Bundrage, scheduled to air on HBO in early March -- was recently dropped from Treasure Island's schedule and wound up being moved to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT instead. Sometimes I wonder if I'm just not reading the right boxing news Web sites -- I actually happened across Mr. Mayo's article while unsuccessfully searching the RING Web site for a report on a possible Ruffin-King breakup -- because I never saw a report about the whys of the Island/Ruffin decided against hosting the fights, just a few pieces reporting and/or speculating on the logistics of where it could be moved this close to the event.'