Don King up to his old tricks again

 

In his 1995 book Only In America: The Life and Crimes of Don King, Jack Newfield relates the saga of how the electric-haired promoter once cleverly defused a pending $1.2 million Muhammad Ali lawsuit with a "magic suitcase" containing $50,000 in cash.

King had short-changed the great Ali by over a million dollars for his next-to-last fight, the inglorious 1980 loss to Larry Holmes, but a month after Ali had sued to recover the money, King summoned a henchman named Jeremiah Shabazz, who had been Ali's original Muslim teacher, to his office and handed him the suitcase.

"I want you to give this cash money to Ali," said King, "but only after you get him to sign this document."

The scheme worked, as King knew it would. To the consternation of his attorneys, who were not present for the meeting with Shabazz, Ali was so impressed by the sight of a bagful of greenbacks that he happily elected to drop the court case.

Turning the clock back 20 years, the World's Greatest Promoter dusted off the old trick last week in the process of poaching boxing's hottest commodity, WBC/IBF heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, away from rival Cedric Kushner.

In the three weeks since his startling upset of Lennox Lewis in South Africa, Rahman had been the object of an intense bidding war between television networks.

In King's apocryphal version, the promoter had been dining in a New York Chinese restaurant earlier in the week when he opened a fortune cookie whose message read "Go Get Rahman. Him Ready."

Last Thursday night in New York, while Kushner and HBO vice president Kery Davis (who had a $5.3 million cashier's check for Rahman in his pocket) awaited Rahman's arrival at the annual Boxing Writers Association of America dinner, Rahman's place remained unoccupied. (Roberto Duran wound up eating Hasim's steak, as well as his own.)

The deal-breaker in the all-night negotiating session was King's old standby - flash cash. Although he also gave him a check for $4.5 million as part of his signing bonus, what turned Rahman's head that night was a duffel bag stuffed with $500,000 in hundred dollar bills.

By chance I happened to be staying at the same Manhattan hotel, and while I didn't know it until the next day, at 3 o'clock in the morning Rahman emerged from King's suite and knocked on the door of his trainer, Adrian Davis, no more than 20 yards from where I was sleeping. He unzipped the bag to show Davis the money, and then entrusted the swag to the trainer for overnight safekeeping.

The next morning Rahman, accompanied by a bodyguard, showed up to reclaim the duffel bag. The pair then made the four-hour drive to Rahman's Maryland home, where, after showing the loot to his wife, the fighter deposited it in a Baltimore bank. Then he turned around and drove back to New York, arriving in time for that afternoon's al fresco Felix Trinidad-William Joppy weigh-in at Bryant Park.

King, reluctant to steal the thunder from Saturday night's middleweight title fight, did not officially confirm Rahman's signing until Trinidad had safely disposed of Joppy. Rahman made his first public appearance as a King indentured servant at a Monday morning reception convened to formally announce John Ruiz' WBA heavyweight title defence against Evander Holyfield in Beijing on August 4.

Rahman is also slated to fight on the China card, where he will make his first defence not against Lewis or Tyson but Brian Nielsen, a/k/a "The Danish Pastry," a 61-1 heavyweight whose victims have been for the most part exhumed from morgues around the world.

In addition to the $5 million 'signing bonus,' Rahman is supposed to get another $5 million to fight Nielsen, and, if successful, $15 more to meet the winner of Ruiz-Holyfield for the undisputed title. King's contract also promises still headier numbers for eventual fights against Lewis and Tyson.

In practice, unification of the championship might not be that easy. Predictably, at least half a dozen lawsuits have already been initiated, and more are sure to follow. Moreover, not only does Lewis hold a dubious rematch clause, the residue of the South Africa fight, but Tyson is the WBC's top-rated contender and could come due for a mandatory challenge by November. Some boxing insiders are predicting that whatever might happen in the ring with Rahman and Ruiz, Lewis and Tyson could be battling for the vacant WBC belt before the year is out.

None of this might have happened, of course, had HBO not thought so little of Rahman's chances against Lewis that they didn't bother locking him up for his first defense in the event he won. And it now develops that Kushner may have been similarly guilty of underestimating his own fighter. Although he had promoted Rahman for the past five years, the roly-poly South African was required to make a $75,000 payment nine days before the fight in Carnival City in order to renew the relationship. For whatever reason, Kushner didn't, and when he attempted to present the check after the upset win, it was declined.

At Monday's gathering, held at a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, King delivered a rambling half-hour address, in the course which he quoted liberally (and sometimes even accurately) from Shakespeare, Confucius, Churchill, Chairman Mao, and Albert Einstein, but the most revealing insight may have come in a nugget unearthed especially for the occasion, this one uttered by the ancient Chinese military tactician Sun Tzu:

"Create chaos in the west, and strike in the east . . ."