Inspired by former Mizzou linebacker and current boxer Ryan Coyne's acrimonious business relationship with Don King, St. Louis's River Front Times recently caught up with the American legend and Prince Hall Freemason, insofar as you can catch up with someone that refuses to talk to you. As it turns out, Don King is as crazy, exploitative and intractable as ever, and though his boxing empire is crumbling, he's still pretty good at ruining lives for an octogenarian.
Boxing is the rare sport where a manager or promoter can make money by signing clients to onerous contracts and then ignoring them for months, sometimes years at a time. King perfected the art of playing fighters off against each other and waiting until they were desperate for any kind of pay-out, and throughout the piece, one is struck at how effective a sleazeball he is–con men don't achieve world renown without a clever approach to ripping people off. John McCain introduced a bill in the Senate essentially designed to stop Don King. It passed, became law, and failed to stop Don King.
Boxing was a dirty sport long before Don King entered the scene in the 1970s, but it has resisted reform unlike any other. Despite all the shenanigans of the '90s and the rise and dramatic fall of Tyson, there's still no national boxing commissioner, no boxers' union looking out for fighters' rights, no healthcare or retirement for fighters — not even a simple online database where anyone can find the names of fighters and who represents them. Regulation occurs on a state level and varies wildly in its rules and enforcement [...]
"[The Muhammad Ali Act] was written to protect fighters from the kind of exploitation that Don was guilty of," says [boxing manger Tom] Moran. "And here we are ten, twelve years later, and he's doing very similar things."
Ryan Coyne told the paper the story of his first interaction with King, who would "represent" him for years. It sounds scary:
Coyne, who says he was told he couldn't bring a lawyer, waited at a long conference room table with two of King's employees before the man himself finally stepped in from his office, dripping in jewelry and grinning.
"Oh, Danny boy," King trilled. "Irish eyes are smiling! Leprechauns jumping from glen to glen."
Despite the babbling, King was warm and charming, and Coyne liked what he heard when King promised a shot at a world title within two years of signing with DKP. An assistant produced a contract and slid it in front of Coyne — eight pages of miniscule type — and asked him to sign on the dotted line. Coyne hesitated.
Although the contract states in several places that the signer should "seek the advice of an attorney," Coyne says the mere mention of bringing a copy back to his lawyer in St. Louis completely changed the tenor of the meeting.
"If you take this contract out the room, the deal's off the table," Coyne quotes King saying. "You're a nobody, you're going to stay a nobody."
The article ends with two vignettes of King's slow and steady downfall: Bernard Hopkins openly taunting King at his Barclays Center press conference before his bout with King's fighter, Tavoris Cloud last weekend, and King's few remaining employees talking about the changes in him since his wife of more than 50 years passed away in 2010. At 81, his iron grip on boxing is loosening, which means that one man's infirmity might soon do what the U.S. Senate couldn't: make boxing regulable.
Don King's Final Round [River Front Times]