Throughout its history, boxing and gangsters have fit together like, well, a fist in a glove.
The same can’t be said of Disneyland, home of Mickey, Minnie, and a whole menagerie of kid-friendly singing crickets, dancing chipmunks, and whistling dwarves.
But right now, an unholy alliance of wiseguys, boxers, and Disney princesses is being formed and presented for your viewing pleasure on the Magic Kingdom-owned ESPN, the self-styled World Wide Leader in Sports.
From the days of Owney Madden back in the 30s, through the mob-controlled 50s of Frank Costello, Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo, and up to the era of former numbers boss Don King and “The Dapper Don’’ John Gotti, bad guys have always rubbed elbows with, and in many cases picked the pockets of, professional fighters. As recently as the 90s, admitted mob hit man Sammy (The Bull) Gravano was hanging around Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn looking to spar with someone, so long as that someone had one arm tied behind his back, so to speak.
So it should come as no surprise that Daniel Kinahan, who this week was credited by heavyweight champion Tyson Fury for landing him a two-fight deal to face fellow Brit Anthony Joshua next year, allegedly walks in the grimy footsteps of Madden, Costello, Carbo, Palermo, King and Gotti.
And his own father.
Kinahan is the son of known Irish mobster Christy Kinahan, who also goes by the sobriquet Dapper Don. Christy has been in the jug for drug dealing, is suspected of controlling a cartel that supplies heroin and ecstasy to Europe for Mexican and Colombian drug lords, and is said to be in bed with the Russian mob.
But the kid is no slouch, either. While never having been convicted of a crime, Daniel Kinahan is believed to have taken over the old man’s business and is currently not welcome in his native Ireland or here in the U.S., where the FBI has him on a list of suspected narco-terrorists. In 2016, Kinahan and his cartel were allegedly involved in a shootout at the Regency Hotel in Dublin that turned out to be more comical than lethal, featuring a hit man dressed in drag.
This weekend The Sunday Times, the U.K.’s largest-selling national newspaper, reported that the Irish government had asked the FBI and the DEA to assist in pursuing Kinahan, who currently lives in exile in Dubai.
But living in exile hasn’t stopped him from putting his imprint on pro boxing in general, and Tyson Fury — who recently knocked out Deontay Wilder to establish himself as the world’s premier heavyweight — in particular. As King did after his release from prison on a manslaughter conviction in the late 1960s, Kinahan has found refuge in the welcoming arms of boxing and has rebranded himself as a promoter.
And not just any promoter, but one with control of the most marketable performer in the sport. And it’s likely no coincidence that MTK Global, the name of the promotional company for which Kinahan serves as an unofficial “advisor,’’ — he has no official role with the company and, according to an MTK employee, is not paid by MTK — had 26 fight cards on the streaming platform ESPN+ in 2019. Currently, MTK controls more than 150 fighters, mostly from Ireland and the UK, including super-middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders, former featherweight champion Carl Frampton, and upcoming Irish featherweight Mick Conlan.
And according to the MTK employee, who spoke to Deadspin under condition of anonymity, Kinahan’s voice is respected and valued by many of the more prominent MTK fighters, and by none more so than Fury.
On Wednesday, Fury released an Instagram video in which he jubilantly thanked Kinahan for getting the somewhat nebulous deal with Joshua “done.’’ In fact, there is no set date or site for the fight — Fury is contractually-obligated to give Wilder a third fight and Joshua has two mandatory defenses scheduled — and due to Kinahan’s travel restrictions, the bout is probably limited to either somewhere in the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, the site of Joshua’s title-regaining win over Andy Ruiz Jr. last year.
But Fury’s testimonial raised the fury of Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who expressed his dismay before Parliament on Thursday, saying he would be in contact with the UAE in regards to the matter. Lawmaker Neale Richmond took it a step further, saying he would be in contact with broadcast entities that might be inclined to present Fury-Joshua, just to let them know who they’re dealing with in Kinahan.
In a video message posted on Twitter, Richmond said, “Anthony Joshua versus Tyson Fury is going to be one of the biggest boxing matches of the next decade. It’s huge, and as a sports fan, I’m absolutely enthused by it. However, . . . Daniel Kinahan, as we’ve learned in a sworn affidavit to the High Court last month, is a criminal mastermind behind one of the biggest drug feuds and drug operations in the country. It’s extremely worrying that he’s involved in this bout.’’
In fact, the only ones who don’t seem to know — wink, wink — about Kinahan’s shady past and his involvement with one of their showcase sports is ESPN, which presented a pandemic-era fight card sans audience Thursday night. During the broadcast, in the lead-up to an on-camera interview with Fury, ESPN re-ran the Instagram video in which the champ name-checked Daniel Kinahan not once, not twice, but thrice.
An email sent to an ESPN flack seeking comment from its president, Jimmy Pitaro, drew the following reply: “My pals in programming say we have no relationship with [Daniel Kinahan] and that he’s really not involved with our boxing. I don’t know him at all. Not much for us to discuss.’’
Reminded that Pitaro might want to become more familiar with the guy he’s going to have to deal with — Fury has fought three times on ESPN platforms already — now that he’s been mentioned over their network, the spokesman wrote this: “Not sure what you want me to do here. I’m told we don’t deal with the guy. No relationship with him whatsoever. Our agreement is with Top Rank, full stop.’’
Meanwhile, ESPN, which is owned by Disney, is in the second year of a seven-year deal with Top Rank, whose boss, Bob Arum, has been all over the boxing internet extolling Kinahan’s character, saying essentially that whatever happened in Ireland, or Dubai, or Spain — another of Kinahan’s former refuges — will stay there.
Of course, a character reference from Arum carries its own disclaimer — while the 88-year-old former U.S. attorney turned promoter has never been indicted or convicted of a crime, he has been accused of underpayment by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and sued by Oscar de la Hoya — but as far as Arum is concerned, bygones are bygones when it comes to making money. Hell, he’s done business with his arch-rival King, too, when the right amount of money was involved.
“Those are allegations [about Kinahan] and I don’t know anything about that, and his dealings with us have been solely about Tyson Fury and the sport of boxing,’’ Arum told the Irish Sun. “It’s not unusual that somebody with a questionable background will go into boxing.’’
Sometimes, they even get the keys to Disneyland.