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BOXING / CHRIS DUFRESNE : Calling King 'the Greatest,' Tyson Gives Him New Life

March 31, 1995|Chris Dufresne

Hoodwinked again.

As usual, everyone was wrong about Don King. Underestimated him. Counted him out. Laughed out loud at the promise of his demise.

The feds, who have been after King the way they were Al Capone, could tell you stories.

Last week, after Mike Tyson was released from prison, it was reported that King had committed an unpardonable faux pas , stocking the former inmate and converted Muslim's larder with alcohol, pork and shellfish--all shunned by true believers of Islam.

Everyone figured King was done. The New York tabloids wrote his boxing obituary.

When Tyson announced Tuesday from his Ohio home that he would be releasing a Thursday statement concerning his plans, King was far away in Florida.

It was also strange--no foretelling! some said--that King was not in Los Angeles that day to preside over a news conference for his April 8 card in Las Vegas, a five-championship-fight extravaganza.

Speaking via speaker phone to a Century Plaza hotel ballroom gathering, a muted King did not dispel the rumors.

"The New York tabloids will write whatever they want to write," he said. "We'll deal with that in time."

The tabloid blasts turned out to be "Dewey Beats Truman."

Thursday, in his first public comments since he was released from the Indiana Youth Center, Mike Tyson read a 61-second statement at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, stating emphatically that King would continue to serve as his promoter. Tyson did not take questions.

"Don is the greatest promoter in the world, as we know," Tyson said in part. "I want to associate myself with the biggest and the best."

They were words the boxing world hated to hear.

"Why would anyone expect him to come out any smarter than when he went in," rival promoter Dan Duva said of Tyson. "He didn't go to Princeton for three years, he went to prison."

Outfoxing the bookmakers, it took Tyson only five days to make his first major mistake as a free man. Instead of breaking the shackles of servitude and chucking the company of ex-convicts--King once served time for manslaughter--Tyson took his first step backward.

Not that King was to blame for all of Tyson's indiscretions, but this homecoming was supposed to be about appearances; new religion, new Tyson. It's difficult to buy a new Tyson with the old King.

Cool cat King, though, just cashed in another life. That's six down, three to go.

"Anybody who bet against King didn't like money," said HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant, who never bought into the King-is-dead stories. "Tyson has always depended on King emotionally as much as, if not more than, financially, as a guide to steer him through shoals of high finance, or the rocks of high finance. He's always been dependent on someone."

Butch Lewis, veteran promoter, visited Tyson a dozen times in prison and thought he had a decent shot at persuading the former heavyweight champion to split from King.

Thursday, all Lewis could do was tip his cap.

"Don may have morals that are questionable," Lewis said. "To me, he does things that are morally terrible. But he is the best (promoter) that I've ever, ever seen. And anybody who's telling the truth in this day and age would say he's the best they've ever seen.

"The guy is good. I'm not a fan of his, but I have a great deal of respect for what he does. When I see him, I'll bust out laughing. I'll say 'You're good, you SOB.' You have to give him credit. I just hope he does right by this kid."

King had some things working against him. On King's watch, Tyson lost his heavyweight title. Under King, Tyson was convicted of raping Desiree Washington and sentenced to six years in prison--he served three.

King also has legal problems of his own--a trial in May for alleged insurance fraud.

But all this mattered not. In the end, King was loyal as a Labrador. To his credit, he stood by his man, proclaimed Tyson's innocence and was a dedicated prison visitor.

Oh, King also made it a point to lock up half of the splintered heavyweight division before they unlocked Tyson's cell.

If Tyson is itching to become champion again, his man is King of the road. King promotes World Boxing Council champion Oliver McCall and has the whole World Boxing Assn. title in his hands now that the WBA has stripped George Foreman of his title for not facing one of King's fighters, Tony Tucker, in a mandatory defense.

Tucker and Bruce Seldon vie for the vacant title on King's April 8 card at Caesars Palace.

Only in America, as King says.

So, Tyson is back. And so is King.

*

Boxing Notes

Wasting little time, Mike Tyson has agreed to a six-fight deal at the MGM in Las Vegas over the next 2 1/2 years. According to sources familiar with the deal, Tyson wants about six months to get ready for his first fight, which will be at the MGM in late August or early September. That time frame, and King's involvement, would make a Tyson-George Foreman matchup appear unlikely. Foreman has said he will not fight Tyson if King is the promoter. Foreman also says he will retire at the end of the year.

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