Boxing again finds King a big hitter in heavyweight division

Promoter his usual self before Rahman-Lewis

November 16, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS - Not two minutes after heavyweight boxing champion Hasim Rahman settled into his chair for a midweek gathering with the international print media, he found himself without a microphone and, it seemed, any reason to be in the room.

Promoter Don King took over the tiny stage without a fight, leaving the champ looking slightly bemused and the assembled reporters - who had seen this act a few dozen times before - more than slightly irritated.

It was vintage King. The P.T. Barnum of boxing is back in charge of the heavyweight division, and he doesn't care how many eardrums he has to rupture to proclaim it to the world.

By the time he was through, there was only one question left unanswered: How can Rahman expect to defeat a 6-foot-5 mountain like Lennox Lewis again when he can't even wrestle a microphone away from a 70-year-old man?

Of course, this is no ordinary senior citizen. King has defied the odds, defied convention, defied the Internal Revenue Service and any number of law enforcement agencies on his way to becoming the greatest boxing promoter in the history of the sport.

Not arguably the greatest. The undisputed all-time heavyweight champion of promoters. Love him or hate him - and there is little room for ambivalence on that score - there is no one else quite like him.

That doesn't make it any easier to listen to him when he launches into another marathon monologue of mixed metaphors and semi-relevant, semi-accurate historical quotations.

It is as if there is a vast library in the catacombs of Don King Productions that includes every volume of philosophy and wisdom - and a staff in charge of making sure that he misquotes each one of them.

But if you're looking for King to apologize for being King, get comfortable in the waiting room. He knows exactly who he is and exactly what he's doing - operating his own tried and proven method for getting to the top and staying on top by any means necessary.

Whether he quotes the Bible or Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, the message is largely the same. It is King against the world and, any minute now, the world is about to realize that it's missing a wallet and car keys.

"God has been with me over the years, with all the people who have been conspiring to stop me over the years," King said yesterday, during a relatively quiet moment in the publicity buildup for tomorrow night's heavyweight championship rematch between Rahman and Lewis. "I think David said it most accurately, `I will prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies. I will make your enemies your footstool.' "

King certainly has plenty of enemies, from the fading fighters who claim that he ripped them off to the opposing promoters he has outflanked and outfoxed for most of the past 30 years, but there always seems to be someone willing to get into bed with him for that one big payday that only he seems able to arrange.

Lewis, for example, long maintained that he would never get financially entangled with King, but now stands to make at least $11 million from Saturday's fight and is rumored to be negotiating a huge post-fight deal - though there is reason to believe he is leaving the possibility open because of concern that King might exercise some influence over the outcome of the fight. Stranger things have happened in the shady world of professional boxing.

"I'm [cast as] the enemy of Lennox Lewis," King said, "but he's made $60 million with me and with his friends he was starving to death. If he had been with me, he'd have made a couple hundred million by now. It doesn't matter if you like the guy. I pay the money. They can't do it without me."

Perhaps Rahman is the best example. After the stunning upset that made him the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion, boxing broadcast behemoths HBO and Showtime appeared to be locked up in a two-way bidding war to sign him to a multi-fight deal, but King swooped in and reclaimed control of the title with a package that reportedly included a duffel bag filled with $200,000.

"The money that changed hands was topped only by the money that didn't change hands," said HBO executive Mark Taffet, in a sarcastic reference to the large package that Rahman turned down from the cable network.

The deal immediately became part of King's self-developed mythology. He had been all but angled out of the heavyweight division until the miraculous Rahman knockout "opened the door" for his return to prominence. Now, he is working hard to assure that he remains in the picture regardless of the outcome of tomorrow night's fight.

The winner will be positioned for a big-money bout against Mike Tyson, who is one of King's estranged boxers, so King presumably would need to make a deal with Lewis to assure that he'll be involved if Rahman loses.

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