Years ago, I’d occasionally do business with Don King. More business than he actually knew about, since Al Braverman, his Director of Boxing, often picked my brain (and paid me) for fighter assessments or matchmaking. My direct exchanges with King were invariably pleasant, the paydays my fighters got on his shows were better than what we’d get from Bob Arum, there were no double crosses, and DKP’s checks always arrived promptly (with no surprise deductions). I got audited by the IRS for 1995 because of King, but didn’t take it personally; the Feds were trying to get him, not me.
Twice, through Braverman, I set up big deals for King. The 1995 one came to fruition. King seemingly fucked up the other one with such scorched-earth finality that at first I doubted both his business acumen and his sanity.
Here’s what happened:
I knew some guys in New York who knew some guys in Boca Raton who knew Wayne Huizenga, who was interested in developing a boxing series for television, focusing largely on the emerging South Florida Latino market.
The people I knew had a lot of money on the table, but no boxing knowledge. That’s where I was to come in. Since I didn’t have access to a sizable stable of fighters and was unknown outside of a small circle of boxing people, I called Al Braverman, who brought in King.
I was living on the beach in Rincon when got a call one morning. “Mister Charles Farrell. We gotta get you to the meeting in Miami this afternoon. Where you at?”
The booming voice was unmistakable.
“I’m down in Puerto Rico, Don. I don’t know if I can get to Miami by this afternoon.”
“Oh, you in Puerto Rica. Well, just jump on a plane from San Juan, baby. You can be up here in a couple hours.”
I explained that that wouldn’t be possible. I was far from the eastern part of the island, and would have to catch a flight to San Juan from Mayaguez or Aguadilla. There were no afternoon flights from either airport.
“I can send a private plane,” he said.
I still don’t know whether this was something King would have really done. He went through the motions at least, suggesting various possibilities. In the end, logistically, there was no way I could get from Rincon to South Beach in a few hours.
“That’s okay, my man. Al said that you set this thing up, so you’re with us. You’re in.”
So I never got to see the Don King Show, although I was told about it by two people who were at the meeting. They both presented the same picture.
King was ushered into the room, introduced to Huizinga and his staff, and began pacing and yelling.
“You white motherfuckers,” he stared. “You think you gonna take over boxing from Don King, try to tell me how to run this business. Bunch of college boy white assholes. Don’t nobody tell Don King about boxing.”
He went on in the vein for another ten minutes, shouting and waving his arms, then stormed out, never to return.
The New York guys, the Boca Raton guys, and Huizinga’s guys were left with their mouths hanging open. Nobody had said a word.
It took me a little time to figure out what King had done, but eventually I got it. King didn’t want a partner, and he wanted to make sure that someone far more capitalized and connected than himself didn’t remain interested in a business where, once he got a foot in the door, he could cut loose a black felon who would be seen as a public relations problem in the eyes of mainstream sponsors.
King’s hundred-megaton assault nipped in the bud any notion that Wayne Huizinga might have had about entering the world of professional boxing. It was years before he even dipped a toe back into the water.
King’s preemptive strike on Huizinga was atypical of him; he generally treats everyone as if they’re the most important person in the room. The thing to know, though, is that he believes that he is the only important person in the room. Bear that in mind with what follows.
During the Republican primaries, I saw two guys who were clearly signaling that they didn’t want to be president. One was Jeb Bush. The other was Donald Trump.
The difference between them is that Trump didn’t then and doesn’t now want to lose. Since losing is, by definition, for “losers,” he needs to come up with an outsider’s way of losing that can be pawned off as a moral victory over a rigged system—the “sad” result of a “very unfair” kind of elitism that would render people like King, Bobby Knight, Kid Rock and Hulk Hogan unworthy endorsers.
As the field narrows down to two unpopular candidates, the campaign bloom is off the rose for Trump; it’s dawning on him that there’s a remote chance he could actually become president, and that it is not going to be a fun job, like The Apprentice. He’s becoming desperate. Nothing he’s done so far has gotten him booted out of the race, so he’s started to ramp up the level of outrage, finally going after people who can really fight back, offending a lot of Jews and finding ways to praise Saddam Hussein, a guy who has few fans in any camp in the US.
Trump is hoping for a DQ —a Mike Tyson ear-biting loss instead of the fair-fight KO defeat his psyche would never be able to handle. Thus his reported invitation to King to speak at the Republican convention.
For King, speaking at the GOP Convention in Cleveland would be a late-in-life chance—at a point where he is at long last down and almost out—for getting his face in front an enormous audience, in his hometown doing something that actually matters globally.
Just being on the scene, and by Trump, could make Don King matter again—an important thing, at least to Don King.
It would be easy to mistake the the King-Trump alliance as a symbiotic marketing opportunity for two aggressively business and celebrity obsessed predators. Gullible observers might see them as reverse photo images of the same man.
Similar in stature, they share a kind of physical buffoonery—more calculated on King’s part than on Trump’s—that invites derision. But both draw gawkers, rubes, and members of the press, and succeed in gulping every ounce of oxygen in the room. Given to malapropisms (King’s deliberate, Trump’s a function of near-illiteracy) and a breezy disregard for facts and thematic consistency, their followers care more about how they say things than the coherence of what they say.
But they’re not the same at all. Trump is a lightweight, a bully whose circumstance, birthright, vanity, and dumb luck have thrust into the right place at the right time. Were he black, no one would have ever heard of him.
King — a convicted murderer — got where he did through a back-breaking work ethic, amorality, and Machiavellian logic. He has spent a lifetime swimming in hostile waters, staying afloat while pulling under anyone dumb enough to get within reach. His formidable intelligence is kept cannily hidden behind a smokescreen of flamboyance and noise. You don’t know how smart he is until you have to do business with him.
This was Trump at a rally earlier this month hyping King: “You know who I just spoke to? Big Don King. Big Don King. Just spoke to him ten minutes ago. I said Don, I’d love for you to speak at the convention because you know what? You beat the system, and he’s a friend of mine. Big Don. Greatest Boxer promoter of all time and Mike Tyson endorsed me.” (As of Sunday afternoon, King was not on the roster of RNC speakers.)
The thing is, King doesn’t have many followers anymore. (“He’s a bad man” said Tyson a few years ago. “He would kill his mother for a dollar.”) Cleveland may be King’s last chance — if he gets that chance — to trot out the big voice and the big laugh, then briefly become pious, letting his sad puppy eyes radiate love as he heaps encomia on Trump, a great human being, a great friend, a great American, a great humanitarian, and the next great president of the greatest country on God’s earth, the United States of America.
King would do a bang up job selling. Just remember who he’d really be selling.
Because Donald Trump doesn’t mean shit to Don King.