My oh my, how things can change in an instant. This sport, more than any other known to man, is the best example there is to this important fact of life. Just over a month ago, heavyweight boxing seemed ready to be cast into the hands of Don King, and placed at the disposal of King’s every promotional whim. Boxing had four different sanctioning organizations, each one with a separate heavyweight “champion.” For about two days, all of them were under the “King-dom,” namely a Don King Productions promotoional contract.
Being fair to the sport’s premier promoter (perhaps of all time), when King grabbed the final piece of the puzzle that came when Hasim Rahman was given the WBC belt upon the retirement of Vital Klitschko, King publicly rejoiced and declared that his good fortune would soon result in the realization of every boxing fan’s biggest wish: a single undisputed heavyweight champion that boxing fans could recognize as the best fighter in the division. King claimed that he would finally hold a tournament for the benefit of the sport he so dearly loves. Many people however, had their doubts as to whether or not King’s declarations would ever truly come to fruition. Writers, fans, and even fighters knew that King had already controlled three quarters of the heavyweight for years, he never produced a single unification fight in that time.
Chris Byrd (the IBF title holder), John Ruiz (now former WBA title holder), and Lamon Brewster (the WBO title holder), all went public, over and over again, pleading for a heavyweight unification fight with each other. Fans figured that since there would be no contract disputes between opposing promoters, or cable networks, that such unification fights could be made by the world’s most powerful promoter. Instead of making any title unifying fights, which would have been great for the sport, King venomously attacked the champion of the one belt he did not control, the one previously held by Klitschko, who King claimed was holding up the sport, by selfishly stalling on a bout against Rahman..
So naturally, when Klitschko did the noble thing, and retired from the sport upon realizing that his body was betraying his proven heart, King rejoiced as Rahman was anointed as the new WBC champion. Rahman’s newly received title belt, won without having to defeat the freshly retired former champion (or anyone else), meant that King now controlled the entire division. And so it was, all was well within the ‘King-don’, as the sport’s most charismatic promoter with the electric hair now held all the cards.
Qickly, a new wind swept those same cards right out of King’s grasp, and left the promoter with far less control over the direction of the heavyweight division, and a rather bleak outlook for the immediate future. First, Rahman legally broke free of his contract with King, thanks to a bankruptcy court ruling, and he immediately signed with King’s longest running rival promoter, Bob Arum. At the same time, Byrd filed a lawsuit against King, seeking to dissolve his contract with the promoter as well, and King fired back with a lawsuit of his own. Byrd is hoping to break free from his contract the way Rahman did, and then fight Vitali’s borther,Wladimir Klitschko in Germany for millions of dollars, dollars contractually promised by King, but never delivered, according to Byrd. And, just this week, Ruiz lost his belt to a woolly mammoth (I thought they were extinct, who knew?) from Russia named Nicolai Valuev. King however, caught part of that belt before it slipped away, gaining from Sauerland Event the co-promotional rights to the giant Valuev, who fights out of Germany.
So, as the dust now settles, King is now down to two belt holders (Brewster and Valuev), although Byrd’s lawsuit against King is still up in the air. The moral: Don, if you don’t use it, you lose it. King had control over most of the division for years and the bottom line, the same bottom line he so famously loves to hold fighters too, is that he never delivered a single unification bout to help clarify the sport’s most important weight division.
But there’s a catch (anybody reading this should have guessed there would be a catch in a Don King related story). King also has a half-stake in James Toney’s next fight. Thanls to some behind-the-scenes shenaningans by the WBC, Toney is ranked #2 behind Oleg Maskaev but mysteriously has become Rahman’s mandatory challenger. Toney likely would be a favorite to beat Rahman, and thus could bring the WBC belt back to the promoter’s stable.
Another potential blow for King is that if he ties up Byrd in court, that could require Brewster to possibly fight Wladimir Klitschko, who has earned a mandatory position against both fighters. Klitschko, like his now retired older brother Vitali, is adamant about not letting King take control over his career, and unlike most heavyweights today, Klitschko controls his own future (he even established his own self-serving promotional firm). Although Brewster defeated Wladimir when he collapsed mid-fight, Klitschko would be about even-money to defeat Brewster in a rematch. Looking back at their first encounter, Brewster took a beating for over four against Klitschko, who finally tired himself out by punching Brewster like he was a heavy bag.
Thus, there are two outliers that King is uncharacteristically at the mercy of: the decision of a judge in the lawsuit between King and Byrd, and the decision of Wladimir Klitschko over which title belt to shoot for. King is likely hoping that Klitschko chooses to fight Byrd, so that in the event the promoter loses his lawsuit with the IBF title holder, he won’t have to worry about incurring the loss of another champion had Klitschko decided to fight Brewster (again Klitschko would have to first win of course).
Looking at things now, there is irony in this whole confusing mess. Wladimir Klitschko, once dubbed the savior of the division, now dubbed simply a bust, may turn out to be the influential factor over the direction the heavyweight division goes in, if he can win his next fight, against either Byrd or Brewster, but especially if he fights and beats Brewster.
But even if Klitschko plays it safe, and takes on Byrd, a fighter he’s already handily beaten before, King would still be down to only one heavyweight title holder in his stable (Brewster). And to make matters worse, a Klitschko versus Valuev unification bout would be the biggest grossing boxing event that Europe has had in decades, perhaps ever, hands down, so King may have to struggle to promote Valuev’s future bouts, depending on how things play out. Rahman and Toney are both crucial players too, as whoever wins their bout would be more than willing to mix it up with any other belt holders, as both their proven track records show.
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