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King's promoting grip loosens Probes, suits leave an empire imperiled


There is the illusion of business as usual these days at promoter Don King's office on East 69th Street in New York.

Veteran matchmaker Al Braverman talks of King arranging summer fights for middleweight champion Julian Jackson, super welterweight king Julio Cesar Chavez, super featherweight champion Azumah Nelson and heavyweight contender Donovan "Razor" Ruddock.

But, like Humpty Dumpty, King and his boxing empire could be headed for a terrible fall.

The flamboyant promoter is being investigated by the U.S. Senate, FBI, Internal Revenue Service and New Jersey and Nevada boxing commissions on charges of misappropriating funds from former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson while dividing the spoils among family members.

In addition, King is being sued by Tyson's former manager, Bill Cayton, and ex-heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon.

However, Tyson remains firmly in King's corner. Tyson recently wrote a supportive letter from the Indiana prison where is serving six years on a rape conviction. In response to charges made by Joseph Maffia, King's former comptroller, Tyson wrote: "I approved every expense. Don never stole from me."

But King might have more difficulty escaping the charges than he did in 1984, when he was acquitted of evading federal taxes.

King, who was unavailable for comment for this article, has called Maffia "a disgruntled employee" whose affidavits are "filled with lies, fabrications and half-truths about me, my business and my family."

King also said Maffia now is employed by Cayton, who denied the allegation. "My lawyers subpoenaed Maffia to get these dispositions in our suit against King," Cayton said.

Whatever the outcome, King is losing his power struggle with rival promoters Bob Arum and Dan Duva. And his enemies seem to agree that the publicity connected with King's dealings can only further damage boxing's already tainted image.

One might expect Arum to take special pleasure in the problems of King, a former numbers operator in Cleveland who served four years in prison for manslaughter. But Arum said King's latest troubles affect everyone in the sport.

"Boxing is not the most popular sport now," said Arum, "and this latest business really hurts. The sport is almost terminal. We need new box-office stars, but, ironically, the biggest one today is George Foreman, who is 43."

Cayton, whose contract with Tyson ran out in February, shares Arum's concern about boxing. Cayton's suit charges King with undermining his association with the former champion. King, in turn, is suing Cayton over past business deals with Tyson.

"King has destroyed boxing," Cayton said. "The reality comes when you talk to the networks about staging major fights. They just turn up their noses.

"Polls have been conducted that show boxing draws higher ratings on network TV than golf, horse racing and tennis. But there has been a terrible stench from boxing since Tyson lost his title to James "Buster" Douglas in Tokyo two years ago.

"The whole world saw how King tried to manipulate boxing officials to keep the championship in Tyson's hands. But the public outrage kept him from stealing it back."

The charges that King gave excessive sanctioning fees to boxing's governing bodies, and that he used an inequitable share -- more than 33 percent -- of Tyson's ring purses to pay off his own legal and real estate debts will be investigated. But Arum said he doubts state boxing commissions will withdraw King's promoter's license, even if he is found guilty by federal agencies.

"Boxing commissions won't do anything," Arum said. "They exist to collect money for their state and make fights. They don't want to chase away business unless there are blatant violations of boxing rules they can't sweep under the rug."

Arum recently won a $467,000 settlement from King in a suit over the promotional rights to Chavez. But he is one of the few to get the better of King in court.

"Don has been extremely resilient," said manager-promoter Rock Newman, who handles the affairs of heavyweight contender Riddick Bowe. "He's certainly not as influential as before with Tyson in jail. He doesn't have that big club to wield.

"Tyson was a megabucks star. Even after losing his title, he grossed over $30 million from his fights with Alex Stewart and Ruddock. But that doesn't mean you can count King out of the picture."

Newman said he never rushes into deals with King for fear of being overwhelmed. He recently rejected King's proposal for a Ruddock-Bowe match to decide a title challenger for heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

"I will never commit to King face-to-face," Newman said. "I always have to step back and consider all the options. You can be ready to kill him, and, the next minute, you want to love and hug him. But you have to realize that the moment he no longer needs you, you're vanquished. He just turns his back and walks away like you're a total stranger."

Shelly Finkel, a partner with Duva and the business manager for Holyfield, negotiated with King on the Holyfield-Tyson fight that was first postponed by a rib injury to Tyson and then canceled by Tyson's rape conviction in March.

"I'm not dismissing King as long as he has strength with [president] Jose Sulaiman and the World Boxing Council," Finkel said. "He also has an arrangement with Ruddock's manager, Murad Muhammad, and Ruddock is one of the only fighters he has left to make some money."

Finkel said he does not view King's plans to leave New York -- to set up headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., and Las Vegas -- as a retreat.

King, whose net worth has been estimated at $100 million, could be moving to avoid New York's corporate tax, or to use Florida's "homestead" law to protect properties there should he declare bankruptcy.

"Give King credit for being a survivor," Finkel said. "He has repeatedly fought off adversity.

King's court

Here are some of the more prominent world champions Don King has promoted in the past and present:

Past associations

Fighter .. .. .. .. Class

Muhammad Ali. .. .. Heavyweight

George Foreman . .. Heavyweight

Roberto Duran .. .. Welterweight

Larry Holmes. .. .. Heavyweight

Greg Page. .. .. .. Heavyweight

Bonecrusher Smith . Heavyweight

Trevor Berbick . .. Heavyweight

Buster Douglas . .. Heavyweight

Hector Camacho . .. Lightweight

Tim Witherspoon. .. Heavyweight

Present associations

Simon Brown . .. .. Welterweight

Azumah Nelson Jr. . Super feather

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Super welter.

Julian Jackson . .. Middleweight

Tony Tucker . .. .. Heavyweight

Reggie Johnson . .. Welterweight

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