New book gives King a pounding

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In 1991, Jack Newfield, a political columnist for the New York Post, won an Emmy for a one-hour PBS documentary on promoter Don King that portrayed him as ruthlessly exploiting boxers.

The documentary included an explosive confrontation between Newfield and King during a taping session. King launched a profane tirade after Newfield brought up accusations that King had accepted $1 million under the table from the apartheid government of South Africa during Nelson Mandela's boycott. Much of that dialogue was deleted for the PBS audience.

Nothing, however, has been deleted from Newfield's new book, which was shipped to bookstores this past week. "Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King" is the result of five years of research by Newfield.

In the book, Newfield, 57, contends that King ripped off some of boxing's greatest talents -- George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Mike Tyson, even Muhammad Ali.

He says that King ruined boxers' lives, careers and spirits, rigged championship fights, betrayed friends, instigated racial conflicts, threatened to have Holmes' legs broken, hired Philadelphia mobster Frank "Blinky" Palermo to threaten Witherspoon, shot one man, stomped another man to death and swindled Ferdinand Marcos.

Newfield says that King, who in October will face trial on a nine-count indictment charging him with defrauding Lloyd's of London, laughed at and taunted him while he was researching the book.

"I've decided no interview for your book," King told Newfield.

"Why?" Newfield asked.

"Because," King said, laughing, "the day your book comes out, I want to be able to call a press conference and tell the whole world that damn white boy didn't even have the decency to speak to this poor guy."

Among the cruelest things King did, Newfield says, was to entice a sick, over-the-hill Ali to leave retirement in 1980 to fight a powerful, in-his-prime Larry Holmes in what turned out to be the worst beating of Ali's career. After the fight, Ali was too sore and weak to shower.

Newfield says King coaxed Ali back in the ring, although his reflexes were gone and his speech was deteriorating, by promising him an $8 million payday. Then, according to Newfield, he stiffed the former champ for $1.1 million of it.

"Don is a great character, like a character out of a novel," Newfield said in a telephone interview. "I think he is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met. He's a confidence man, a robber baron -- more intelligent than Ivan Boesky or Michael Milken. But I can't fault him for being smart and inexhaustible."

Newfield grew up in Brooklyn admiring boxers and gives them a rare voice in "Only in America."

He paints King as a tragic character, shaped by his early days as a numbers runner in Cleveland. He says King, who once served four years in prison for manslaughter, could have become a Horatio Alger or a Colin Powell.

"He could have been anything he wanted to be, he is so smart," Newfield said. "But . . . he's got a gambler's jail house, hustler mentality. He'd rather earn a crooked quarter than an honest dollar. That's his tragic flaw."

* TYSON: Carlos Blackwell, a nutrition and fitness expert hired by the Mike Tyson camp to turn the fighter's prison fat into muscle, said in a telephone conference call from Las Vegas that Tyson is in the best shape of his life.

"I guarantee this," said Blackwell, who owns a health and fitness club in Houston, "you have never seen Mike Tyson . . . the way you will see him now. I have to be very careful about what is said, but at 20 years old he was not in the shape he is in now -- not as strong, not as fast, not as agile."

Blackwell said Tyson weighed 239 pounds when he started a five-stage fitness program in early May, with 23 percent body fat (the norm for men is 16 to 19 percent). He said Tyson's weight now is between 220 and 222, and that his body fat will be 7 percent or 8 percent when he returns to the ring Aug. 19 in Las Vegas against Peter McNeeley for his first bout in four years.

Blackwell says he has written fitness programs for other world-class athletes, including other boxers, but he wouldn't give names.

It was unclear how Blackwell knows Tyson is in the best shape of his life, since he was never around him until May.

The so-called fitness and nutrition expert stands 5-10 and weighs 230 pounds.

* CAMACHO: Gary Kirkland may be an undefeated welterweight contender, but Hector Camacho likens him to a mere schoolboy with good grades.

"I love his report card," Camacho said, referring to his challenger's 23-0 record.

"But Kirkland has never fought anybody in my kind of league."

Camacho, a former World Boxing Council lightweight champion, will take on Kirkland tonight for the International Boxing Council welterweight title at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Conn.

Camacho is 53-3 with 25 knockouts. He has had 14 world title bouts. Kirkland, 23, of Whiting, Ind., hasn't had any.

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