King's Tarnished Crown

Don King wants to make South Florida a boxing capital. Trouble is, he's on the ropes.

The Marlins have yet to entertain King's offer publicly.

"I got 54 acres of land free and clear, some of the most picturesque land in South Florida," King added. "From I-95, you can see it. Everybody can see it. Right there, we can build a 45,000-seat retractable-roof stadium, and everyone I know will jump in to help do this. But we find ourselves knocked out, blocked at the door, with one extension after another. But God bless America. That's the process."


Top: Don King and Tony Brown, chairman and founder of CMXsports, socialize with boxing fans at the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton on May 1. Middle: As King (left) made millions in the fight game, his wife, Henrietta (center), invested in Palm Beach County real estate.
Bottom: Ferdie "The Fight Doctor" Pacheco says King is "absolutely Machiavellian."
Trevor Aaronson
Top: Don King and Tony Brown, chairman and founder of CMXsports, socialize with boxing fans at the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton on May 1. Middle: As King (left) made millions in the fight game, his wife, Henrietta (center), invested in Palm Beach County real estate. Bottom: Ferdie "The Fight Doctor" Pacheco says King is "absolutely Machiavellian."

Another American process is litigation. King knows that fact all too well.

Seven years ago, Judd Burstein, an ambitious New York litigator whose clients have included Lennox Lewis and Donald Trump, sued King. He represented three-time World Boxing Conference (WBC) super-welterweight champ Terry Norris, who alleged that the promoter had stolen money from him throughout his career.

Once filed, the Norris lawsuit threatened to deal a body blow to King and sparked an international war of words. At first, it seemed the lawsuit had slim chance. History was against Norris.

Burstein alleged in court that King conspired with Norris' manager, Joe Sayatovich, to shave money from the fighter's purses. Last December, Norris finally had his day in court. At the end of closing arguments, a New York jury asked the judge for a calculator and a magnifying glass. Worried that the court might enter a judgment close to the $61.5 million claim, King offered to settle for $7.5 million.

Burstein accepted the settlement as a victory. "People do not pay $7.5 million if they have not done anything wrong," he said to reporters outside the courtroom. "Don King is a cancer in the sport of boxing. Today's settlement provided boxing with a dose of chemotherapy."

Later, Burstein tells New Times: "It sends a message that if boxers are willing to persevere, they too can get justice. Any time somebody has to pay $7.5 million, it's a little more than a crack in the armor."

The relationship between King and Burstein has become hostile. On July 4, 2003, the New York Daily News quoted King as calling Burstein a "shyster lawyer."

Burstein responded in interviews with two boxing websites. In one of them, the lawyer commented: "The term 'shyster lawyer' when used in connection with a Jewish lawyer is designed to provoke anti-Semitic feeling... He is quite plainly an anti-Semite."

King retaliated by filing a slander lawsuit in England; it has yet to be decided. "It unquestionably shows Don King's extraordinary hypocrisy," Burstein comments. "He keeps shouting 'Only in America' and waving an American flag and then shows no regard for the American Constitution. He decided to sue an American who made a statement to an American website about Don King, an American citizen, in England, because there's no First Amendment protection there."


In spring 2003, another potential threat to Don King's empire came to a head in South Florida. Although the details are vague, a lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County on July 3, 2003, describes a violent dispute between the promoter and Mike Tyson.

On May 3, 2003, according to the suit, King sat behind the wheel of one of his two dozen cars and headed toward the Boca Raton airport. Accompanying the promoter in another vehicle was bodyguard Isadore "Izzy" Philip Bolton. The two men were preparing to pick up Tyson and his entourage. Tyson and a friend entered King's car. The rest of the party, whose size isn't specified in court papers, traveled with Bolton.

The two cars headed south on Interstate 95. Bolton was in the lead. Not long after passing Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport, Bolton looked in his mirror and noticed that King had fallen behind. He doubled back. Near the Griffin Road exit, Bolton saw Tyson standing in the median. He pulled alongside. Sitting in the car, Bolton asked the heavyweight fighter to return to King's car. Tyson allegedly responded by slugging the bodyguard twice in the face, fracturing the bone below his left eye.

What started the battle is unclear. King and the heavyweight weren't on the best terms. Since Tyson's 1995 release from prison, the promoter had reportedly made $113 million off the crazed bruiser while promoting six fights at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Most of that money was rightfully Tyson's, the boxer alleged in a 1998 lawsuit filed in federal court in New York.

Two months after the freeway incident, Bolton sued Tyson seeking $15,000, plus attorney's fees, to compensate for the "resulting pain and suffering" and the "loss of the capacity for the enjoyment of life," among other things. So far, Bolton has collected nothing. (Neither Bolton nor Tyson could be reached for comment.)

In August 2003, Tyson declared bankruptcy, claiming that he had squandered his fortune. But Bolton could well make out if Tyson can win his $100 million lawsuit against the fight promoter. "The Tyson case is very strong," Burstein says. "Don King has a very good habit of triple-talking, saying one thing and giving a provision for something else." In fact, if successful, the Tyson case could potentially put an end to King's promotional career.

"I'm not sure that Don King has $100 million in cash," comments Nigel Collins, editor of Ring Magazine.

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