King's Tarnished Crown

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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.

In a glass office building on Pines Boulevard in suburban Broward, 50-year-old lawyer Leon R. Margules kicks his feet up on the desk. "Don King doesn't like me," Margules says, throwing his right hand up softly in a "so what?" gesture. "He's been outspoken about it."

That's because Margules is more than a lawyer. He's also a boxing promoter. And he recently threw his legal prowess into the ring in an attempt to knock out King and win a better deal for one of his champions.

Margules' introduction to the business of boxing came in 1996, when he received a call from Luis de Cubas, the former handler of middleweight boxing great Roberto Duran. De Cubas said that he was managing Diosbelys Hurtado, an up-and-coming super-lightweight fighter who had recently defected from Cuba, and that he expected to pick up a few other fighters from the island. He needed a promoter. The resulting conversations inspired the attorney to form a new company, Team Freedom Promotions.

By 2001, Team Freedom was well-established. By then, Hurtado was the number-one World Boxing Association (WBA) contender in the 140-pound division. The Cuban-born fighter wanted a shot at Randall Bailey, the number-two contender, who was represented by Don King Productions. The winner would take the vacant WBA super-lightweight title.

In July 2001, Don King Productions announced a September 15 title fight between Bailey and Hurtado. The next month, Hurtado agreed to accept $60,000 for the match, but he didn't much like the contract that King later sent him. "The bout agreement as written would have bound me to four additional bouts to be promoted by Don King Productions," Hurtado said later. "Furthermore, the promotional agreement was to bind me to Don King Productions for five years and cut out my promoter."

After reviewing the contract, Hurtado and de Cubas removed provisions granting future promotional rights and signed, according to court records. All seemed well. But on September 7, 2001, eight days before the scheduled fight, King canceled the event, citing Hurtado's refusal to sign over promotional rights. Five months later, King announced a new title bout, this one between Bailey and Demetrio Ceballos, the fifth-ranked contender. The WBA sanctioned the fight, demonstrating King's clout with the sanctioning body.

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson