King's Tarnished Crown

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Hurtado and Team Freedom refused to accept the technical knockout. On September 25, 2001, they sued King and the WBA in Broward County, alleging that the promoter's actions were not only underhanded but illegal. "Both the bout agreement and the promotional agreement were forms which contain provisions which are clear violations of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act," Hurtado told the court, referring to a 2000 federal law sponsored by Sen. McCain.

But before a Broward County judge could mediate, the WBA settled the matter, agreeing to sanction a championship fight in Puerto Rico between Bailey and Hurtado. The Team Freedom fighter then knocked out Bailey in seven rounds, winning the WBA super-lightweight belt without having to sign over future rights.

"King's the only promoter who can make an event out of you versus me," Margules says. "Some fighters swear by him. Some fighters hate him. Some fighters are horrified by him."

McCain, 66, is a lifelong fan of the ring. In fact, as a young man in the U.S. Naval Academy, he was a boxer, imitating the wily moves and lightning-fast feet of prolific welter- and middleweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson.

Now an aging political contrarian, the senator still loves the sweet science. Since 1998, he has worked aggressively to reform the sport -- and the business -- of boxing. That year, he sponsored the Ali Act, hoping to put an end to Don King. "Certain promoters have become quite skilled in duping boxers into signing long-term contracts that represent nothing more than a sophisticated version of indentured servitude," McCain told the Senate. The Ali Act failed to pass the House in 1998. But McCain kept at it, finally seeing his reforms signed into law in 2000.

Before the law passed, McCain invited King to testify before Congress. King declined. The war between the two men has simmered ever since. "When they made the Muhammad Ali Reform Act, they should have just named it the Don King Reform Act," says Goodman, of Don King Productions.

Today, largely because of what Nigel Collins, editor of Ring Magazine, calls the law's "toothless" quality, boxing remains a corrupt enterprise. Last year, McCain began a new attempt to nail King. "I receive calls from boxers who have worked tirelessly to escape poverty only to find themselves subject to the exploitation of the unscrupulous few who control the sport," McCain told the Senate commerce committee on February 5, 2003.

This past March 31, the Senate passed a McCain-sponsored bill that would create the U.S. Boxing Commission. If approved by the House, it would represent the first time a group sponsored by the federal government has governed a sport. "The government has enough on its hands trying to manage the country and take care of the states -- much less govern a sport like boxing," Goodman says. "You don't see the government stepping in to govern baseball. They don't govern football. Boxing is a free-enterprise sport, and it should stay that way."

Goodman sighs, noticeably aggravated by the topic. "McCain likes to see his name in the papers," he continues. "Going after Don King does that."

Had such a governing body been in place when the dispute over Hurtado's title shot arose, Margules says, it would have simply suspended King. "A national commission would bring more accountability to the business side of the sport," Margules says. It would also prevent promoters such as King from moving fights to, say, Florida while banned in another state. A national commission could suspend a promoter nationwide, Teflon armor be damned.

"When promoters like Don King and Bob Arum are no longer around, there's going to be a shaking out," says New York attorney Burstein. "They've ruled boxing for the last 30 or 35 years. When there's a change to the new guard, which is going to have to come at some point, the sport will change dramatically. Boxing is great, but it's become less mainstream. The national commission is imperative to restoring integrity."

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson