Don King: Every Cloud Has a Hi-Yo Silver Lining

By Robert Ecksel on March 6, 2013
Don King: Every Cloud Has a Hi-Yo Silver Lining
I don't mind patriotism. It's the drum and bugle corps that gives me a headache. (Ecksel)

King could sell acne to adolescents. He could sell booty to Beyoncé. He could sell snow cones to Eskimos if he’d brush up on his Inuit…

“Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”—The Lone Ranger

Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins (52-6, 32 KOs) challenges Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud (24-0, 19 KOs) for the IBF light heavyweight title.

Few men fight as well as Hopkins. Even fewer talk as well as Hopkins. But another man who is legendary for being able to talk a stranger’s ear off is Cloud’s promoter, the inimitable Don King. Unlike Hopkins, King doesn’t always make sense. Most of the time he makes non-sense, which serves his purpose, and sometimes our purpose, whatever those purposes are or purport to be.

During a recent teleconference call, Don King was in his glory. There’s nothing he likes better than a captive audience, and if it’s an audience of captive journalists, all the better.

Once the formalities were over, once Hopkins spoke at length about himself, Don King let ‘er rip, complete with Biblical paraphrases, mangled Shakespeare, mixed metaphors, sing-song rhyming, more clichés that you can shake a stick at, and, last but not least, the fractured syntax for which he is best known.

“It’s indeed a pleasure for me to join the call of history in the making,” he said. “And I’m very delighted to have listened to some of the comments that Mr. Hopkins made. I thought he was just par excellence. I think it’s really wonderful that he’s had such a unique, grand, wonderful career. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the Barclays Center on March the 9th, and bringing with me will be the guy that we are about to introduce to you. I think he’s the mini Tyson. You’re going to see something that many have looked for in the light heavyweight division, someone that comes to fight, as Bernard said, and is such a great fighter, as Bernard is, that will make this here such a more par excellence performance from this young man named Tavoris Cloud.”

There was no applause at King’s opening statement. That would be like applauding an approaching storm, instead of running for cover.

“I think that Tavoris Cloud is going to be thunder and lightning,” said King, “and is going to be a tremendous situation for everyone to see and bear witness to, because Bernard is just a great fighter, there’s nobody that can take that away from him in his 27-year career. He’s 48 years old and he’s stepping up to the plate to try to make history again by being the oldest champion in the world. However I do believe that will be circumvented by this young man named Tavoris Cloud. He’s great. He’s a fantastic individual. He’s dedicated and committed to excellence. He works hard and is free. And he’s coming from the streets to the suites. There’s no one that’s going to be able to beat him, and he’s undefeated and he’s going to remain undefeated on March the 9th when he puts a crowning glory to the par excellence career of that young man named Bernard Hopkins, because you can’t get no better than that.”

There’s no disputing that Tavoris Cloud is “coming from the streets to the suites.” And for those who were wondering if Tavoris Cloud was free or not, we can thank Don King for settling the matter.

King introduced Cloud, who was no match for the maestro in the word department. King didn’t notice, or if he did notice it was with approval, since center stage is too small to accommodate more than one oversize personality.

“I want you to meet and greet this young man that’s coming in from Tallahassee now and North Carolina,” said King by way of introduction. “He’s going to be a wonder, going to be the Eighth Wonder of the World, Tavoris Cloud. This is what it’s all about, the Champion of the World, undefeated right now, will be undefeated on March the 9th, and then the world is his oyster because they’re all falling apart, the Chad Dawson matches, another one fighting up there, and we want them all. We are calling them all out. And for your viewing pleasure and your edification of greatness in the making, let me give you the World Champion, Tavoris Cloud.”

Tavoris Cloud spoke.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “How is everybody doing? Training is going good. I believe we’re leaving next week, headed to New York to start doing our press conferences and stuff like that. But it’s been an excellent training camp. I’m training very hard with my new trainer, Abel Sanchez, we connected great, and we’re just ready to fight, ready to fight.”

Hopkins said that he wants to put Don King out of business. That’s a reasonable desire in the general scheme of things, but Don King has done a bang-up job on his own. In an attempt to engage Cloud, someone asked what he thought of Hopkins’ statement.

“Before you answer that,” King interrupted, “listen, I love Bernard. Bernard is doing a great job of promoting and I just want to say that he’s not a nemesis to me. He’s a wonderful fighter, a great fighter, and he’s going to be capturing a crown of glory when Tavoris knocks him out. That’s the difference. I was promoting Bernard. You have to understand, that’s what makes it so good. Bernard had a contract with me. I was promoting Bernard, and he was beating guys and he was beating guys. I had a contract with some of the guys that he was in there fighting. It’s never been nothing like a protagonist and an antagonist. It’s been doing what you have to do to win the hearts and minds of the people by performance, and Bernard did that. Both of us are alumni. We graduated from the penitentiary, and so it’s a thing here that he’s a guy that you’ve got to be able to look at. He’s a fraternity brother. Do you see what I mean? So let him do his thing.”

I knew that King and Hopkins were graduates of the School of Hard Knocks. What I didn’t know it that they were fraternity brothers. Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” and I feel the same way. It’s not that I loathe secret handshakes. I dread the hazing which entering that frat house entails.

A reporter with a good memory brought up the fight between Hopkins and Felix Trinidad. He asked King, who was Trinidad’s promoter, if he wasn’t hoping that Tito beat Bernard.

“No,” said King. Then he quickly corrected himself. “Listen, without a question of a doubt. But you’ve got to understand and since you’ve brought him up, Trinidad was out fighting for the glory of America, going to the firehouses; his man got taken away with 9-11. We were the first event in the 9-11 in the State of New York that would try to bring people back to demonstrate that terrorism anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere, and so Tito was visiting the hospitals, feeding the hungry, feeding the firemen and the workers, and going back and forth to the firehouses and things, and so he was sort of off his game when he fought. Had it been just a normal thing that was going into the fight, it may have been different.

“Bernard, as you know, did not come in until after the thing was over. He came in the last day, or the day before the fight beforehand, and he plays a great mind game, you know. He made him unwrap his hands, wrap his hands, all those types of things that only a veteran of the game, when he’s bringing the experience of what he has and what he’s been taught and how he has lived, he brought that to the game. So I never really called it, in my mind, a total victory for Bernard over Trinidad, because Trinidad was fighting for freedom and fighting against the terrorism along with fighting an opponent named Bernard Hopkins. And he was spread too thin, working on other things for the upward mobility and elevation of the people of New York and letting the terrorists know that we are not afraid, we’re not afraid. As FDR said, ‘We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.’ And he demonstrated that by going around meeting everybody he could and inspiring them in a very traumatic and terrible time. So that being said, maybe I can get them back together on a senior tour after Tavoris knocks him out.”

I didn’t know that “Trinidad was fighting for freedom and fighting against terrorism.” That would make a swell miniseries. Nor did I know that he was fighting “for the upward mobility…of the people of New York.” Tito may have succeeded in pushing back the terrorists, but he needs to give the upward mobility bit another shot.

King has produced some legendary fights during his long and storied career. He was asked where Cloud vs. Hopkins ranks among them.

“This was right at the top of the heap because Bernard is Bernard, and Bernard’s come out of some very dire circumstances. And what people must recognize and appreciate and realize is that being under the handicap, do you know what I mean, fighting the color barrier that has been embedded in 400 years here and around world, that universal color barrier that makes a double standard and makes things very difficult for people of color because of the different stereotyped images that have been perpetrated about us, with us, at us, has been doing, Bernard, I think he raised himself above the fray. And so therefore he’s now 48 years old and after being champion and putting on great performances, but no matter what coming out the victor, this means a lot, like he says to himself and to the world and the sport of boxing. But to me is the mere fact that a 48-year-old man in this sport, and can handle himself with his physique and with his abs and being in such great physical condition and mentally acclimated to the experience of 27 years of being in the sport, this is a crowning achievement in itself.

“So that’s why I would not look at this fight with any disdain, only with joy and appreciation, because the world is going to see a physically fit, 48-year-old man. And they used to have a television program that age begins at 40, and you’d come back and you’d have all the stars and they would go around, boom, boom, boom, and so now Bernard is doing that in sports. So when Tavoris, who I think is a young mini Tyson, is a guy that once he got with Abel Sanchez now and he’s being able to throw punches in bunches and be a little bit more active in firepower rather than trying to find a one-punch knockout scene, I think this is going to be great for both of them, because Tavoris will have his hands full. I think he will then be able to acquit himself so adroitly, and when he does it, it puts this fight at the top level because it’s demonstrating to people that in America anybody can do a lot of things.”

The ballyhoo never stops. I don’t mind patriotism. It’s the drum and bugle corps that gives me a headache.

“But to an athlete in a sport that has not been accused of any type of drug enhancement, drugs, getting what he did from hard work, dedication, and commitment, and then likewise Tavoris coming out of the street too and not being accused of any type of enhancement, these guys are doing what it was basically fundamentally from the beginning, coming back with age-old hard work, dedication, commitment, and perseverance. So it’s going to be a great fight for both of them, and it’s going to be illustrative of what a wonderful career Bernard has, and it will be moving on and taking a picture from bringing it and passing the mantle to the young that is coming up and now moving on, the old being old and going on, the young coming on. So we’ve got a great, great alteration here, a great fight. It’s going to be fantastic for both of them.  But the winner will be the public to see this dynamic fight take place.”

King has described himself as a “black Horatio Alger.” That may be. But he could also be described, with a little literary license, as a black Horatio Hornblower. (Satchmo ain’t got nothing on him.) King is after all a master salesman, the P.T. Barnum of his day. He could sell acne to adolescents. He could sell booty to Beyoncé. He could sell snow cones to Eskimos if he’d brush up on his Inuit.

Tavoris Cloud is no Muhammad Ali. Nor has he proven, at least thus far, that he’s not no George Foreman either. But a comparison was made between the Thrilla in Manila and the Thrilla in Brooklyn, presumably for discussion sake.

“Yes,” said King approvingly, “you can parallel. When I made the Foreman and Ali fight the same thing was there. George Foreman told me that if he beat the old man he says he’s not going to get no credit for it. If he hurts him he said therefore he would be condemned because everybody loved Muhammad Ali. Do you know what I mean? And then at the same token, he was the most physically fit, the most ready-made heavyweight, one of the greatest fighters of all time. George Foreman waved the American flag when he won Olympic gold, and it was a fabulous situation.

“So now you’ve got, again, the reversal this time with the Tavoris crowd being the George Foreman, do you know what I mean, and George Foreman was supposed to win and he didn’t, but the old man, Ali, that everybody was looking apprehensively at—‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,’ your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see—that young man revolutionized not only the sport of boxing but he revolutionized what it means to stand for something. If you don’t stand for nothing, you don’t live for nothing.

“So you’ve got a juxtapose here, where now it’s up to Tavoris Cloud, which I think he will acquit himself quite admirably. I think he will break through, so the public worldwide globally will recognize Tavoris Cloud as what Tavoris Cloud is, a tough individual dedicated and committed to excellence, and with a fighter that has the veteran experience of a Bernard Hopkins, who is going to be standing there bringing to him an illustrious career of dedication and commitment, and proven, tried, tested and proven to be one of the great athletes of our time, a future Hall-of-Famer, he will be there. And when he falls he won’t fall with disgrace, something undignified. He will fall with great glory. It will be, hey, this guy did his job, he came, he saw, he conquered, and now he’s being conquered, and as such by one that is greater than he at this particular time.”

What can one say after that? Amen? Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition? How about Only in America?

“In this great, glorious country called America, I believe in this country and I believe that it’s time that this country, we start treating the cause rather than the effects. And so you’ve got to continue to work with people, black and white alike, working together works, and this is what’s my motivation is. The doors were open before me through my blessings by God with people of all races, colors, and religions, and so therefore I want to be able to reach back and give back to the community to let them know if they take God with them and receive and accept his blessings and his guidance, that they can do it too. You can be what you want to be. This is the greatest nation in the world and how do you demonstrate that? By bringing people together and continue to perform in spite of, not because of.

“And so I’m just happy that I’m delighted to be able to talk to you, but at the same time to talk to the public at large about the greatness of this nation and what we have to do to live up to the challenge that ‘one land indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ That’s the message we want to take, knock down the rest of that stuff, and emblazon the world with the symbol of freedom and liberty.”

Those words are stirring. But coming as they are from Don King, it reminds me of an acerbic quote from Sinclair Lewis: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Pete The Sneak 10:29am, 03/06/2013

    “King could sell acne to adolescents. He could sell booty to Beyoncé. He could sell snow cones to Eskimos if he’d brush up on his Inuit…”

    LOL…A good analogy of Mr. “Only In America” Robert..I’d like to add one more; He can sell contact lenses to Clark Kent…Peace.

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