He isn’t a boxing promoter. He is the tour director of Madame Tussaud’s. Wax is real life in Don King’s world, and real life is just another wax job. History is a museum for his freakish metaphors, and pop culture figures are merely a figure of speech for his unrelenting pitch.
In stretching his point that Ruiz-Holyfield III is a defining moment in his life, the combatants’ lives and in the life of American sport, King somehow connected the dots of history from Sherlock Holmes to George Armstrong Custer, Demosthenes, Hannibal, Rodney Dangerfield, Aretha Franklin, Vince Lombardi, Iago, Tony Blair, Moses, the O’Jays and Dracula.
“Woohoo!” King shouted at one contentious point during the press conference to promote this WBA heavyweight title bout. “You can’t cook with cold grease. You got to turn the stove on.”
Stand back, Don!
Don’t touch that stove!
Oh, sorry, too late.
When the exclamatory wax of King’s verbal antics is melted away, what remained Thursday was a fading fighter--one of the great competitors in modern athletics--who can no longer recognize his limitations. That’s the pity of the second heavyweight title bout in state history. Evander Holyfield is essentially washed up and, instead, he talks like another one of King’s wax figures. He is Don Quixote.
“My goal today is still to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world,” Holyfield, 39, said.
Giving John Ruiz an opportunity to fight so close to his hometown of Chelsea, Mass., makes for a nifty homecoming. Giving Holyfield a chance to become the first five-time heavyweight champ makes Ruiz-Holyfield III potential history. “Phenomenal history,” King said.
Yet as much as folks in Connecticut may enjoy staging a heavyweight title bout, we also know the fitting location for this event is its original site--China. That’s because an hour after we have digested Ruiz-Holyfield III, surely, we’ll be hungry again for a real heavyweight title bout.
“The best defense is a good offense and, Mr. Holyfield, you ain’t got no offense,” said Ruiz’s trainer Gabe LaMarca, taunting Holyfield from the podium. “In my opinion, [trainer] Don Turner should have been teaching you how to play defensive tackle, with all the holding you do. And another thing: We get together before the fight in the dressing room and look up and say, ‘We wish upon a star that Johnny knocks Evander out cold.’
And we’re going to do it again.”
“John will knock out Evander Holyfield Saturday night,” Ruiz’s manager, Norman Stone, said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Ruiz may have been taken pains to call Holyfield the “toughest guy out there,” but members of his camp took few such precautions. They were passing out printed invitations. That’s right. “You are cordially invited to attend Evander Holyfield’s retirement party Dec. 15, 2001, at Foxwoods Resort Casino.”
They know he is no longer The Real Deal. He is on the shelf with the other day-old baked goods. He’s the Half-Priced Deal now, the Marked-Down Deal. After 17 years in the ring, he’s a worn-down warrior. He got the decision in Ruiz I, a fight he probably lost. He was knocked down and cleanly beaten in Ruiz II. As Hasim Rahman proved and Lennox Lewis pointed out, a heavyweight is only one “lottery punch” from holding a belt over his head. Power Ball numbers aside, however, a huge heart and superior work ethic can overcome size and defy Father Time for only so long.
“It’s obvious that a lot of people don’t know what goals are,” Holyfield said. “They get goals and fantasy mixed up. I had a goal as a kid to become heavyweight champion of the world. I didn’t have a fantasy. Goals and fantasies are different. One you work for. One you hope for.
“I lost the heavyweight championship in 1992 to Riddick Bowe. I got two of the belts back, but never did get the third. People say why worry about the other belt? I don’t lie to myself. I know to be the champion is to be the undisputed champion of the world, not just one-third or two-thirds of a champion. I’d never cheat myself.”
Although Holyfield’s camp claims he’s in the best condition since his first fight against Tyson, the truth is Ruiz needn’t change anything from their last bout. Another truth is if this weren’t college basketball, this “title,” made available only when it was stripped of Lewis in the courts, wouldn’t be No. 1 vs. No. 2. At best, this is, oh, No. 5 vs. No. 7. It may be No. 7 vs. No. 11.
“Everybody thinks they know what’s better for Evander than Evander knows for himself,” said King, who said he resisted all temptations to cast Holyfield aside. “Demosthenes described a bribe many centuries ago. The offerer of the bribe, if you refuse him, you vanquish the offerer. If you accept it, the offerer of the bribe vanquishes you. They could not intimidate me, coerce me, bribe me to leave Evander standing at the curbside after he had stood up for me, had been an honorable, steadfast, great warrior.”
These are the wax words of Don King. They are loud and obnoxious and under scrutiny melt to nothing. Only the money remains and since King can make plenty of that, he can say anything, he will say anything. “I’ve always had an affinity for the Irish,” King said at one point. “I don’t want to say the ‘N’ word, but they are blacks of Europe. I have a great love and affection for them because I am one of them. I even kissed the Blarney Stone, or is that the Blarney Stick?”
Then King talked about Little Bighorn and great warriors like Holyfield. “This is a bout that will be talked about for time immemorial,” King said.
King’s delusions don’t bother me. It’s is Holyfield’s failure to distinguish goals from fantasy that are disturbing. A bout such as Saturday night’s could ruin the rest of his life.