Is King’s Run as ‘Teflon Don’ Over?
After beating the feds not once, but twice, and manhandling just about everybody else who ever came after him in a courtroom, Don King finally lost a big one.
This week, he agreed to settle a lawsuit against him by former middleweight champ Terry Norris for $7.5 million. All of a sudden, like all those aging fighters whose pockets he supposedly picked over the years, King looks vulnerable, easier to hit.
“It’s the first time anybody ever got a big settlement from him, but it won’t be the last,” said attorney Judd Burstein, who represented Norris. “All those other fighters out there know now that Don King can be beaten. This is the beginning of the end.”
Or maybe not.
“Judd Burstein says a lot of things,” countered King’s attorney, Peter Fleming.
“Anyone who knows what happened would strongly disagree. This case was unique in several respects, including its ultimate resolution. Anyone who believes it provides an example,” he added, “is sadly mistaken.”
Who to believe?
Read between the lines and decide for yourself (keeping in mind that another former client, Mike Tyson, contends in a lawsuit that King stole $100 million from him):
Former middleweight champion Terry Norris, who suffered brain damage from all the punches absorbed over the course of his career, was broke at the end of it -- despite fighting for millions in purses. Seven years ago, he sued King, contending that boxing’s evil promotional genius loaned $200,000 to Norris’ manager, Joe Sayatovich, and then conspired with Sayatovich to pay Norris less for his fights than he was owed.
After closing arguments, but before the New York State Supreme Court jury rendered its verdict Wednesday, jurors returned to the courtroom and asked the judge for a calculator and a magnifying glass. King’s legal team assumed that jurors had found against both Sayatovich and King and all that remained was toting up the damages.
As it turned out, the jurors had only finished with Sayatovich and were about to turn their attention to King. Not knowing that, King agreed to settle for nearly 10 times his original $800,000 offer to Norris. He also caved in on the Norris camp’s insistence that the settlement be made public.
“That was important,” Burstein said. “The fighters who worked for King always viewed him as boxing’s version of John Gotti, some kind of ‘Teflon Don’ who could charm jurors or else scare them. That didn’t fly here.
“There’s no admission of guilt, but people don’t pay $7.5 million if they haven’t done something wrong,” he continued. “That’s why I think the Tyson case will destroy him.”
For perhaps the first time in recorded history, King issued a terse “no comment” through one of his spokesmen.
On the other hand, his professional obit has been written more times than anybody’s, except maybe Tyson. And as far as timing goes, King is promoting a fight card in Atlantic City this Saturday that suggests at age 72, even after three dozen years in the business, he is still very much near the top of his game.
Nobody but King could twist the arms of all four of the sport’s sanctioning bodies to help him cobble together eight championship fights -- three of which will go off even before the pay-per-view audience is on board. It’s reminiscent of some of his other great promotions, the kind of action-packed cards that catapulted King to the top of the racket.
Of course, that was before he sunk his talons into Tyson, an easy meal ticket, and got lazy. Now, the question is whether he’s become sloppy, besides.
Earlier this week, with the Norris case on his mind and a small group of reporters joining him for lunch, King said he’d been sued so many times “it would be an injustice to hypothesize” the exact number.
“Every time I’m on a promotion, somebody’s got me in the courtroom,” King said. “They wait right until the time I’m on a promotion and then here they come.”
But he also boasted of ruling the roost for more than three decades, for continuing to thrive long after names like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard had dropped off his client list.
“My champions have had their day and ridden off into the hinterlands,” King said, “but I remain.”
For how much longer?
“Never underestimate Don King,” Burstein said. “I tell people he’s the single smartest person I know, he just happens to be evil. And I’m not alone.
“I can’t tell you how many people called me already -- and I mean just about everybody in boxing -- and told me it’s like that scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz,” ’ Burstein concluded, “where the house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East.”