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Notorious figures inside and outside the ring

JOHN WIGHT updates us on the latest scandals surrounding dodgy Don King, alleged gangster Daniel Kinahan, and the Catterall-Taylor brouhaha

“Boxing is the only jungle where the lions are afraid of the rats”
– Don King

DON KING was a man whom nobody could ever accuse of naïveté in a career that saw him emerge from the hard streets of Cleveland as a street thug responsible for killing two men, followed by a stint in prison, to go on and dominate top-flight boxing as a promoter in the ’70s, ’80s and for much of the ’90s.

Responsible for putting together two of the greatest heavyweight clashes the sport has ever witnessed — the Rumble in the Jungle between Ali and Foreman in 1974, and the Thrilla in Manila between Ali and Frazier in 1975 — King once bestrode the sport of boxing like a colossus.

A crook to the marrow of his bones, he’s also been sued by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, been the subject of an FBI investigation and excoriated by more figures in the sport than any promoter ever has.  

Despite all that at age 90 not only is Don King still standing, he’s still promoting boxing events and still being sued by fighters who’ve had the misfortune to find themselves under his sway. Only in boxing would King’s story be possible. And only in a man like Don King would boxing find its most colourful character.

Speaking of notorious figures in boxing, quick on the heels of the announcement by US authorities of financial sanctions on leading members of the so-called Kinahan Organised Crime Group, currently based in Dubai, along with a reward for information leading to their arrest, the US authorities have now barred 600 people with links to the Kinahans from entering the country. Those include anyone with prior business or personal dealings with Daniel Kinahan in boxing.

So far boxing pundit Matthew Macklin, trainer Ben Davison and boxing videographer Kugan Cassisus have been prohibited from travelling to the US, only learning of the fact when they attempted to board flights in Britain.

And what with the likes of Tyson Fury, Billy Joe Saunders, Eddie Hearn and a raft of others at the apex of the sport in various capacities having demonstrable dealings and links to Daniel Kinahan, the disruption to careers and damage to reputations as a result of a US travel ban is potentially significant.

Though none of the aforementioned individuals have been implicated in any criminal activity, it is astonishing that Daniel Kinahan was able to operate so openly for so long as one of boxing’s most influential movers and shakers, given the allegations of murder and mayhem that have been swirling around him.

It’s also significant that these revelations have scarcely been covered by the sport’s major writers and journalists, confirming again the unedifying dynamic that is in place, wherein those privileged to have ringside seats at major events and access to promoters and fighters are obliged to take a vow of omerta in return when it comes to sensitive topics such as this.

Shifting focus to matters inside the ring, the news that Josh Taylor has relinquished his WBA super-lightweight belt but will remain at 140 to defend his WBC title against mandatory challenger Jose Zepeda has lit up a firestorm of controversy on social media.

Since holding onto his title with a controversial points decision against England’s Jack Catterall in January, the Scot has found himself and his family subjected to a campaign of online abuse.

Taylor has remained obdurate in the belief that he deserved the nod against Catterall and, aggressive by nature, he’s engaged in a spat on social media with Catterall in consequence.

After the Catterall fight, for which Taylor looked weight-drained and during which he was way below par, the chatter was of him moving up to 147.

Now that he’s decided to stay at 140, a chorus of voices, including Catterall, are demanding that he give the Englishman an immediate rematch, given the controversy surrounding the first fight.

Catterall and his supporters certainly have a strong moral argument for an immediate rematch, but this would mean Taylor avoiding his WBC mandatory and risk losing the belt.

It’s one of the many lacunas in a sport which on the business side is way out of whack. There are far too many sanctioning bodies and, consequently, obligations placed on the fighters to defend belts instead of reputations when the latter have been impugned, as Taylor’s most definitely has in the wake of Catterall.

As for those who’ve been critical of Taylor for refusing to be magnanimous in victory and for goading Catterall on social media, the idea that the grit and pride that went into him becoming an undisputed world champion in the ring can outside it be transfigured into the qualities of a vicar is incompatible with reality.

Taylor gave Catterall his shot, keeping his word in this regard after Catterall agreed to step aside as his mandatory to enable the Scot to face Jose Ramirez for the chance to become undisputed in 2021, and hopefully will get around to facing him again once he deals with Zepeda.

The fickle and unforgiving nature of the boxing public, meanwhile, has never been more pronounced in the way it has turned on an undisputed champion who has given it some of the most all-action performances of any fighter since turning pro.

Taylor, though, can always take comfort in the words of Don King: “You can be the greatest guy in the world, but if you ain’t got no heart, you’re not going to survive.”

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