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"If you take this contract out the room, the deal's off the table," Coyne quotes King saying. "You're a nobody, you're going to stay a nobody."
(King did not respond to numerous e-mails and calls requesting comment.)
Visions of regret flashed through Coyne's head. He initialed every page, signed and was ushered out the door to the airport.
"Nobody can screw me over as long as I win," he told himself. "I'll be the master of my own destiny."
The early days, Coyne concedes, were good. King got him bouts with other undefeated fighters, slowly helping Coyne climb the cruiser weight ranks. In the summer of 2011, a shot at the ultimate prize rolled around — a match up with Guillermo Jones, another King fighter and the chance to take away Jones' WBA title. But just days before fight time, Jones reportedly slipped at a King training camp and was too injured to proceed. It was the first in a series of huge disappointments for Coyne. (Jones, Coyne points out bitterly, was eventually stripped of his title for failing to defend it and backing out of fights for spurious reasons.)
Although he won against Jones' replacement at the "Show Me Something Great" event in St. Charles, Coyne was unhappy with his performance against his seemingly immovable, larger opponent. He decided to drop down to the light heavyweight class, which had the added benefit of putting him in a division with bigger name fighters. Not long after, however, he began to notice a change in the relationship with his promoter.
"I went nine months without fighting. If we don't fight, we don't get paid," he says. "At first we got a lot of, 'Oh, we're working on this fight for you, we're trying to put you this fight.' ...You kind of talk to some other sources in the business and find out, 'No, no one from Don ever called us.' You find out you're just getting lied to."
Eventually, Coyne says, DKP stopped returning his calls. Then all e-mail communication ceased. Coyne's 30th birthday came and went, and the fighter started writing increasingly frantic e-mails to King.
"Will I fight in 2012?" one was titled. "I am running out of food, and I am very hungry. When can I expect to be offered a fight?"
The starvation line may have been hyperbole, but in three years, Coyne estimates he has made about $41,000 with DKP. The rest he has scraped together from endorsements, speaking engagements and fights he had to set up for himself. Coyne says he got a blessing from DKP to go ahead with the first DIY fight, after that he just stopped hearing from King or his people.
"I had to set the venues, I had to [arrange] the purses ...that's not my job," he says. "I don't have a lot of choice."
As it turns out, Coyne was not the only fighter getting the silent treatment. Another local fighter, Devon Alexander, was put on the shelf for seven months. Although his trainer, Kevin Cunningham, isn't keen to talk about it now that they've gone to Golden Boy Promotions, he had plenty to say at the time.
"Devon is extremely frustrated right now," Cunningham told ESPN in 2008. "We've called them and begged for fights, and they continuously tell us they'll put us on this date or that date. They just never call us back and confirm anything. They just leave us hanging. I cannot sit back and let Don King ruin my kid's career. I refuse to do that."
Former WBC/WBA welterweight champ Ricardo Mayorga complained King ignored him for eighteen months. Cornelius "K9" Bundrage, the former IBF middleweight champion from Detroit, waited almost a year for his contract to expire with DKP before he finally got a fight.
"I feel like I'm out of jail not being with Don King," Bundrage told the blog Boxing Scene this past spring.
James de la Rosa, a light middleweight from San Benito, Texas, tells Riverfront Times that when it comes to promises from DKP, "I just assume it's a lie." He hasn't fought in a year. Another fellow Texan, heavyweight Eric Molina, spoke to RFT on what he said was one year to the day since he last heard from Don King.
"I've tried to be loyal to him, but I'm getting old for the heavyweight division," says the 30-year-old Molina. "If you have no intentions for me, and if you have nothing for me, then just let me go. Then I can venture out and do something for myself and feed myself. It's that easy. There's no hard feelings."
But of course, it's never that easy.
Tom Moran had a feeling that Coyne might be in trouble the instant he noticed a Don King crown insignia on his trunks in a photo.
The two had never met — Moran stepped away from his career as a manager many years earlier — but when he heard about Coyne, he was instantly intrigued. Both share strong ties to their heritage, and Moran was excited by the prospect of a worthy Irish American fighter re-igniting a passion for boxing in pubs along the East Coast.