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It proved to be interesting timing. At that point Coyne was putting together his second self-arranged fight and feeling bitter about it. Not only that, he had just picked up an intruiging book.
"I've only gotten about 25 pages into it, but I believe you are in there," Coyne wrote to Moran.
The name of the book was Jack Newfield's Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King.
One of Moran's fondest memories in life — as detailed about 200 pages further in from where Coyne was — is stealing Champagne from Don King.
It was in London in 1986, and Tim Witherspoon had just successfully defended his title as world heavyweight champion in a brutal battle with the UK's Frank Bruno. Moran, a friend of Witherspoon's from back in Philadelphia, says that after King personally stopped them from taking beers from the after-party at a swank hotel, he stole the Champagne out of a back room and partied all night with Witherspoon and his family on the champ's bus.
"He could've been one of the greats," Moran says of Witherspoon. "When he was at his peak, Don King was at his peak scamming fighters. It cost him everything."
By 1986, Witherspoon had already been through the wringer several times with King — coerced into signing blank contracts, having King's son as his manager in a clear conflict of interest, getting a $52,750 payment from one $150,000 purse, $44,640 from a $250,000 purse. But it was the Bruno fight that changed everything.
Witherspoon knew by then to expect King's "creative accounting." But he figured the payday on the Bruno fight was so huge — something like $2 million after the live gate, the sponsorships, the winnings — King would still pass along enough to live comfortably on.
"I didn't know what I was getting when I got to the airport," recalls Witherspoon. "I thought I'd at least get $800,000. I'd be all right."
Three weeks after the fight, Witherspoon got a check for $90,000. Bruno, the loser, was paid $900,000. Disgusted, Moran offered to become Witherspoon's manager.
"I started saying, 'Look, I may not be the most qualified, but I'll stand up for you,'" recalls Moran.
Their partnership saw Witherspoon through a six-year lawsuit against King, culminating in a $1 million settlement for Witherspoon. Both men participated in Newfield's book and in a corresponding Frontline segment. Finally, Witherspoon was allowed to testify before Congress about King in support of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which made many of the ways he was exploited — like withholding purse amounts and the breakdown of expenses from fighters — illegal. For their troubles, both Witherspoon and Moran say they were threatened by people tied to King.
A short time after he first got in touch with Coyne by e-mail, Moran got a call from another boxer, Kassim Ouma. Moran and Ouma's unlikely friendship, forged after Ouma confessed his darkest sins as a forced child soldier in Uganda to Moran, is the subject of the documentary Kassim the Dream, in which Ouma attempts to revisit his native country as a famous boxer. Moran became his advocate with the Ugandan government as well as his manager; Ouma affectionately refers to Moran as "Uncle Tom."
Ouma called Moran to tell him he had just been to a bout at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, to support a fellow African fighter, the former two-time IBF bantamweight fighter Joseph Agbeko. When he went backstage after the fight, Ouma says he found Agbeko in tears.
"'I have no money left,'" Ouma says Agbeko told him. "The fight was big, you know? He didn't get no money or nothing."
Agbeko, had just been handed his share of the $150,000 purse — a measly $5,300. The accounting was handled by his promoter, Don King.
"He asked me who can help him," says Ouma. "I gave him Uncle Tom's number."
(Agbeko is back in Ghana and did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.)
Between Agbeko's story and his brief exchange with Coyne, Moran felt like he was having a flashback. All the work he and Witherspoon had put into making boxing fairer seemed to have come to nothing.
"[The Muhammad Ali Act] was written to protect fighters from the kind of exploitation that Don was guilty of," says Moran. "And here we are ten, twelve years later, and he's doing very similar things."
By January he was helping Agbeko file a lawsuit against King for violations of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act; by February he'd agreed to become Coyne's manager. With Moran involved, suddenly the lines of communication opened up. In the spring, DKP vice president Dana Jamison sent an offer for a fight, but Moran wrote back that the purse they offered — $10,000 and no television coverage — was simply too small for Coyne to accept. After Jamison sent a contract for $7,000 to fight the same person, Moran lost it.
"You signed a contract with Ryan to be a promoter, and with your latest fraudulent offer, you have proven you have no intention or no ability to do your job," he wrote. "You know how much I enjoy the legal battling with Don, believing as I do that DKP is a serial abuser of boxer's careers...Don't you want me to shut up? Do the right and moral thing and just RELEASE RYAN immediately."
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