By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
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By Jake Rossen
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By Kelsey McClure
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Any amicable discussion of Coyne ended there.
September 17, 2012, marked three years since Coyne signed his name to a DKP contract, and five days later he jogged back into the ring in a small but crowded stadium in Sheffield, England, the strains of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." blasting on the sound system.
In less than a minute, Coyne landed a right hook to his Hungarian opponent's temple, sending him to the canvas. Thirty seconds after that, Coyne felled him again and left him reeling in a corner before the referee stopped the fight.
"Number one is not good enough. World champion is good enough," a beaming Coyne told a British sportscaster in the locker room afterward. "There's a lad down in Wales who can't seem to find an opponent to fight him — maybe I can solve that problem for him."
Within weeks, "the lad," a.k.a. Nathan Cleverly, came calling. His promoter, Frank Warren, had taken note of Coyne and was eager to get some American television exposure for Cleverly in the hope of drawing out the other American world-title holders, like Philadelphia's Bernard Hopkins. Coyne, who hadn't heard a peep from King about the Sheffield fight or renewing their three-year contract, figured he was a free man. The deal for the Staples Center fight with Oscar De La Hoya's company Golden Boy Promotions came together quickly.
Coyne packed his things and met up with Moran and his trainer Michael Moorer in Philadelphia. And while Coyne was ecstatic about a chance at Cleverly, Moran had concerns.
"Ryan was very confident that we were beyond King," says Moran. "But you never know with Don."
A month before the fight, Moran got the e-mail that he'd been dreading — Warren's people had heard from King. He was claiming Coyne was still under contract with DKP, invoking a line in the contract that says King can extend the deal without Coyne's consent.
"You cannot enter into any discussions, negotiations or agreements of any kind, directly or indirectly, with Coyne without securing DKP's expressed written consent," King's attorneys wrote in a letter to Warren. "My client intends to enforce all of its rights, including, all remedies at law and equity as well as immediate injunctive relief, unless you confirm to me, in writing, by October 17, 2012, that you will cease and desist your actions and have no further contact with Coyne."
Coyne and Moran answered in kind by retaining the services of another Don King adversary — Patrick English, an attorney with a long track record of successfully litigating against DKP. English was reluctant to take the case. ("I get these calls all the time," he says.) However, once he heard Coyne's story and saw the version of the contract Coyne signed, he changed his mind.
"Ryan signed a particularly bad version," English says. "There are more loopholes in terms of responsibility [for DKP] than you can even imagine. [Ryan] has to do this, that and the other thing unless somebody sneezes in Cincinnati."
Specifically, English takes the position that because King did not offer Coyne any fights for more than a year — the deal says Coyne was owed at least two per year — the contract is null. Furthermore, he considers the conditions under which Coyne signed — under pressure and without counsel — an act of fraud.
After days of back and forth, King filed for an emergency injunction to stop the fight. Finally, after the WBO declined to sanction the fight — normally a routine part of the process — Frank Warren Promotions essentially threw up its hands. Though English believed they had a solid case, the legal arguments didn't matter. The fight was off. Moran had the task of phoning Coyne in his hotel room with the news.
"For it to evaporate the way it did — that was a crippling blow," says Coyne. "I was in a dark place. And kind of still am. It's hard to stomach."
A week later King sued Coyne for breach of contract. He's asking for $75,000 in damages.
L ast Saturday Don King lost his sole remaining titleholder when Bernard Hopkins took the IBF light heavyweight belt from Tavoris Cloud in a 12-round decision in New York. The defeat marks the first time in four decades that King has not had an active champ among his stable of fighters.
In the weeks leading up to the March 9 fight, the rhetoric had been intense, but not between Hopkins and Cloud — rather, the 48-year-old Hopkins was gunning for his old promoter.
At a press conference onstage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Hopkins, dressed in a black sweatshirt with a black skull cap pulled just over his eyes, seemed to be bickering inaudibly with King, then suddenly addressed the assembled crowd.
"Don's workers," he hollered.
There was a single yelp in return.
"You'll be looking for another job after March 9," Hopkins yelled. "I know there is a short staff over there, I hope the last seven leave, too."
A nervous titter swept through the reporters.
On a conference call days before the big night, Hopkins crowed many times that his victory will force King into retirement and close the doors at Don King Productions.