By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
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"Whoever thought that Bernard Hopkins, out of anybody, not the mob, not the street people, not the fighters who threatened him over the years, not other promoters, all the people that Don King faced — he can tell you better than I can — whoever thought that it would be me that would shut him down?" said Hopkins in response to a question from Riverfront Times. "What a way to put the last nail in — I repeat — [King's] coffin. I'm honored to do it. It's an honor."
Though some brushed off Hopkins' remarks as prefight hyping, some of the facts in his bluster are true. It appears there are just a few employees left working in King's glass palace in southern Florida. King's longtime PR manager Alan Hopper was recently quoted saying the ranks had dropped from 100 employees to 25 — Hopkins put the number at 7. One former employee who was recently let go estimated six, with some part-timers cycling in and out to do minor or temporary work.
"It's been happening over the last two years," says English of the layoffs at DKP. "My understanding is he furloughed everyone for the month of December."
A couple of former DKP employees who were willing to talk say that, for the most part, it was a fine place to work, and King was a loyal boss. He employed many for decades, loaned them money to buy houses, gave them good health-care coverage. But they say the business has clearly been slipping.
"The guy has a real difficulty with firing people. When he got rid of me...it was really hard," says one former employee. "He can't let these few last people go, and Ryan Coyne is just a pawn in his ego. If he lets Ryan Coyne go and says, 'I'm done, I let him go,' the public says Don King's done."
But the decline of DKP is not exactly a secret. His relationships with the big boxing networks have been strained — he's sued ESPN (unsuccessfully) for defamation and once claimed that HBO Sports "want[s] to get rid of promoters like...me." He recently bid $1.5 million on a fight in Germany for two boxers he doesn't promote, and some are skeptical he can pull it off, especially after he defaulted on a $1.1 million purse last year. He has talked about staging fights in Venezuela and North Korea, perhaps in an attempt to avoid dealing with the usual cast of characters in the American boxing market.
"He's not the same. He's not the biggest promoter in the game, obviously," says Kevin Cunningham, Devon Alexander's trainer. "He doesn't have as many fighters; he's not doing as many boxing shows as he was before."
At the same time, he'll drop huge amounts of cash to prevent his fighters from leaving him. The legal battle with Coyne has been pricey; a few years ago, King forked over two duffle bags with $1 million cash for an injunction to stop Ricardo Mayorga from making a debut as a mixed martial arts fighter.
Some worry about the man himself, pointing to the intensifying clutter in his South Florida office as a sign of hoarding. They worry especially after the death of his wife of more than 50 years, Henrietta (a.k.a. "Henry") King, in 2010. The couple met during King's days as a street hustler in Cleveland.
"I definitely saw a major change in Don King right after she died," says the same ex-employee. "He really took care of her...he spent insane money, seven, eight, $9,000 a week. She wasn't even a person who needed nursing care. She meant a lot to him."
In 2011, King sold the home they shared — at first listed for $27.5 million — for $16 million. King still owns a substantial portfolio of real estate in Florida and his native Ohio, much of it purchased through his wife's realty company. His daughter Deborah has been handling her mother's estate. (There are rumors "Debbie" is in line to succeed her father at DKP. She did not respond to an interview request.)
"I don't believe personally he has any financial difficulty whatsoever," clarifies English. "The company is clearly not making money, but personally I believe him to be a very wealthy man."
Moran predicts — and others agree — that DKP won't be around in a year or two, or at the very least, King won't be running it. But he says the company's lack of power and King's habit of never letting a fighter go voluntarily only make him more dangerous. Fighters often have short careers based on their peak physical condition. Time is a priceless commodity.
"Now it's like the last go around with Don, but the question is," says Moran, "Is he going to suck away Joseph's career, is he going to suck away Ryan's career with him?"
Despite rumors of the saddening state at DKP, back on the prefight conference call with Bernard Hopkins, King sounded like his usual, bombastic self.
"Yes, it's indeed a pleasure for me to join the conference call of history in the making. And I'm very delighted to have listened to some of the comments that Mr. Hopkins made. I thought he was just par excellence," he says. "However, I do believe that will be circumvented by this young man named Tavoris Cloud."