Don King's Final Round: Boxer Ryan Coyne squares off against his toughest opponent yet, the legendary promoter Don King

Don King and Ryan Coyne, after Coyne claims the WBC cruiser weight title at the “Gateway to Greatness” event in 2010.
Don King and Ryan Coyne, after Coyne claims the WBC cruiser weight title at the “Gateway to Greatness” event in 2010. Courtesy Ryan Coyne

Don King's Final Round: Boxer Ryan Coyne squares off against his toughest opponent yet, the legendary promoter Don King

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The night of November 10, 2012, was supposed to be the biggest of Ryan "The Irish Outlaw" Coyne's life — his first shot at a world-championship title.

As the sun set on downtown Los Angeles, more than 6,300 fans filed into the Staples Center for a night of world-class boxing. Showtime cameras swept the dramatically lit stadium, poised to beam the evening's fights worldwide. Ring girls in blue and silver bra tops sauntered the floor among celebrities including Jack Nicholson, Mickey Rourke and Tom Jones.

If things had gone the way they were supposed to, Coyne's mother, stepfather and wife would have joined them, flown in from St. Louis along with a gaggle of uncles and cousins from Coyne's sizable Irish family. Producers from DreamWorks, the studio that put together the boxing reality-TV show The Contender, would have also been there to support Coyne as a former cast member.

The opponent that night was to be Nathan Cleverly, a formidable Welsh fighter and the World Boxing Organization's light heavyweight championship titleholder. Ask Coyne today, and the six-foot, 190-pound southpaw with an undefeated record (21-0) can still see how he would have done it. He'd have gone straight to Cleverly, gotten him to trade blows, broken up his combinations and hurt him. He'd aim for the mid- to late-round knockout, while trying to remember what his trainer — three-time world champion heavyweight Michael Moorer — had been telling him for weeks.

"Don't rush in. Be smart. Box smart."

But when the bell rang inside Staples Center, Coyne was no where to be found. A hastily chosen, lesser-known fighter took Coyne's place, fought and lost to Cleverly in eight rounds by technical knockout.

Coyne, who'd been unceremoniously dumped from the fight just days earlier, watched the bout in disgust from his home in St. Louis. And ever since that day he has had to answer the same question from well-meaning fans over and over again: What happened to that big title shot?

"It's fucking embarrassing," he says.

Instead of battling for the title in the ring with his fists and wits — the way a boxing narrative is supposed to go — Coyne got knocked out with high-priced attorneys and threatening letters. Most bizarre, the person Coyne blames for the fiasco should have literally been in Coyne's corner: his promoter, the legendary Don King.

"This guy stole something from me," Coyne seethes. "I'm going to think about that for the rest of my life."

Now Coyne finds himself going toe-to-toe with King in court, and he's finding the octogenarian boxing chieftain to be his most vexing opponent to date.

"It's sad to say," says Moorer, Coyne's former trainer. "But that's how boxing is with Don King involved."

The paparazzi caught Don King as he collected his bag at the Miami International Airport back in January. Relatively speaking, his appearance was subdued — he wore eyeglasses and a brown leather coat instead of his customary bedazzled jean jacket with his own portrait painted on the back. The 81-year-old clutched only one small American flag rather than multiple. Were he not a living icon, he could have passed as someone's eccentric grandfather.

"I'm supporting Chef Josie," King told cameras for the celebrity gossip site TMZ. "Chef Josie is the people's chef."

Earlier that week, King's press team aggressively pushed a story to members of the national media: Don King is outraged at the elimination of Josie Smith-Malave, a contestant on the reality-TV cooking show Top Chef. King, apparently a huge fan of the show, prepared a whole poem about it for reporters.

"Her food is ambrosia for the masses and the classes," he sing-songed for the camera. "Her magic lies in her cooking ties."

Then he rattled off the text code to vote Smith-Malave back on the show.

These days, news of the weird is the only type of mainstream media attention King seems to generate. The loquacious promoter has become a lovably wacky, flag-waving patriot, quick with his catchphrase, "Only in America!" Never mind that it's a reference to his stint prison — only in America could a former numbers runner who stomped a man to death over a $600 debt rise to the highest echelons of fame and fortune. Or that he made his millions from exploiting some of the greatest fighters boxing has ever known. History, it seems, has already forgiven Don King. Even Mike Tyson, who once called his former promoter a "slimy, wretched, reptilian motherfucker," responded to a Riverfront Times request to say, "I don't hold grudges anymore. I wish him and his family well."

Boxing was a dirty sport long before Don King entered the scene in the 1970s, but it has resisted reform unlike any other. Despite all the shenanigans of the '90s and the rise and dramatic fall of Tyson, there's still no national boxing commissioner, no boxers' union looking out for fighters' rights, no healthcare or retirement for fighters — not even a simple online database where anyone can find the names of fighters and who represents them. Regulation occurs on a state level and varies wildly in its rules and enforcement.

In 2000, Senator John McCain's Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act added language to existing federal law meant to protect fighters from exploitative promoters. And though his name is nowhere in the language of the bill, the kinds of abuses enumerated in the act have Don King written all over them. The law makes it illegal for a promoter to also act as a boxer's manager; it also forces promoters to give fighters a detailed breakdown of the costs and payout of a bout before the match takes place. The act, however, has proven to be utterly toothless. To this day, not a single case has been prosecuted under the law.

"The federal government has done some great things, don't get me wrong," says Tim Lueckenhoff, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions. "But why have a law if you're not going to enforce it?"

As a result, promoters like King — and he is certainly not the only one — continue to operate much the same way they did in decades past, to the frustration of people like manager Tom Moran. In the 1980s, Moran famously tangled with King over his treatment of heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon.

"The people who think it's all in the past — no, it's not," says Moran. "What ends up happening is, the next generation comes along, they're none the wiser, and they get caught in it."

Even the mellowed-out Tyson acknowledges that allegations of King's continued manipulation of fighters are not exactly out of left field.

"I am not surprised," Tyson writes. "You have certain people in your life, and you expect they will do right by you, but the reality is someone is always waiting to [pull one over on you]."

In a brightly lit arena somewhere in Singapore, a massive right hook crashes into Ryan Coyne's skull.

"Oh, you motherfucker!" his coach bellows from the sidelines.

Almost instantly, the left side of Coyne's face is covered in blood, and black stains splatter his chest. It's 2008, and throughout the fight, his coach has been yelling at him to quit leading with his head, a habit he blames on Coyne's years as a Mizzou linebacker in the early 2000s.

"What did I tell you?" the coach hollers at the end of the round as the cameras zoom in on a jagged crimson slash arcing over Coyne's eyebrow.

This is Coyne's first fight on the NBC Sports Network (then called "Versus") reality show The Contender. He's something of an anomaly on the show — the youngest, the most inexperienced and lacking the made-for-TV back-story of fighting his way out of the ghetto. Coyne's a political-science major from St. Charles. Still, the dark-eyed, square-jawed Coyne earns airtime during the round-the-clock filming by stirring up trouble, sauntering into the gym one day with another contestant's name written across his headband — a "disrespectful" call-out.

With his cutman working overtime, slathering the gash with coagulants and Vaseline, Coyne makes it through five rounds and ultimately finds himself in center ring, his glove in the referee's hand.

"Your winner by split decision, ladies and gentlemen," the announcer calls out, "Ryan Coyne!"

Coyne leaps into the air screaming at the top of his lungs.

It's a nice moment, but the cut, it turns out, goes down to the bone. Coyne is sent home in the next episode.

Rather than bagging the contest's $250,000 prize, Coyne's reward came in the form of a phone call from an acquaintance with connections at Don King Productions — the man himself had seen Coyne on TV and was eager to meet.

"I thought Don King was the greatest promoter who ever lived," Coyne says. "To me this was the biggest opportunity of my life."

Coyne flew to Florida in September 2009 and says he spent most of the 48-hour trip waiting in his hotel room by the phone. On the second day, hours before his return flight, he was summoned to King's gleaming palace.

King headquarters is a $2.8 million building cased in inky-colored glass and plopped in a grove of palm trees, like an oasis for ambitious boxers. "Only in America" reads the side of the building facing the highway. Inside, the rooms and hallways are lined with news articles and accolades, photos of King with Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.

Coyne, who says he was told he couldn't bring a lawyer, waited at a long conference room table with two of King's employees before the man himself finally stepped in from his office, dripping in jewelry and grinning.

"Oh, Danny boy," King trilled. "Irish eyes are smiling! Leprechauns jumping from glen to glen."

Despite the babbling, King was warm and charming, and Coyne liked what he heard when King promised a shot at a world title within two years of signing with DKP. An assistant produced a contract and slid it in front of Coyne — eight pages of miniscule type — and asked him to sign on the dotted line. Coyne hesitated.

Although the contract states in several places that the signer should "seek the advice of an attorney," Coyne says the mere mention of bringing a copy back to his lawyer in St. Louis completely changed the tenor of the meeting.

"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.

"We'd love to see u fight in the Irish hotbeds back East, like Atlantic City, Philly, NYC," he wrote in a Facebook message to Coyne. "If ever we can help, let us know."

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."

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.

"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 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" 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."

It doesn't take long for King's answers to go off the rails, nor for the reporters and press representatives on the call to start openly laughing at the far-ranging responses. King evokes ancient history — the 1974 fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali that made him a household name. A mention of the Barclays Center venue sends him on a tangent about owner Jay-Z's wife Beyoncé, "that lovely, divinely lovely young, beautiful lady."

Finally, someone asked if Hopkins' prophecy will come true — will DKP close if Cloud loses on March 9?

"My company has been here 40, 45 years," he started. "My company will not be out of business. If Tavoris does anything, if all of them would leave, it ain't about that. It's!"

King suddenly pivoted on the female reporter asking the question.

"Your right, a woman's right, who also has been denied the rights that we were denied," he said. "That's why they got it in our Declaration of Independence, one man indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We haven't got there yet, but we're working at it, and we're going to work very tenaciously and dedicatedly and committedly to make them cosmic words come true."

"Only in America!" a male voice on the line interrupted."Only in America!" King parroted back. "The greatest nation in the world!"

In mid-February, like a bolt out of the blue, Coyne received a contract from DKP for a fight with Marcus Oliveira for March 9 — the Cloud versus Hopkins undercard. The contract called for a fair purse and promised HBO airtime.

Coyne, understandably suspicious, pored over the contract with his attorney Pat English, and together they extracted any language that insinuated the promotional contract between Coyne and DKP still exists. Coyne says they sent the heavily edited contract back to Florida mandating "all rights reserved" pending the litigation, expecting never to hear back. But DKP signed without amending it further.

Given the fact that Coyne had just countersued King, he is understandably wary of the sudden friendliness.

"I have some reservations," says Coyne, who immediately began training in Philadelphia under the tutelage of former heavyweight champion and King adversary, Tim Witherspoon. "Anything is possible with King. He's a devious bastard."

Though it's not a title shot, fighting Oliveira will determine who takes the No. 1 ranked spot in the WBA light heavyweight division. The current world champion will be obligated to fight Coyne next if he clinches the victory. Moran calls the deal a "temporary cease-fire."

A source familiar with DKP operations surmises that King not only wants to use the fight in court to show he fulfilled his contractual obligations to Coyne, but thinks King must believe that the Irish Outlaw will fall to Oliveira.

"That a murderer," the source says of Oliveira.

Coyne, of course, believes he can win.

"We gotta take what's on our plate for the moment," says Coyne. "My job is to fight. This is the one place I'm in control, where lawyers and politics take a back seat to what I can do."

But as it turns out, not even that is true. Less than 24 hours after that last remark in a conversation with RFT, Coyne takes a hit to the left side of his face in a sparring round and feels a surge of warm blood roll down his face.

"How bad is it?" he demands of Moran, ripping his facemask off. "How bad is it?"

Bad. With only two weeks to train before fight night, Moran is forced once again to tell Coyne he's not fighting.

"Sometimes it's like we get no luck," Moran sighs. "Twenty seconds to go in the last round, and he gets cut. It's just boxing."

In a classic example of the discord between Coyne's camp and Don King Productions, Coyne releases close-up photos of his cut along with news that the fight is off to the boxing websites, just hours before DKP issues a press release announcing the March 9 Coyne-Oliveira matchup.

All bumbling aside, the power is back in King's court. He can help Coyne reschedule the fight — there's an April fight card that Moran thinks is perfect — or he can send him back to career purgatory.

In the home Coyne shares with his wife Erica in a nice subdivision in Chesterfield, the skin on Coyne's eyebrow looks swollen and shiny. He ripped the stitches out himself just that morning.

For now, he'll have to wait to see what comes through first — the lawsuit or the next fight.

"I don't trust anybody anymore," he says. "We don't have anything guaranteed until you step through those ropes and the bell rings. You don't know shit. Fighting's the easy part."

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