- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

LAS VEGAS — You have to wonder if maybe the Grand Poobah of Promotion is losing his touch. Don King is 70 years old, and the failure of the John Ruiz-Roy Jones Jr. fight here in Las Vegas makes you think that he may be showing his age.

Ruiz-Jones has been a financial disaster, it would seem, for everyone involved except Jones, who appears to have gotten one over on King something that would have never happened before to a man like King, who not only could sell snowballs to Eskimos but could also convince them that when they melt, they would owe him even more money.

This fight tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center should be far bigger than it has turned out to be. Jones is a bona fide boxing star, well-known to the public since he was robbed of his gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, and is considered to be one of the greatest fighters in the game. You would think that a fighter like Jones the undisputed light heavyweight champion moving up to fight for the heavyweight championship, even if it is against a heavyweight champion known as the "Quiet Man" would pique the interest of sports fans.

But there doesn't appear to be much buzz over it across the nation. Unfortunately, there was more interest in the Mike Tyson freak show last weekend against Clifford Etienne in Memphis. Pay-per-view sales may not even reach 300,000 for Ruiz-Jones. A fight like this should draw at least twice that amount, and then some. Poor pay-per-view sales would be very bad news for Ruiz, the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion who foolishly agreed to be paid for this fight solely from a percentage of the television revenue.

Jones, on the other hand, made a deal for a guaranteed $10 million payday three times his usual fee for fighting light heavyweight stiffs. He will do well, regardless of who watches or doesn't watch, and has done little to promote the fight, much to King's and Ruiz's chagrin.

It's not even the biggest sporting event in Las Vegas this weekend. There is a NASCAR race tomorrow at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it is expected to draw an estimated 140,000 fans. If fight fans had expected to come to Vegas to see Ruiz-Jones, they would have to stay at a homeless shelter. Hotel rooms are nearly impossible to come by, filled up by race fans.

Ruiz made a foolish decision to agree to his payment from television revenue, but he isn't the first fighter to be fooled. For King to be hoodwinked, though, is like a once-in-a-century celestial event. He clearly miscalculated how big his so-called heavyweight title tournament would be, a vehicle he created as a response to being on the outside looking in at the division as a result of the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight last June, and he also must have thought he would have more influence over Jones than he has.

The way King set it up, Chris Byrd would fight Evander Holyfield for the vacant International Boxing Federation title. Byrd defeated Holyfield in their December fight to win the IBF crown in a fight that barely made a blip on the radar screen. Byrd is a great guy and a wonderful fighter, but he would have to wear a name tag for the average sports fans to know who he is.

King's idea was to have the winner of Byrd-Holyfield fight the winner of Ruiz-Jones to unify the IBF and WBA titles, then force a fight against Lewis, the WBC title holder and the generally recognized heavyweight champion. But Jones has not committed to any fights with King beyond tonight's fight, and it is doubtful that he would fight Byrd, a far better boxer than Ruiz. You can be sure that no one would be willing to pay Jones another guaranteed $10 million to fight Chris Byrd. If Ruiz wins, they might as well show Ruiz-Byrd on C-SPAN for all the interest there would be. So it looks as if Jones, who battled King on every single component of the contract for tonight's fight, has gotten one over on the promoter.

Then there is Lewis, perhaps the truest measure of whether King has lost his edge. King has been pursuing Lewis for years now, and Lewis has seemed to be playing King all along, letting him just get close enough before pushing him away. He tried to induce Lewis into not fighting Tyson, and at one point even gave Lewis a car as a gift, but Lewis wouldn't go for it. Then he paid Lewis $1 million just to give up his IBF belt to create this whole tournament and to also take part in the promotion of it. Now he is putting the full-court press on Lewis again, offering him a three-fight, $40 million deal, trying to convince Lewis to sign with King and break away from his current management team.

If King manages to land Lewis, then maybe the Grand Poobah still has it. If not, then it may be time for Don King to go back to Florida and concentrate on scamming senior citizens out of their bingo money at the retirement home, before the Eskimos start fleecing King.

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