Category Archives: Sport

Bo Knows – The amazing story of Bo Jackson

In the first of a two part look at those super-humans who have succeeded at the apex of more than one sport, new contributor Ken Irons sheds some light upon the extraordinary career of Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson.

Bo Jackson

It is sometimes easy to forget that certain individuals have actually reached the very top level in more than one sport simultaneously.

One such a super- athlete was Vincent Edward ‘Bo’ Jackson, born in Alabama in 1962 as one of 11 siblings. His mother was a lone parent. He was a naturally shy kid with a tendency to stutter and this could lead to anger and subsequent confrontation with other children. Such confrontations, however, were apt to be short lived as it didn’t take long for his peers to realise that baiting him was unacceptably dangerous.

Bo soon developed a superb physique. He grew powerful shoulders, partly due to his ongoing love of bow and arrow shooting, and had a sense of timing that enabled him to throw huge weights accurately and at lightning speed. His massive legs and exceptional lungpower ensured that, when he fully matured (at 6 feet one inch and 225 pounds), he was about as fast an athlete as you were likely to encounter anywhere.

Bo Jackson 2

He went into baseball, football and track, with word of his talent rapidly spreading, and won a baseball scholarship at Auburn University from 1982.

His natural talents and sheer athleticism guaranteed that spectators always got good value for their money when watching him. It was whilst at Auburn (which was his ‘home’ college) that he was approached illegally and signed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers who wanted him to play football for them in the ‘off season’. this led to his dismissal by Auburn, an action that pleased neither party, but one that was inevitable under the circumstances.

Bo then signed with Kansas City Royals for baseball. Soon his enormous strikes and scintillating speed, coupled with a natural sense of balance, had the fans aghast.

Once, he sprinted at top speed toward the fence to take an astonishing catch over his shoulder and then, to avoid collision with the barrier, actually ran 3 or 4 steps up, and back down, the vertical structure.  This happened in one smoothly coordinated, unforgettable movement – small wonder that ESPN subsequently voted him the greatest athlete of all time, ahead of Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer et al.

Jackson’s football career commenced with L.A. Raiders. He declined further involvement with Tampa Bay, although he’d actually signed for them, feeling bitter about his enforced departure from Auburn and stating that he’d treat football as a “hobby” in the baseball off-season.

Only Bo, with his awesome qualities, could have adopted such a cavalier stance. His football skills matched his baseball skills and one could give no higher praise than that. He was, indeed, a superstar in both sports. Multimedia fame and highly rewarding advertising campaigns followed (see below.)

While playing football on 13 January, 1991, Bo was brought down from behind by a seemingly innocuous tackle which, it turned out, dislocated his hip.

Although he was optimistic about recovery at first, he subsequently underwent replacement surgery and, try as he might to recapture past glories, was never the same man again. He did play baseball with Chicago Whitesox (this, despite a false hip), but was a shell of his former self.

His legacy is well and truly preserved however. Indeed, if he had excelled in the modern era, rather than the mid-eighties to early nineties, such were his abilities that cynics would almost certainly be attributing them to the use of steroids.

Bo Jackson’s great tragedy was the cruelly shortened span of his domination.

Check back tomorrow for part two, where Ken takes a peek at a host of others who managed to excel at the zenith of more than one sport.

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

Physical Phenomenons: athletes who excelled in more than one sport

Ken Irons returns with the second part of his feature on that rarest breed of athlete who enjoyed success at the highest level of more than one sport – part two focuses on the Compton brothers, Herschel Walker and Rebecca Romero.

Denis Compton (left) starred for England at cricket and Arsenal at football.
Denis Compton (left) starred for England at cricket and Arsenal at football.

A man who arguably set the bench mark for multi-sport participation more than any other was Denis Compton (1918 – 1997).

He played cricket for Middlesex and England as a right hand batsman and left arm spinner. He was an attacking batsman with a swashbuckling approach and his post war exploits, which included scoring over 3,000 runs in the 1947 season, and playing outside left for Arsenal, ensured that he was as big a sporting hero as England has ever seen.

A pleasant, genuine personality added to his appeal and he was the first English sportsman to attract substantial advertising revenue. His face could be seen all over the country smiling down from billboards, earning him the affectionate nickname ‘Brylcream Boy’.

Denis’ brother, Leslie (1912-1984), also played football for Arsenal, as a centre half, and cricket for Middlesex as wicket keeper. He won two international caps at football, late in his career, and remains the oldest player to debut for England.

Although, perhaps, a slightly superior footballer, he could not hope to match his brother cricket-wise and always stood in Denis’ sporting shadow.

Herschel Walker has never been a man to bow to convention. An ex-American football star (1982 Heisman trophy winner), Olympic bobsledder, track and field runner and taekwondo black belt, he started a new career, aged 48, in martial arts.

7631297770_4db2ab72af_c
The great Herschel Walker

Walker won his first Strikeforce MMA fight, defeating a man barely half his age. His martial arts trainer can scarcely believe his dietary regime – he eats only one meal a day and as a vegetarian eschews meats as well as, amazingly, other proteins, reasoning that his forbears, from South Georgia, worked excessively hard, long hours without the need for such nourishment, so why shouldn’t he?

He will also, if in the mood, abstain from food altogether for 3 or 4 days at a time, this habit not appearing to detract from his heavy training program. For example he is always up at 5.30am for his 750/1500 push ups and 2000 sit ups, preparatory to a long, hard day.

Interestingly, like Bo Jackson (the subject of the first part of this article), Walker suffered with a stutter in childhood, which led to his being bullied, similarly finding confidence and self belief via his sporting prowess, although his obsessive outlook has led to occasional problems with personality disorder in later years.

Rebecca Romero: one of only two women to win gold in two separate Olympic sports.
Rebecca Romero: one of only two women to win gold in two separate Olympic sports.

Rebecca Romero (born 24/1/1980 in Surrey), has been an outstanding athlete who has accomplished fame both as a rower and cyclist. She was the first British woman to compete in two different sports at the Olympic Games and when she won gold in the individual pursuit at Bejing in 2008, she became just the second woman from any country to win medals in more than one sport.

Rebecca took up rowing at 17 and, startlingly, progressed from novice to under 23 international in a mere 8 months. Her career (favoured position – stroke) lasted from 1998 to 2005. She forsook oars for handlebars thereafter when her cycling career took off (2006 to 2011). She won the world championship individual pursuit in 2008.

There are others who have competed among the upper echelons of more than one sport of course, with the likes of the legendary Michael Jordan (basketball and baseball) and gargantuan  Brock Lesnar (wrestling and American football), whose failures provide evidence of just how difficult a feat it is.

For that reason alone fans should celebrate the smattering who have achieved glory in more than one sporting field. Against all the odds their desire and talent have raised them far beyond the norm and placed them within the sanctuary of an elite club with a heavily compressed guest list.

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

Top 10 British boxers of all time (Part Two)

In the first part of Ken Irons’ article he revealed the first half of his top ten British boxers of all time, this time we find out who made the top five (and more importantly the number one slot!)  So who did our man at ringside feel were the premier pugilists from the land of the Rose? Read on and find out…

5) Chris Eubank 

Middle & Super Middleweight (45-5-2, 23 KO’s)

London born Eubank moved, in his teens, to New York, where he eventually fought off drug, alcohol and shop lifting dependencies when he took up boxing. 

On his return to the U.K. he was undefeated world middleweight champion for over five years and unbeaten in all fights in his first ten years as a pro.

His lisping drawl, eccentric attire and foppish attitude antagonised some (including arch adversary Nigel Benn) but masked a steely character.

 4) Carl Froch

Super Middleweight (33-2, 24 KO’s)

Froch, from Nottingham, is generally regarded as the best pound for pound British fighter currently plying his trade.

Nicknamed ‘The Cobra’, the 38 year-old has won 33 of his fights (24 knock outs) and suffered his only defeats by decision, with a record of 9–2 in world title fights, four victories being by knock out.

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3) John Conteh           

Light Heavyweight (34-4-1, 23 KO’s)

Aged only 19 Lancastrian Conteh won a gold medal at middleweight in the 1970 Olympics.

On turning professional he won the WBC light heavyweight crown in 1974 and held it until 1977. He retired in 1980 with a record of 34 wins, 4 losses and a solitary draw.

Regrettably he was another superbly talented fighter who could have done better still had it not been for an alleged penchant for the high life.

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2) Joe Calzaghe CBE

Super Middleweight (46-0, 32 KO’s)

British Lionhearts v Italia Thunder - World Series of Boxing

Welsh southpaw Calzaghe held WBO, WBA WBC & IBF super middle titles and is the longest reigning super middle champion in history, retiring undefeated in 2009.

His popularity has since resulted in appearances on national TV shows, while a perfect professional record of 46-0 is one of the finest in the history of elite level sparring, trumped only by Rocky Marciano (49-0) and Floyd Mayweather Jr (47-0).      

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1) Lennox Lewis CM, CBE

Heavyweight (41-2-1, 32 KO’s)

Born in West Ham, Lewis moved to Canada in childhood but retains dual nationality. At 6 feet 5 inches and around 17 stone, easy going, chess playing Lewis was a supreme boxer with a knock out punch in either hand.

He held the undisputed world title and never ducked a fight in an era (nineties) when there were plenty of dangerous fighters around, such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Vitali Klitschko (all of whom Lewis subjugated.)

His only professional defeats were duly and emphatically avenged in resultant re-matches.

What do you think of Ken’s choices? Should Ricky Hatton have made the cut? How about Frank Bruno or Herbie Hyde (ok, the last one might be a joke!)

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

Top 10 British boxers of all time (part one)

Britain has produced some incredible pugilists over the past century, but who are the cream of the crop? In part one of this article Ken Irons gives the first five of his top ten British boxers of all time, focusing on numbers 10 to 6.

Nigel Benn

It is inevitably difficult to assess athletes of any kind when comparing different eras; the contemporary boxer has the advantages of improved fitness levels, whereas fighters of fifty and sixty years ago, in the days before multi titles for each weight division, had but one world title to fight for.

They didn’t, like today, get a shot at a title when they’d only had to undergo a handful of fights. Taking these points into account, I have done my best to come up with a fair assessment of the top ten British boxers of all-time based on a series of criteria that includes longevity and performances on the big stage; the latter one reason why some notable names have missed the cut.

10) Sir  Henry Cooper OBE KSG

 Heavyweight (55 fights, 40 wins,  14 losses, 1 draw, 27 K.O’s)                                                         

Cooper, otherwise fondly referred to as Our Enery’, was arguably the most popular British fighter since the war and, although he held only Commonwealth and European titles as opposed to a world strap, is still remembered for his fearsome left hook.

It was this punch which, famously, floored Muhammad Ali in perhaps Cooper’s most notorious bout although Ali, aided by some alleged sharp practice from his corner to give him extra recovery time, went on to stop Cooper with a badly cut eye.

9) Barry McGuigan MBE

Featherweight (32-3, 28 KO’s)

McGuigan, born in Clones, Republic of Ireland, and nicknamed the ‘Clones Cyclone’, was a skilful boxer and powerful puncher whose 32 winning professional fights included 28 knock outs. 

He won the world title and successfully defended it twice. His career was at it’s height during the time of ‘The Troubles’ (a religion conflict mainly based in Northern Ireland) and McGuigan earned tremendous respect and admiration from both sides of the political divide, not only via his in-ring accomplishments, but also by his heartfelt, authentic neutrality. 

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8) Naseem Hamed

Bantam, Super Bantam & Featherweight (36-1, 31 KO’s)

Southpaw Hamed, born in Sheffield, was a very exciting, if unorthodox fighter who packed a great punch with either fist, knocking out 31 of his 36 victims (losing only one fight in his professional career).

He held WBC, WBO, IBF & WBA world titles but retired at only 28 years of age, this despite being hailed by some as potentially Britain’s best ever fighterwhose only fault allegedly was a limited enthusiasm for training camp.  

7) Lloyd Honeyghan     

Welterweight (43-5, 31 KO’s)

Jamaica born Honeyghan, a supreme combatant, was responsible for one of the greatest world championship wins ever achieved by a British fighter when, in 1986, he travelled to the USA to defeat their seemingly invincible champion Donald Curry in 6 rounds.

He was WBC, WBA & IBF champion from 1986 to 1987 and WBC champion 1988  1989, although he famously dumped his WBA belt in a trash bin due to their policy of allowing fights in South Africa.  

6) Nigel Benn

Middle & Super Middleweight (42-5-1, 35 KO’s)

Ex soldier Benn, born in Ilford, was one of the most exciting fighters Britain has ever produced and the crowds would flock to witness his aggressive, barnstorming approach to contests, which resulted in many knock out victories.

He won world titles at both middle and super middleweight and had two epic battles against his nemesis and arch rival Chris Eubank, the first of which he lost, with the rematch concluding in a hotly disputed draw.

Check back with Kureen tomorrow for the top five and let us know if you agree with Ken’s selections or not! 

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

Top Ten Heavyweight Boxers of all time (part two: 5-1)

Yesterday Ken Irons shared the first half of his top ten heavyweight boxers of all-time, now it’s time to step into the ring with the elite, as he reveals his top five!

Butterbean: Failed to make the cut
Butterbean: Failed to make the cut

5) JOE LOUIS
Record: 66-3 (52 KO’s)

Joe Louis is a boxing icon who held the title (before it became fragmented) from 1937 until 1949, the longest period ever for a champion to reign.

He was undefeated until sustaining a 12-round loss to Germany’s Max Schmeling in 1936. After winning the title he had a return fight with the German in 1938, a fight which triggered deep emotions owing to the anti-Nazi feelings prevalent at the time (Hitler had reportedly personally encouraged Schmeling to win the title for the honour of the third Reich, although there was never any question that the fighter himself was involved in politics in any way). The fight lasted 124 seconds with Schmeling knocked senseless having been floored 3 times.

A tribute to Joe Louis in Detroit
A tribute to Joe Louis in Detroit

Louis retired in 1949 but then had to come back due to financial problems as he owed a large sum in taxes. This caused anger amongst fans and the general public as a whole because Joe had served his country well, both in wartime (in the U.S. Army) and as a unifying personality, loved by both blacks and whites.

The Government displayed no such sentimentality and Joe was reduced to working as a wrestler to pay off his debt, having first lost comeback fights to both Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano. He did receive official approval in death however, when the then U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, requested that he be buried at Arlington Cemetery.

4) GEORGE FOREMAN
 Record: 76-5 (68 KO’s)

George Foreman

Foreman, at 6 feet 3 inches, was not a stylish fighter but he was a devastating puncher, winning the title in 1973 against the seemingly invincible Joe Frazier when he demolished him in 2 rounds.

The following year, at age 25, he lost the crown to 32 year-old Muhammad Ali in the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire. Foreman was expected to win the contest but was overcome by Ali’s ‘rope a dope’ tactics whereby the latter leaned on the ropes, raised both gloves in protective mode and encouraged Foreman to eventually punch himself out.

Foreman always maintained that he had not felt right during the fight leading to some speculation that his water may have somehow been ‘spiked’, but this idea never got beyond the unsubstantiated rumour stage.

Foreman retired soon after and practised religion as a preacher. He came back to regain the title against Michael Moorer, at age 45. This made him the oldest man to win the title. He finally hung up the gloves for good in 1997.

3) LENNOX LEWIS
Record: 41-2-1 (32 KO’s)

London born but having spent part of childhood in Canada, Lewis holds dual nationality. At 6 feet 5 inches and 245 pounds, he was a superb boxer with a knock-out punch in either hand. 

Dispensing of all of the elite pugilists of his era, Lewis achieved amateur success when representing Canada at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, defeating future great Riddick Bowe for the gold medal, subsequently turning professional and switching allegiance to Britain during the same year.

He held the undisputed world title and never suffered an unavenged defeat, retiring in 2004, having stopped Vitali Klitschko via TKO in his final bout.

2) LARRY HOLMES
Record: 69-6 (44 KO’s)

Larry Holmes

Holmes has suffered more in his rightful claim to immortality than perhaps any other fighter due to the unfortunate timing of his rise to fame.

The fact that Muhammad Ali’s career was still ingrained in the hearts and minds of fans the world over when HolmesAli’s ex sparring partner, came into prominence, detracted greatly from the new champion’s overall standing.

He was, however, at 6 feet 3 inches, a consummate boxer/ fighter who could, in truth, match Ali in most aspects of his craft. As a one punch knock-out specialist he was perhaps superior to his old ‘employer’ who was more of adamaging’ puncher and his left jab is generally considered to be the best ever in the division.

Holmes was champion from 1978 – 1985 and his 19 consecutive defences of the title ranks second only to Joe Louis.

1) MUHAMMED ALI
Record
: 56-5 (KO’s 37)

Muhammed Ali

Muhammad Ali was a man whose fame transcended the sport due to his strongly held and fearlessly expressed political and religious beliefs (including his refusal to fight in Vietnam) and his generally extrovert personality.

He was the first champion to overtly ‘wind up’ his opponents, often causing trouble at press conferences, pre fight interviews and the like. This however was all part of his deliberate practice of getting the better of an opponent mentally which he invariably did, and which usually paid off for him in terms of results.

Ali’s dancing style, lightening fast reflexes and astonishing hand speed, wherein, in his own words,he “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee”,were just too much for most of his bewildered and disheartened opponents to cope with

He is the only three time lineal world heavyweight champion, winning the title in 1964, 1974 and 1978. It should also be remembered that his ‘prime years’, 1967 – 1971, were taken from him when his license was taken away following the Vietnam draft incident.

So there it is, the top ten heavyweight boxers of all-time and not a Rocky Balboa or Butterbean in sight! Let us know your thoughts on Ken’s choices in the comment section below.

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

Top 10 heavyweight boxers of all time (part one: 10-6)

His “Best of British Boxers” article received a double thumbs up from legendary pugilist Riddick Bowe last month, now Ken Irons returns to share his top ten heavyweight boxers of all time. Part one focuses on numbers 10 through 6.

The legendary Riddick Bowe enjoyed Ken's previous article
The legendary Riddick Bowe enjoyed Ken’s previous article

In assessing the comparative merits of fighters whose respective careers span a long period of time, I have resorted to the commonly held premise that all sportsmen/women can only improve as time progresses due to the better fitness levels, diet, training regimes etc. now available.

 It is for this reason that I have deliberately omitted some of the champions of yesteryear – men like Dempsey, Johnson and Tunney – from my selection.

However, whilst it is true that Rocky Marciano, had I included him, would not have been the oldest fighter to appear, I feel that his small stature (today he’d have been a cruiserweight) goes against him.

Another negative is the fact that, although he holds the only perfect record in the division, the fifties was not an exceptional era for heavyweights and he never really fought any outstanding fighters (with the exceptionof Joe Louis, at that time well past his bestand Archie Moore – also past his best and, in reality, only a blown up light-heavyweight).

As is inevitable when constructing such lists, there are also other great champions with exemplary records who narrowly miss the cut – Wladimir Klitschko and Riddick Bowe amongst them.

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10) KEN NORTON
Record: 42 wins, 7 losses, 1 draw (33 KO’s )

Ken Norton Muhammed Ali

Norton, only the second man to beat Ali, was famous for his idiosyncratic cross armed defence which he used to good effect against the great fighters around in his era. Although he was subsequently outpointed by Ali in a return fight, the judges’ verdict in this contest was deemed at the time to be one of the most ill considered and unfair on record.

Norton’s unsuccessful fight with Larry Holmes for the title is rated one of the very best ever seen in the division.

Unfortunately however, it left Norton with the dubious distinction of being the only heavy weight champion who never won a title fight (the WBC having awarded him the crown prior to the Holmes fight as a result of a contract dispute they had with Leon Spinks). Any dreams Norton may have had of regaining the crown were then crushed by Holmes retaining it for the next 7 years!

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9) EVANDER HOLYFIELD
Record: 44-10-2 (29 KO’s)

Holyfield, nicknamed ‘The Real Deal’, was aundisputed world champion at both cruiser and heavyweight.

He is the only 4 time world champion, winning the WBA, WBC and IBF titles in 1990, the WBA and IBF titles in 1993 and the WBA title in 1996 and 2000Among those he defeated were Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes and George Foreman although, it has to be said, both Holmes and Foreman were in their early forties at the time he fought them.

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8) VITALI KLITSCHKO
Record: 45-2 (41 KO’s)

Vitali Klitschko

Klitschkoqualified PhD, nicknamed Dr Ironfistand currently Mayor of Kiev, was the first European for many years to make an impact on the heavyweight boxing scene

At 6 feet 7 inches and a superbly fit 240 pounds or so, he brought a new focus to the division which was traditionally ruled by American fighters. Whilst interest in the sport had begun to wane in the states, via the gradual decline of activity in the amateur ranks. By the turn of the century in Europe a new enthusiasm was taking hold. Klitschko took the WBC title in 1999 beating Herbie Hide in 2 rounds.

Klitschko’s height, reach, punching power and boxing skills established him as an all time great. His only 2 losses were to Chris Byrd and Lennox Lewis. He has always maintained a steadfast refusal to fight his younger brother, Wladimir, another outstanding champion.

7) JOE FRAZIER
Record: 32-4-1 (27 KO’s)

Ali and Frazier

“Smokin'” Joe Frazier was an aggressive, bustling type of fighter with a thunderbolt left hook, who won the title in 1970 and, in retaining it in the massively hyped ‘fight of the century’ in 1971, was the first man to beat Muhammad Ali. 

He lost the title to another attacking fighter in 1973 when he took on the heavier George Foreman who, after flooring Frazier several times in a brutal encounter, knocked him out in round two.

He subsequently lost twice to Ali (the second of these fights being the gruelling “Thrilla in in Manila, which left both men in hospital) and again to Foreman, leaving Big George and Ali as his only conquerors.

6) MIKE TYSON
Record: 50-6* (44 ko)

Tyson, the youngest man to win the WBC, WBA and IBF titles at 20, is perhaps the most destructive puncher the division has known.

This made him capable, especially in the early days of his career, of suddenly demolishing an opponent in a split second, no matter the current state of the contest. He won the WBC title in 1986 and the WBA and IBF in 1987. He defended the title 9 times before losing to underdog James ‘Buster’ Douglas in 1990.

His downward slide was not helped when he changed management. He also achieved notoriety for the ear biting escapade in his rematch with Evander Holyfield and activities outside the ring, which included a rape charge, imprisonment and money problems(despite his massive ring earnings and lucrative endorsements).

*Tyson also fought two bouts that ended as ‘no contests’.

Tune in tomorrow for the second part of Ken’s article, where he’ll reveal his top five heavyweight boxers of all time. In the meantime let us know your thoughts on the list so far in the comment section below, and please ask people to ‘like’ our Facebook page.

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

King of Promoters – The amazing story of Don King

Regular contributor Ken Irons regales Kureen readers with the amazing story of charismatic, wild-haired boxing promoter Don King.

Don King

Don King was born in 1931 in Cleveland, Ohio. From a young age he realised that, due to his colour and lack of social status, he would have to fight hard to achieve his ambitions. The first of these ambitions was to become a lawyer and to this end he went to Kent State University.

Ever the pragmatist however, he was persuaded by his elder sibling to drop out and to join him in illegal bookmaking and the numbers racket, then a way of life in the city.

King’s aptitude for numbers and his phenomenal memory proved highly beneficial in this new, if shady, enterprise and he soon ran his own operation. Something, however, that Don had assimilated, both from his upbringing and this work on Cleveland’s mean streets, had instilled in him a ruthless mindset that would almost bring about his downfall.

Don King 3

He had learned that: you have to grab what you want before the other guy gets it; no one is going to give you something for nothing; and, if someone does you down and you show them mercy, then they’ll do it again and again. Thus it happened that on two occasions, in 1954 and 1966, King ended the lives of two human beings.

When the cases came to trial in 1966 it was established that the first man had been shot in the back by King as he attempted to rob one of the latter’s gambling houses. This case was pronounced justifiable homicide.

In the second case, in 1966, King was convicted of 2nd degree murder for stomping to death an employee who owed him $600. The employee, an unfit and weedy man, stood no chance when confronted by the 6 foot plus, heavily built King, who stomped and mercilessly kicked him to death. A police officer, who had witnessed part of the slaughter, was wholly mortified by it and later described the horror of seeing the victims head flapping from side to side, propelled by the bigger man’s boots.

The conviction was subsequently reduced by the judge to non-negligent murder and King served just under 4 years. He was later pardoned for the crime in 1983 by Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes and there were letters of support from Jesse Jackson and other influential parties.

In the meantime Don used his incarceration to good effect and read extensively (notably on Philosophy), thus helping to mould the intelligent yet verbose speaker the public would soon marvel at. He was particularly prone to classic quotations, an idiosyncrasy that would remain with him.

Alas, these were interspersed with regular malapropisms that, despite a fierce intelligence, he seemed blissfully unaware of. However, his mode of communication, an important part of which seemed to involve never answering a direct question when he could instead divert the questioner’s attention by rambling on to his heart’s content, served him very well in the practice of negotiation that his career ultimately demanded.

On his release from prison King moved into boxing. After working with an experienced local promoter, Don Elbaum, he made a crucial move when he persuaded Muhammed Ali to box in a charity exhibition, staged to help a local hospital for black people.

There followed, in 1974, King’s golden hour. All he had learned to date: the determination, the bargaining skills, the ruthless business ethic, were used to negotiate with Ali, Foreman, their managements, the boxing authorities and heads of foreign government alike, to produce one of the biggest and most famous fights ever – the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ – Ali v Foreman in Zaire.  Vitally, a special arrangement was brokered with the Zaire Government to secure the (then record) $10 million purse.

King maintained his position as a major promoter throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, promoting the likes of Larry Holmes, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez, Bernard Hopkins and many others.

Always interested in music he also promoted The Jacksons ’84 ‘victory tour’. His other abiding interest – the cause of his fellow blacks – was served by his acquisition of an African American community weekly paper in Cleveland.

It would have been nice to think that King’s career was free of further problems involving the law. After all, his omnipresent towering figure, complete with spiky hair, standing in the ring flanked by the world’s best fighters as he beamed happily into the camera, was now a familiar sight the world over.

Nor did he confine himself to posturing only at his own promotions – on one famous occasion rival promoter Bob Arum was forced to clamber up the steps and bravely restrain King from entering the ring at Arum’s own promotion.

Outside of the ring, he had successfully integrated into society: he held an Honorary Doctorate of Humane letters degree from Central State University and had publicly backed presidential candidates.

It therefore shocked many people when King’s business methods came under serious scrutiny. He was sued by practically every one of the big name fighters he promoted for defrauding them: by Ali for $1.1million, Holmes for $10 million, Tim Witherspoon for $25 million, Tyson for $100million ad nauseam. Terry Norris alleged that King had conspired with his manager to underpay him. King settled out of court for $7.5 million, and conceded to Norris’s wish that the settlement be made public.

Don King 5

King’s normal practice was to settle out of court and thus Tyson was eventually paid $14 million, Witherspoon $1 million, Holmes $150,000 and so on. A particularly chilling example of King’s ruthlessness came with the Ali settlement; In 1982 Ali – who, it should be remembered, had kick-started King’s career by agreeing to box at the latter’s charity exhibition – had sued King for short changing him in the brutal Larry Holmes fight, during which Ali took a severe beating.

King’s response was to approach one of Ali’s old friends, a man called Jeremiah Shabazz, give him a suitcase containing $50,000 in cash, a letter ending Ali’s lawsuit against King, and instructions to deliver them to Ali. The letter even gave King the rights to promote any future Ali fights.

Ali was in hospital at the time showing the early symptoms of the cruel illness that has now taken hold of him. He was, according to his old friend, ‘mumbling’ a lot, however, he signed the letter. Shabazz later regretted helping King and it was reported that Ali’s lawyer was reduced to tears on hearing that his client had ended the lawsuit without telling him.

In a 1992 senate investigation into organised crime, King invoked the 5th amendment when questioned about his connections to ‘Godfather’ John Gotti. He subsequently deemed any such allegations as “racist”. The man who no less a writer than Norman Mailer had hailed as a “genius”, was characterised by Mike Tyson as “a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker, who would kill his own mother for a dollar”.

King launched a $2.5 billion defamation suit against ESPN after a documentary claimed that he had “killed not once, but twice”, had threatened to break Larry Holmes’s legs, and cheated Meldrick Taylor out of $1 million then threatened to have him killed. The case was dismissed.

Don King’s wife died in 2010 at age 87. He has a daughter, 2 sons and 5 grandchildren. Although he has inevitably lost some of his strength and menace at 83, his ambition persists and he has made it clear that he will never retire.

Rather, he still plans and dreams of his next possible promotion and, of course, the resultant payday.

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

When religion mixes with sport

Ken Irons returns with an article that takes a glimpse at a host of high-profile athletes who struggled to combine their relationship with religion with a career in sport.

Muhammed Ali painting

Perhaps the most famous example of a sports star being governed by his religious beliefs is that of Muhammad Ali, although these beliefs were unquestionably more racial than religious – the organisation he belonged to being the Black Muslims.

Although Ali’s hagiographers liked to depict him as a man of near saintly proportions, his treatment of his fellow man often belied this theory.

For example, his close friendship with the infamous Malcolm X was responsible for Ali joining the Muslims, but when Malcolm X fell out of favour and was later assassinated by the Muslims, Ali entirely washed his hands of him and could not find a word to say in his favour.

Similarly, the notion that Ali had rejected conscription on moral grounds because he did not wish to kill Vietnamese people was a travesty. He was ordered by the Muslims, of whom he was understandably frightened, to take this action. It must also be said that enlisting held no personal appeal for him, as he had heard that the chance of him being attacked by white racist factions within the U.S. forces was considerable.

Ali’s later treatment of Joe Frazier, whom he gratuitously called an ‘Uncle Tom’ (causing Joe’s son, Marvis, to be ostracised at school) could, again, not be claimed to be the action of a particularly religious man. Frazier, a man from a deprived background, never forgave the comparatively middle class Ali for this insult.

Another gifted athlete, Jonathan Edwards, a man who still holds the world triple jump record he set more than 19 years ago, was a highly committed Christian who, at one stage in his career, steadfastly refused to compete on a Sunday.

He did subsequently relinquish this discipline and won the triple jump World Title in 1995 with two efforts that extended his own world record beyond the 18 metre barrier.

A silver medal followed at the following year’s Olympics. He then won gold at the 2000 Olympics shortly after which he was awarded the CBE. Further titles were captured at the 2001 world championships and the 2002 commonwealth games prior to his retirement in 2003.

In March this year Jonathan made a surprise statement revealing that he no longer believes in God. Giving up presenting Songs of Praise, he stated that he felt more settled and happier in himself since coming to terms with his feelings. Edwards, 47, now works as a BBC sports presenter and lives in Newcastle with his wife and two sons.

Jonathan Edwards

Ex-Argentina goalkeeper, Carlos Roa, who helped knock England out of the 1998 world cup on penalties, was a member of the 7th Day Adventist Church. He took a year out of football to study religion in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1999, before returning to action in Spain. He fell back on his religion to strengthen him when testicular cancer struck him some years later.

The Rev David Shepherd skippered and opened the batting for both Sussex and England in the 1950’s and is the only ordained Minister to play Test cricket. Refusing to play against South Africa in their 1960 tour, he was strongly anti-apartheid. He retired from cricket in 1963, was made Bishop of Woolwich in 1969 and Bishop of Liverpool in 1975.

Shepherd retired from those commitments in 1997 and was elevated to Life Peerage, sitting on the Labour benches in the House of Lords. He died on the eve of his 76th birthday in 2005

Written by Ken Irons

I have always had a love of the written word and have frequently, over the years, exasperated editors, publishers et al with my copious submissions of work. My highly advanced years I find a plus, as it means not having to research so much – I can remember it if it’s in the last century or so!

Not Coming Out

Dom Kureen takes a glimpse at the homophobic attitude and fear associated with ‘coming out’ in men’s professional football.

Justin Fashanu’s limp, lifeless corpse dangles from the rafters of a dingy lock-up garage in Shoreditch, London, his neck is bound by a short length of rope and hangs loosely, seemingly held in place by something akin to a layer of Origami paper, as a member of the public stumbles upon the tragic scene.

Aged just 37 at the time of his death on May 2nd, 1998, Fashanu had at one point been regarded as English football’s next breakout star, signing a lucrative contract with Brian Clough’s high-flying Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1981 – subsequently becoming the first black player in the game to command a seven figure sum, following his £1m move from Norwich City.

Clough, a brilliant manager, but often unnecessarily outspoken man, had been shaped by traditional Victorian family values. This didn’t bode well for his new acquisition, who was banned from training with the rest of the squad after his sexual orientation and party lifestyle became common knowledge around the football club.

In one particularly fraught exchange, Clough barked angrily “Why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?”

The relationship had reached breaking point and was severed irreparably soon after, when the Forest boss had his young striker escorted from the training pitch by two police officers.

Rapidly falling from grace, Fashanu came out publically in ‘The Sun’ on 22 October 1990 – the first high profile British sportsman to do so.

The sensationalised revelations led to widespread public and private criticism, notably at the hands of his younger brother, John, who was also a professional footballer.

“I wouldn’t like to play or even get changed in the vicinity of him, so if I’m like that then I’m sure that the rest of the footballers are like that” John said shortly after his brother’s tabloid revelations. The two siblings didn’t speak during the final seven years of Justin’s life.

In the 24 years that have passed since the Justin Fashanu exclusive broke, no active male professional footballer has come out, although a handful, such as former Aston Villa and Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, have done so shortly after retiring from the game.

Indeed, even in the semi-professional game in Britain there is only one openly gay footballer, Gainsborough Trinity’s Liam Davis, who has been public about his homosexuality for four years.

Rugby, cricket, tennis and a myriad of other sports have long accepted homosexuality: be it Gareth Thomas, Steven Davies, Martina Navratilova or more recently Tom Daley, the diver who broke millions of female hearts when he used YouTube to announce his relationship with another man and was generally well received for his honest admission.

Tom Daley used YouTube to reveal his same-sex relationship
Tom Daley used YouTube to reveal his same-sex relationship.

Former England international footballer, Sol Campbell, was the target of derogatory, homophobic chants from the terraces throughout his career; despite no evidence to suggest that he was gay (he is now with wife and child).

Campbell revealed to ‘BBC News’ that in his opinion many fans and professionals still have the blueprint of a stiff upper-lipped 1970’s footballer in their mind, so anything that deviates from that prototype makes them uncomfortable… He probably has a valid point.

England women’s international, Casey Stoney, went public with her sexuality in 2014, revealing to the ‘Telegraph’ newspaper that she was inspired by the positive reaction Daley received:

  “I feel it’s really important for me to speak out as a gay player because there are so many people struggling who are gay, and you hear about people taking their own lives because they are homosexual. That should never happen.”

Conversely, the majority of her male counterparts remain, on the surface at least, far from ready to accept the presence of persuasions in conflict with heterosexuality among their peers. The primitive psyche that surrounds the sport is one reason why it is often perceived as the brutish step-cousin of competitive pastimes.

In that sense things have receded rather than progressed since Justin Fashanu was universally shunned more than two decades ago. One need only look at how that situation regrettably played out to see why there is still an apparent taboo on top-flight players admitting such a thing, but can more than 5000 professional football players really all be ‘straight’?

The blinkers are on. As football agent Eric Hall assuredly stated for ‘Inside Story’ “Football isn’t really a game that gay people play, I believe that there aren’t any homosexual players among the professionals.”

That sort of wishful thinking may provide a misguided crumb of comfort for a sport becoming jaded by its own deep-seated insecurities; a sport unable to come to terms with the inevitable from the sanctuary of its own cocoon.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me.
I meditate and wash daily when possible.

It’s the hope that kills you

Villa Park provided the backdrop for Newcastle United’s Premier League relegation in May, 2009, as an own goal from Toon misfit Damien Duff, one of a slew of under achievers on the books at the time, consigned the team to a 1-0 defeat that meant they beat Hull to the drop by a single point.

Disaster on the face of it, but ultimately the demotion proved a blessing, with declining veterans and mercenaries released into the wilderness, and a squad of courageous warriors forged under the astute leadership of the club’s underrated coach Chris Hughton.

Fast forward seven years and Villa Park once more played host to the Magpies’ struggle to survive the drop, the nails in the coffin this time provided by a 0-0 draw against the already relegated hosts, coupled with arch-rivals Sunderland’s 3-2 win against Chelsea. Commence doom and gloom.

Andros Townsend
Andros Townsend: likely to leave in the Summer

This time it feels different. In appointing Rafa Benitez, Newcastle have finally placed the club under the supervision of an elite leader, this disappointing stalemate making it five matches without defeat for the first time in around 18 months.

That survival is even possible at this stage is courtesy of the Spaniard organising a hitherto malfunctioning back four into something resembling a half-decent defence; dispensing with previous stalwarts Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor in favour of young, teachable central defenders, led brilliantly by the supremely gifted Jamaal Lascelles, a 22 year-old left out in the cold for the majority of previous Manager Steve McLaren’s soul sapping tenure.

There is so much more to lose now. The club’s most natural outlet, Andros Townsend, is said to have an £8m relegation release clause in the deal he signed during the Winter window and a queue of admirers, whilst the likes of Benitez and his staff are unlikely to stick around to oversee things in the lower leagues.

There are no battle hardened spearheads in the mould of Kevin Nolan, no talismanic Andy Carroll’s coming through the youth team. The remnants of this latest disaster conceivably a team sheet smothered with names luminaries as Riviere, Ameobi, Gouffran, Haidara and Saivet.

AA: Adam Armstrong has shone on loan at Coventry.
AA: Adam Armstrong has shone on loan at Coventry.

Players recruited at the say so of Chief Scout Graham Carr, a man formerly held in high esteem. As the results of his approved acquisitions have diminished, so has the reputation of the 71 year-old, who despite working within the constraints of a blinkered blueprint could surely not have been expected to get it so spectacularly wrong so often.

Adam Armstrong offers hope, although his flame has dimmed in the latter months of a loan spell at Coventry City. Other gifted youth prospects such as Rolando Aarons and Kevin Mbabu are beset by regular injuries and have contracts that expire imminently. Will they be keen to stay put at a club seemingly in perpetual transition? Nobody could blame them, or the likes of Freddie Woodman for wanting to escape the Titanic.

Of course, in an ideal world the parachute payments of around £45m, as well as a reduction of wage bill with the release of high earners such as Taylor, Papiss Cisse, Marveaux et al, would allow the club to somehow talk some of the better players, and more importantly the management team, into staying put.

In reality any scenario where clubs actually want to purchase and pay wages to the likes of Riviere, Gouffran, Haidara, Coloccini (Palace apparently willing to pay £4m last Summer!) and others is wishful thinking indeed; the equivalent of sticking your best of Steps album on eBay with a £20 reserve.

Wijnaldum may be easier to shift, and for such a talented player he has probably been our biggest flop in the second half of the season. He’s a quality player in full flow, with bags of pace and technical skill, but as the seasons have changed so seemingly has his attitude.

A team with a spine of Elliot/Darlow/Krul, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Mbabu, Tiote, Aarons, Armstrong, Mitrovic and Perez could probably bounce back from the second tier, but make no mistake; this will not be a glorified 102 point cake walk as in 2009-10. If we scrape promotion by our cuticles it will be an excellent achievement. If we don’t then a prolonged drift around the bowels of English League football is likely to commence.

Our football club has become the sweaty man hiding a secret, in Rafa we are punching several weights too high already, we might be able to get Nigel Pearson or Tim Sherwood to shout us back up though.

For Aston Villa relegation provides a broom to sweep away the rubble, for Newcastle United it channels the gust of wind that blows away a short lived promise of better times. This one really hurts because this time we were given hope.

Written by Dom Kureen

As a young rapscallion stranded on an Island, my time is split between writing, performing spoken word, wrestling alligators and delivering uplifting pep talks to hairdressers before they prune me.
I meditate and wash daily when possible.