Boxing promotion can be a murky business. Just like politics. Forgotten in the mists of time, newly inaugurated US President Donald J. Trump once offered himself as financial adviser to Mike Tyson and promoted a clutch of the world’s biggest fights and names in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
He even suggested Tyson’s rape conviction and jail sentence could be held over so that the heavyweight could fight Evander Holyfield with the proceeds from the then richest fight in history going to rape victims.
In boxing’s cut throat world of deals, and smokescreens, the then real estate mogul Trump excelled, even teaching seasoned promoters a thing or two, some of his crass practices still remembered today by those in the industry.
Business partners and rivals, such as promoters Bob Arum and Kathy Duva, have both told me recently that Trump burnt them financially, manipulating a deal with them as site host for a fight between champion Holyfield and challenger George Foreman in Atlantic City in 1991.
Octogenarian Las Vegas based promoter Arum claimed he and fellow promoter Dan Duva, late husband of Kathy, were “swindled” out of $2.5 million. Trump walked away with a profit. Kathy Duva says that Trump was “a natural promoter” and that she even learnt a lot about the process of selling and hyping fights from him.
Indeed, watching the US elections last year, the 63-year-old first lady of boxing promoting had a stark reminder of his practices. Duva explained to me that “he most definitely promoted himself into the presidency in exactly the same way he promoted fights and has promoted himself his whole life. He could say things and it would sound completely outrageous but by the time he got through it was the truth.”
Trump fancied himself as a fight promoter. But it didn’t last. “This business really is hard,” says Duva. “He could not make it as a boxing promoter, think about that, but he is the President of the United States.
“As Trump wrote in “The Art of the Deal,” his bestseller: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
At his pomp in boxing, Trump even offered himself as a self-styled “business adviser” to Tyson during the world heavyweight champion’s litigation with his manager, Bill Cayton. It was a clear conflict of interest, given that he was also the site and event promoter. It never bothered Trump. At the time there was a loophole there, and Trump was happy to exploit it.
Yet Tyson has endorsed him, so too Foreman. And indeed Don King. Not Thomas Hauser, though, Muhammad Ali’s official biographer, who cited Trump as “a mentally unstable narcissist with fascist tendencies” when I spoke to him last week in New York.
Hauser had a tale to tell about Trump, and Ali. “I was at a dinner with Muhammad Ali in Atlantic City in the mid 1990s. It was at the Trump Taj Mahal, which became the Taj Mahal after it went bankrupt. It was a celebratory dinner where Muhammad was honoured. We were sitting at the same table as Donald Trump and halfway through the evening Muhammad leaned over to me and said of Trump, “he’s not as big as he thinks he is.”
“That’s one of many times when Muhammad and my views were right. Too bad the American people didn’t get that message.”