Bringing Rope-a-Dope to China

Watch out, Beijing, here comes boxing boss Don King. He'll make George W.'s pestering look like swings from a flyweight

By Ciro Scotti

A lot of deep thinkers are creating great furrows in their brows trying to figure out why on earth Boy George is baiting China. It's folly, they say: Bush isn't Reagan, China isn't the Soviet Union, and scare tactics will only backfire. It certainly won't cause the regime to topple into some half-baked democratic system, the pundits huff.

Of course, what the Bush Administration is doing amounts to little more than letting the Chinese know that the free-for-all they enjoyed during the Clinton years is over. Sorry, fellas. No more open-house espionage, crucial-technology transfers, and barely concealed efforts to buy influence with campaign contributions.

But if the eggheads are overwrought about Dubya doing long-term damage to relations by hanging tough during the spy-plane incident or selling more weaponry to Taiwan, now they really have something to worry about. Don King is going to China.


  On May 14 at a tony midtown Manhattan Chinese eatery called Tao, the boxing impressario with the hair that has experienced no energy crisis announced that he'll stage a heavyweight bout in Beijing on Aug. 4. Duking it out near the Great Wall will be WBA heavyweight champion John "The Quiet Man" Ruiz and four-time heavyweight champ Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield.

And in a coup that King explained by quoting everyone from Sun Tzu to Sigmund Freud, he announced that Baltimore's Hashim Rahman, who last month unexpectedly ripped the WBF and IBF heavyweight belts off Britain's Lennox Lewis, would also be on the card.

Never mind that Rahman will be battling Danish heavyweight Brian Nielsen who, despite 61 wins, remains largely an unknown. King was beside himself with glee because he had swooped in and snatched Rahman from HBO, which was offering a reported $20 million deal for a rematch with Lewis, and Showtime, which wanted the champ to face Mike Tyson for about the same amount.


  Not only that, but King now represents Rahman, with whom he said he was "tied like Siamese twins at the hips." For his part, Rahman vowed to fight the winner of the Ruiz-Holyfield match -- the presumption being that Nielsen will crumble like Danish blue cheese -- and unify all three titles under one champion. (That would replicate what's happening in the middleweight division: On May 12, Felix Trinidad TKO'd William Joppy to win the WBA middleweight title. He'll face Bernard Hopkins, the WBC and IBF champ, on Sept. 15 at Madison Square Garden.)

Unity, in fact, was a theme of the theatrical, all-King, all-the-time announcement, which featured a traditional Chinese lion dance to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. As the three fighters, a representative of the Chinese boxing association, and an emissary from Great Wall Entertainment Media, which is co-promoting the bout, sat beneath a giant Buddha, King talked about peace and invited "our dear friend George W. Bush" to attend the fight and join with him "for hands across the ocean."

With Showtime and HBO still reeling in the dust, King allowed that he doesn't yet have a TV contract for this Great Wall Brawl. But he professed faith that someone would step up. "Will it be Mel Karmazin, will it be Rupert Murdoch...will it be Barry Diller?" he asked the New York media horde as the diamond bracelet on his wrist glistened in the TV lights.

Meanwhile, the Chinese contingent sat grinning and laughing at King as an interpreter translated his words. You had to wonder if they'll still be laughing when the fight is over -- and the slickest showman in sports has left town with their underwear.

Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.