Quotes, notes and tales of the Wild World of Boxing

Painting by Coyote Duran

Painting by Coyote Duran

 

A couple months back, I read yet another big mega-fight that was to take place in the United Arab Emirates fell apart and it got me thinking about some of the wild times I had in boxing around some of the biggest frauds and phonies that even Hollywood could not script! I was too young to roll with Harold Westin but my mentors told me the stories. The following are some of my own. Some might make you laugh; some might make you cry but this is, after all, what the world of boxing attracts like no other sport/business the world has ever known.

 

Mr. Stark: Oh, how I remember this name! It had become an immediate red flag on the caller ID at Emanuel Steward’s house, at the time. For lightweight contender Michael Clark and me, it meant it was time to have some fun. This guy got hold of Emanuel’s number and did his best to convince us he was going to be a big player in the boxing business. Now get this: his one and only way he had to convince us he was going to be the next Don King was, in his own words, “Did you watch Roy Jones’ last fight? That was me in the ring by him after the fight!” As if this was going to make Emanuel drop everything and take his calls. With Emanuel ducking and dodging his calls better than a young Wilfred Benitez ducked punches, Clark would get on the line and imitate Emanuel and his right hand man “Big Team” to the point he could even fool me! Clark would tell an often sauced-up Stark that he was bringing Tommy Hearns down to fight Roy Jones and he would be the promoter among many other insane tales, for which Stark fell hook, line and sinker. Do you recall rumors of Hearns possibly fighting Roy Jones Jr.? Now you know where they all started! This went on for almost a year before Stark finally threw in the towel and stopped calling.

 

“Lord” Roger Levitt: After Levitt was banned for life by the U.K. financial services industry and lost investors a reported 34 million pounds, where else would you expect him to go? The fight game! One of my close partners in the boxing business, at the time, had been in touch with Roger, regarding a fighter he managed but the subject quickly changed to Levitt trying to sell him a piece of an undefeated heavyweight prospect Richard Bango. Despite media reports that Levitt cost an investor several million dollars for a failed attempt to put on a bout between Larry Holmes vs. George Foreman, he was still hanging on by a thread, playing the role as a big player in the fight scene. He flew us out to NY and spared no expense! He put us up in a suite at the Plaza Hotel and took us for his favorite Chinese spare ribs (and they were, without question, the worst ribs I ever tasted in my life!). One of the most hilarious and odd things I have ever witnessed in my life took place as we walked in the rain from his office to this restaurant. Levitt smoked these massive cigars and as the rain fell, he ashed it out and pulled out a Magnum condom from his raincoat, covered up the cigar and kept on walking like everything was normal. I found out, in Levitt’s world, this was normal! Once we got back to the office, Levitt had no interest in talking about helping out my friend’s fighter. The subject quickly shifted to a massive pile of magazines on a table in his cluttered office and he told us how he was in on this huge, fiberoptic, transcontinental, underwater phone system but that it was a serious investment, maybe too big for us (true indeed). Next thing I know he breaks out a series of promotional contracts from Don King Productions, of which the typed name had been clearly covered up with a yellow sticky note, photocopied and the name Richard Bango had been hand-written in! I had seen many of King’s contracts, by this point in time, and I spotted this fugazi a mile away! “How much would you pay for a piece of an undefeated heavyweight prospect?” Levitt launched into one of the most tireless and emotional pitches to sign a fighter I have ever witnessed, in all my years in boxing! After what must have been hours, we returned to the suite and got a call from Bango’s trainer, who informed us that the money well at Levitt’s office had pretty much run dry and he was trying to get money from anyone he could just to keep things floating. We gave Bango a fight on a casino card we promoted but that was small time for Levitt. He was after that casino shareholders-type money! Never spoke to him again.

 

Maddy and the Mike Tyson World Tour: One night, I got a phone call from my good friend telling me how he was about to sign Mike Tyson to return to the ring for some exhibitions, just like Muhammad Ali did. I quickly pointed out that he was talking to the wrong guy and put him on the phone with my best friend, who had been Mike’s assistant for some 16 years. Next thing you know, I am on the phone with a man who starts off by telling me how he is going to sign Tyson and how he is going to be running all aspects of this spectacle, not to mention the best part: He wants me to go bring Mike $100,000 in cash to Arizona. Um, am I paying the taxes on that, Sir? No worries, said the “real estate” tycoon! This was a disaster from the moment it was dreamt up. Mike was in party mode and boxing was the furthest thing from his mind, at this time. But, why pass up some easy money? Instead of the cash, Mike settled on a new Mercedes Maybach and a public training camp at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas (more like a party camp!). Mike showed up and went through the motions, the best he could. (Read his autobiography “Undisputed Truth,” for more on that!) Meanwhile, Mr. Maddy was having trouble finding a suitable launch location for the “World Tour.” Then it was announced: Youngstown, Ohio! Uh, OK…the birthplace of Ray Mancini? OK, there’s some storyline there – but Youngstown, Ohio? What happened to Russia? China? Dubai? Dayum, Youngstown, here we come! By the time we arrived in Youngstown for the press conference, Maddy was already in deep with the Maybach and a one-year lease on a nice luxury home in Las Vegas with a putting green in the backyard. (I did get to use it a few times.) I will say, one cool thing about this adventure was that Mike met some U.S. Army soldiers returning from battle when they asked for his autograph. He asked them to walk him out to the ring. He did not forget that offer and honored his word to those young men that afternoon.

 

Fight week was a disaster! We got to town and Mike decided that the Holiday Inn was not suitable digs for us, so we headed back to Cleveland (where we spent more time hanging out into the early hours of the morning than he ever did training). Maddy was fumbling for Mike’s money and one thing about Mike: He don’t play with his money! Mike started talking abrasive to Maddy one afternoon from the passenger seat, as I was in the drivers seat, “John, roll up the window on this motherfucker!” Maddy was shaking, hands trembling. As the window went up, with a already lit cigarette in his mouth, he pulled out another one, put it in his mouth backward and tried to light it! Mike had him shook! Maddy managed to peel off a few thousand and hand it to Mike and then Mike announced that a “disrespect fee” was in order. What’s that, you ask? Well, to sum it up, Maddy took us on a shopping spree to Circuit City, a men’s clothing store, a shoe store and a hat store! We had a ball that afternoon on Maddy’s dime. That might explain why, another time, as the financial stakes got higher, Maddy said he actually had to go to his hotel room to change his underwear after a verbal exchange with Mike, in which Mike was waiving his finger like a Samurai sword at him! Mike was so out of shape, when he told Colonel Bob Sheridan that I was working his corner, I respecfully declined. The matchmaker was horrible. The card stunk. The pay-per-view tanked. They ruined my best friend’s credit and none of us made a dime. Maddy’s Mad Mad World Tour began and ended in Youngstown, Ohio.

 

Thomas Hearns vs. Roberto Duran financial KO: One of my favorites was told to me over drinks at Jimmy’s Corner one night by my true mentor Bill Kozerski, along with Jimmy Glenn. When Thomas Hearns knocked out Roberto Duran, it was the only bout involving the “Fab Four” that was not promoted by Top Rank. The Hearns vs. Duran promotional group included Detroit’s Bill Kozerski (longtime promoter of the old Kronk Team, among other notable Detroit boxers), Shelly Saltman (famous for the Snake River promotion, featuring Evil Knievel’s motorcycle jump) and an L.A. investor named Steve Taub. Somewhere in the mix, add in a guy who claimed he invented the plastic spare car key that fit in your wallet (he got sued for millions), a WBA bag man, a helicopter ride over the jungles of Panama, with a briefcase full of cash to deliver to Duran and – Boom! – we had a fight! Like many before him and after him, it was Taub’s first and last venture into the world of promoting boxing! Rumored to have lost a few million dollars that evening, Taub described it as “the most expensive six minutes of my life.”

 

DFJ Italia: This one extends and traps like a spider web, so I am going to stick to a couple of small notes. (If you want to learn more, just Google the name!) Back when Robert Garcia was the IBF world junior lightweight champion and Frans Botha and Orlin Norris both fought Mike Tyson, back to back, you might recall seeing the name DFJ Italia stiched onto their trunks or robes. At the time, I had no idea who Luigi DiFonzo was or if he was, in fact, a Count in Italy but he was half of DFJ Italia. The other half, Angelo Ales, was just “Big Angelo,” to me, and he was a high roller and he was around our crew! He took me on my first private jet ride and introduced me to top-shelf Grand Marnier. “Two or tree a dees and fageddaboutit!” he would say in his thick New York accent. He even introduced me to his pal, my childhood football hero Eric Dickerson, who just happened to be one of his clients (one of the reported 700 or so, who got KO’d for around $35 million by DFJ Italia, according to reports). If I recall correctly, Angelo was brought in by the late Bobby Caron, lawyer for Garcia, Fernando Vargas and Terry and Orlin Norris. It was reported Caron was in on some hustle to lure in investors to DFJ. Sadly a lot of good people got burned in this whole deal but even little old me took a hit when Orlin Norris refused to pay me for delivering some sparring partners to him for the Tyson fight.

 

Rose Chu and the untold Tale Of Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson: Rose Chu met some casino host/wannabe hotshot, who put her in touch with Sterling McPherson, who, at the time, was pretty much the guy brokering the fights for Mike Tyson, after he parted ways with Don King (Botha, Norris, Julius Francis, Lou Savarese). Chu set up residence in the Four Seasons (connected to the Mandalay Bay) and began her plans. People were put on payroll and artwork was being drafted for the Lewis vs. Tyson posters that were to be hung all around Kuala Lampur. I actually saw a number of these one evening and it went on for hours, like we were picking out paint or wallpaper for an estate! Yes, the biggest fight to date in boxing history was going to the site of Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Bugner and was even going to be hosted in the same outdoor arena that would seat 100,000 fans! Rumor was Chu gave Tyson one million dollars to sign a letter of intent to fight TBA there. Some of the things I did know about included shopping sprees to Versace, designer dining room sets, plenty of five-star meals, endless flow of great wine and, one evening, when I rode along as she attempted to deliver a silver Rolls Royce to Tyson’s estate but the flatbed tow truck was turned away. Tyson refusing delivery of a Rolls?! As I sat in the back of the limo, it seemed to me like a play was being made to bypass Tyson’s manager Shelly Finkel and he cut them off at the pass because, next thing I knew, I was back in Detroit working for Bill Kozerski and we were handling promotional duties for Tyson versus Andrew Golota. Rose ended up staying in Vegas so long, she actually delivered her baby there! Sadly, Rose passed away and, with her, the dreams of promoting Lewis vs. Tyson. She was truly a kind lady, who, unlike many of the aforementioned individuals, had a good heart and good intentions.

 

 

You can follow Mr. John Lepak on Twitter @Lightning_JL and on Instagram @lightning_lepak.

 

 

 

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