Monday, March 29, 1999

Seeking exposure, Donald finds King


Local fighter wants title shot

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIAMI — Larry Donald has heard all the horror stories. But he sees nothing but sunshine. He has joined hands with Don King, and feels no need to count his fingers.

        “With the other promoters, it was like I was in the ocean and I was drowning,” Cincinnati's heavyweight contender said. “I couldn't find my way to shore. I think one of the best things I've done was getting with Don King. Anything can happen now.”

        Those who would seek to be heavyweight champ are sometimes obliged to play Don King's chump. They sign over a preposterous share of their purses to the pestilential promoter in order to get a shot at the titles King effectively controls. They help to perpetuate a system fraught with manipulation and corruption.

        They give the devil his due because they recognize it as the surest shortcut to success.

        “If Don nods his head and says, "I want him to fight for the title,' I'll fight for the title,” Donald said. “Don always gets his fighters in position to make money.”

King means deliverance
        From Larry Donald's narrow perspective, Don King has meant deliverance. After years of languishing in boxing's backwaters — building an impressive record, but not much of a reputation — the former Olympian is finally perceived as a legitimate title threat. He is considered the No.3 contender by both the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Congress, and is ranked fourth by the International Boxing Federation.

        When Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield resolve their disputed draw in a September rematch, Larry Donald should be near the front of the line to fight the winner. He has no fight scheduled at present, but has started training in Miami in anticipation of a tuneup in May or June.

        “He's positioning himself very well,” said Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission. “It's all about exposure.”

        Donald, 32, has spent most of the last four years trying to undo the damage of his highest-profile fight — a disturbing loss to Riddick Bowe in December of 1994. Bowe twice sucker-punched Donald during a pre-fight press conference. But rather than retaliate, Donald spent 12 rounds essentially on the run.

        Hindsight says Donald prob ably wasn't prepared for such an accomplished opponent at that point in his career; that he traded careful progress for a big paycheck. In retrospect, this was probably the deal that led him to King.

        Following the Bowe fiasco, managers Steve Nelson and Bob Mittleman were hard-pressed to land Donald any meaningful bouts. When Donald's management contract expired last year, he instinctively sought refuge with King.

        “It was a long road,” Donald said. “It was kind of frustrating. My old managers didn't have the right connections to do the right things. Before I went with Don, my exact words were: When am I going to get to fight for the title? If I had gone with Don a lot earlier in my career, the opportunity would have come a lot earlier for me.”

Not quite there
        Even now, he is not quite there. Donald has won 18 straight fights, improving his overall marks to 34-1-1, but sterling records abound in the heavyweight ranks. Michael Grant, the division's rising star, is 28-0, and there are no fewer than four undefeated heavyweights with at least 23 victories. Most of them pack more punch than Donald, who has failed to record a knockout in his last five fights.

        “I know what the people want to see,” Donald said. “They want to see a good fight. They don't want to see a guy who does a lot of dancing and doesn't finish the job. They want to see the killer instinct.”

        Larry Donald is known more for his footwork than his fists. He is one of the larger heavyweights — he weighed in at 243 before his last bout on March 6 — but more nimble than lethal. If he is to get a title shot, he knows he must start putting more people on the canvas.

        “It's good to stick and move for nine or 10 rounds,” he said. “But coming down the stretch, you've got to try to close the show.”

        If Larry Donald were better at closing shows, of course, he might not need Don King to open doors.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivanenquirer.com.

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