Saturday, December 16, 2000

Path to title opening for Donald

        Larry Donald has two chances at the heavyweight championship, and they are no longer slim and none.

        The Cincinnati fighter, heretofore a victim of boxing's peculiar politics, is weighing separate proposals this weekend that could afford him his first shot at a title belt. The International Boxing Federation wants to include Donald in an elimination tournament that would produce a designated challenger for Lennox Lewis. The World Boxing Association, meanwhile, might match Donald against Kirk Johnson for the right to fight Evander Holyfield.

        Donald's path has never been so straight. His choices have never been so clear. His long wait for opportunity may soon be over.

        “It was frustrating until I got with Don King,” the 33—year-old Donald said. “He's made things a lot easier for me. When I was with other promoters, I felt like I was in the middle of the ocean. Now, I'm in the swimming pool.”

        Though King is more often depicted as a shark than a springboard, Donald's affiliation with the flamboyant promoter has brought direction to a career dominated by detours.

38-1-2 for career
        In eight years as a professional, Donald has compiled a record of 38-1-2, but the former Olympian has mainly been marking time. He has thrown the bulk of his punches on small cards in boxing's backwaters. He has come to call himself “the uncrowned heavyweight champion of the world.”

        Boxing's basic structure is anarchy, and its core condition is corruption. To succeed in such an environment, a fighter must have extraordinary talent or resourceful representation. Pound for pound, Don King packs more punch than Roy Jones Jr.

        His considerable influence — ethical and otherwise — has turned many a tomato can into a contender. He is maneuvering Donald into position for some serious paydays.

Four-man tourney
        The IBF proposes that Lewis' next mandatory opponent be selected through a four-man elimination tournament. Donald would fight David Tua. The winner of their bout would meet the winner of the Danell Nicholson-Hasim Rahman match. The survivor would meet Lewis for the IBF title.

        Donald's preference is fewer preliminaries. He is leaning toward the WBA route, provided King can get a deal done before the IBF's Monday deadline. (Which is not to say that deadline is ironclad. This is, after all, boxing.)

        “What I want to do is go ahead and fight Kirk Johnson, then fight the winner of Holyfield-John Ruiz (for the WBA title),” Donald said. “I don't want to fight Lennox Lewis until I have a world title, but I'd rather fight Evander Holyfield anyway. He's a much bigger name.”

Fought champs twice
        cf,cen,9.9,10,9 Larry Donald has twice fought former champions — losing to Riddick Bowe in 1994, beating Tim Witherspoon in 1997 - but he has yet to fight a name opponent at the peak of his powers. His most recent bout ended in a draw against the unranked Obed Sullivan, a bout that raised questions about whether Donald has missed his moment.

        “Although he's up there a little bit (in age), Larry Donald is not a heavyweight who's been abused,” King vice president Bob Goodman said. “He hasn't been in any wars. He hasn't taken any beatings. I don't think we've seen the best of Larry Donald yet.”

        What we're seeing now is Larry Donald's best chance.



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