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3 O'Clock High: The Greatest of All Time

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Mama said knock you out!

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Business people love to talk tough.

Larry Ellison seeks to emulate the principals of the samurai as they relate to selling software. Carl Icahn cites his personal identification with war-lords in the context of sending mean letters to Blockbuster (BBI) and Time Warner (TWX).

In 1966, while running a numbers racket (read: "Like Lotto but with guns") Don King stomped a man to death in the street. Twelve years prior King had killed another man, shooting him in the back then successfully arguing self-defense. King was convicted in '66, however, and served 3.5 years for manslaughter.

The government has been trying to put Don King back in prison since they let him out. He has been dragged into court by the IRS, the FBI, Lloyd's of London and most any big name boxer you can think of from the last quarter century.

Time Warner themselves is effectively a competitor of King's, via HBO's lucrative boxing programming. They would like King gone. The government wants King gone. His own boxers want King gone. Don King is going nowhere.

King rarely, if ever, bothers to talk tough. He is seldom mentioned as a business elite despite controlling a vast industry and amassing a fortune worth billions of dollars. King would never issue Google-esque (GOOG) comments on his lobbying efforts, yet in just the last 18 months King has become a vocal Republican ("George W. Bush is a revolutionary and a champion of the little man all over the world, just like Don King!") and earlier this year helped convince Congress to reject the institution of a national boxing commissioner. Don King stared down John McCain in Washington DC and didn't express anything but love for the Senator throughout the process.

Last Saturday night, 74-year old ex-con, Don King closed out 2005 by quietly regaining control of the heavyweight division. Whatever you think of the current state of boxing or its merits as a business, Don stands to net well into 9-figures over the next 2-years promoting heavyweight fights and he'll do it in a time when not one person in 10 could name any of the 4 recognized heavyweight champions.

Don King is my 2005 Business Man of the Year and my vote for the toughest SOB in America.



Achtung Baby!

Last week, John "The Quiet Man" Ruiz took his heavyweight championship to Berlin to fight a lightly regarded 7-foot, 330lb Russian expatriate named Nicolai Valuev.

Ruiz is promoted by Don King, which goes a long way towards explaining how he became the heavyweight champion in the first place despite a relatively modest skill-set. Though Germany has a long, proud history of shafting American boxers, Ruiz may have thought he would be treated fairly by the judges because King's authority would offset the "influence" by Nicolai's German management team. The fight wouldn't be televised in the United States and King, atypically, was making the trip across the Atlantic to "support" a fighter King has openly longed to see replaced by someone more marketable.

If John Ruiz didn't see this one coming he was like Bud Fox ordering executive stationary for himself at Blue Star airlines. He was walking blind without a cane.

Now, despite the stereotype of goons walking into a locker room, muscling fighters "take a dive" (ala Raging Bull or Pulp Fiction), boxing is seldom fixed in a way which involves the actual boxers anymore. Boxers are too expensive and unreliable. Besides, as the Mob found out in the 50's, boxers aren't actually very good at losing fights on purpose in a convincing manner.

The Age of King is about controlling the odds. It's about exerting influence and making sure to control the upside in the event something unpleasant should occur. The Mob used to muscle trainers by hitting them in the head with lead bars, wrapped in newspaper.

What King did was this: He cut a deal with Nicolai Valuev's German management team, trading the title shot at John Ruiz for a 50% stake in Valuev's next 4 fights. King kept this side of the contract a secret from Ruiz's people until after Ruiz had lost a controversial decision to Valuev on Saturday night.

At that point, or perhaps upon seeing Don King joyfully hugging the new champion in the ring. Ruiz realized that he'd been had. Not since Minnie Driver got dumped by Matt Damon on Oprah has anyone been so brazenly jilted.

Everyone in Ruiz's camp except Don King went nuts. Ruiz's manager actually grabbed the title belt from the enormous Russian and got in a fist fight with the opposing corner. Don King was physically threatened and called vicious, angry things.

But the toughest guy in the building never stopped smiling. "Options?" Don said, surprised and feigning no hurt at the idea that he would have screwed John Ruiz. "Options are my middle name!"

King's new "King Kong of boxing" is going to America to take part in a King tournament to determine the real heavyweight champion. John Ruiz will never be seen in a major fight again.

Don King, again, will make scores of millions from his German trade from last weekend. He'll make much more if the big meat can actually fight even a little bit but that would be gravy. You can't read about Don's huge trade in the financial pages. Really, the only person I've read who's even bothering with the story is Ron Borges in the Boston Globe sports section.

I think you can learn more about business from studying Don King than you could from spending a life-time sailing with Larry Ellison. Don King is my choice for Business Man of the Year and, if you don't like it, you can take up with him.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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