Don King's hair was more frazzled than usual as he stared at himself in the television monitor, not quite believing what he saw. King's fighter, Roberto Duran, had just abdicated his throne. And all King could say was: "He just quit because he couldn't continue."
King, the promoter, became King, the audacious, when he made himself king of his closed-circuit broadcast crew. There was no pretense of objectivity on the airwaves Tuesday night. Duran, he explained, was "completely frustrated and quit because Leonard didn't fight with him, and Duran is a fighter.
Duran is a quitter; and King is the king of gall.
This is what the 10,100 big spenders at Capital Centre (only 538 people showed up in Milwaukee) got for their 40 or 50 bucks: excellent pictures courtesy of ABC, which has the television rights to the fight and provided the cameramen and camera equipment, and the three stooges: Don, Larry (Holmes) and Les (Kieter).
Midway through the third round, King "the superpromoter," was accepting Holmes' compliments on "a super show." An omniscient-sounding voice permeated Capital Centre's Telscreen control room: "Listen to those guys lie to each other."
Indeed. For the first seven rounds of the preliminary fight in London, the audio was perfect. The only problem was that it was in Spanish. By the time they switched live to New Orleans, the mother tongue has reasserted itself. But as Vernon Porter, man in the crowd, saw it, "It didn't really matter at all." There wasn't much worth listening to.
The switch from the WBC junior middleweight fight in London to the main event in New Orleans was late. No one in Washington saw Sugar Ray Leonard or Roberto Duran enter the ring. When we came in, Ray Charles was singing "America the Beautiful" and the man named after Ray Charles was bobbing up and down in the background.
The production, supervised by Jack Murphy, an independent producer, was shoddy throughout. At the end when the crowd at Capital Centre became silent, yearning for some explanation of the abrupt conclusion, this is what they heard: "Take your headset off, Les."
Penetrating questions? "Where's the camera?"
Why bother to say anything?
Les Keiter, an old fight broadcaster, was summoned out of mothballs to call the blow by blow. He blew it. It took him exactly six seconds into the first round to declare, "They are feeling eachother out." Then picking up the pace, he added, "Duran is on his bicycle."
In the fourth round, he elaborated: "He (Duran) is an alley fighter and we know why tonight. He's fighting like he's in an alley."
To his credit, Holmes tried to interject some of his obvious knowledge of the sport into king's soliloquies, pointing out Leonard's use of the left jab he disdained in Montreal and his ability to fight his way off the ropes, with the aid of referee Octavio Meyran.
But King, with his obvious bias for Duran, who was just plain offensive. Clearly, his concern was not so much in describing the action but in maintaining his piece of the action. When his fighter threw up his hands midway through Round 8, all he could say was, "They should keep people out of the ring . The board might break."
For the next 20 minutes, the trio sat, as Keiter put it, "in mass confusion. We haven't got an explanation yet, have we?" he lamented.
Incredibly, none of the three attempted to get one. No one tried to speak to Duran or his handlers. Certainly, if anyone could have gotten in the ring -- and surely the board could have supported him -- it was King. But he didn't budge, preferring to allow the paying customers to gaze at him gazing at himself on the monitor.
Holmes tried. "Maybe this is what happens to some fighters when they want to quit," he said. "But you got to give the people their money's worth.That's what is a champion fighter."
The word finally came (did they hear it through the grapevine?) 20 minutes after the fight ended that Duran had quit because of cramps and a sore right shoulder, and that he intended to quit the ring for good. It was agreed that he should not be condemned.
"He could be embarrassed," Keiter said. "It could change."
"Absolutely," said King, finally the voice of authority.