On the day he was scheduled to testify against Don King, heavyweight boxing champion James "Buster" Douglas instead emerged a winner in his latest round of battles with the veteran promoter, reaching a settlement yesterday in New York that will prevent King from promoting Douglas's scheduled title defense against Evander Holyfield on Oct. 25 in Las Vegas.
King, however, will have right of first refusal to promote future Douglas fights, as agreed upon before Douglas's bout against Mike Tyson in Tokyo on Feb. 10, in which Douglas, then an unknown from Columbus, Ohio, scored a stunning 10th-round knockout.
Douglas also received a $100,000 bonus from King -- promised if he won -- for defeating Tyson, and the opportunity to make his first title defense at Steve Wynn's hotel-casino, The Mirage. There remains a possibility Douglas will have to return to court, as Holyfield's promoters said yesterday they want the fight held on its originally scheduled date, Sept. 21.
"I got what I wanted. I'm satisfied with it," Douglas said at a news conference after arriving at Columbus Airport. "I wanted to fight in Las Vegas at The Mirage. I wanted to make my own decisions. And that's what we're going to do."
At least for the time being. Although the settlement stipulates that King will not be involved with the Douglas-Holyfield fight, the veteran promoter was not shut out completely -- as Douglas and his longtime manager, John Johnson, had hoped.
Wynn will promote the Douglas-Holyfield bout; King apparently will be involved with Douglas-Tyson II, tentatively scheduled to be held at The Mirage in the spring, and any subsequent Douglas bouts in which he is interested.
In response to a suit co-filed in Nevada by Douglas, Johnson and Wynn -- in which they claimed King tried to overturn Douglas's victory -- King filed his own suit, charging that Douglas and Johnson did not recognize the three-year promotional contract Douglas signed with King in December 1988. After the fight, Douglas and Johnson signed a $60 million, two-fight deal with Wynn for the Holyfield bout and a rematch with Tyson.
King originally claimed Douglas received a long count in the eighth round of the Tyson fight, during which Tyson scored a knockdown. The promoter testified that his protests, which came after Douglas lifted himself off the canvas and floored the champion two rounds later with a vicious left hook, were merely an attempt to increase support for a rematch.
"My rights are restored," King said after the settlement was announced by U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet, who called a recess Monday so attorneys from both sides could convene. The resulting agreement brought to an end a trial that lasted more than two weeks.
Bethesda-based attorney Mike Trainer, who has managed Sugar Ray Leonard since the five-time world champion turned pro in 1976, said King could have done worse than the $7 million he and Donald Trump reportedly received to cease their interest in the Douglas-Holyfield matchup.
"I've thought all along that they'd settle," Trainer said. "But I'm surprised it lasted this long. I think everyone came out okay. In my opinion, you can't just look at money. Don is getting paid not to promote, and that's not the first time it has happened to him. That's not a bad deal."
Things, however, are far from settled as far as Holyfield's handlers are concerned.
"Evander has been training for four weeks with the idea of peaking in September," said Kathy Duva, a spokeswoman for Holyfield's promoters. "That has given Evander a competitive edge, and you don't give up a competitive edge at this level. The only way we will accept the date of Oct. 25 is if some judge orders it."