Editor's note: The video above is only a small part of the King-Arum conversation. For more, watch Saturday night's Top Rank on ESPN card where more of this conversation will air.
NEW YORK -- It wasn't mere anticipation that preceded Don King's arrival. There was genuine concern. Just because he had agreed to be interviewed with his fellow octogenarian, Bob Arum, didn't mean it would actually come to pass. Even those with cursory knowledge of King understand that an agreement with him is merely the starting point for a negotiation.
And now, as we waited -- a crew of 12, not to mention a couple of very senior producers, on a nicely appointed makeshift set on the second floor of Jack Demsey's Restaurant and Pub -- our anxiety had become palpable. Everything was in place to document a historic meeting. And all of it was about to be scuttled, we feared. What would King demand?
As long as it wasn't cash, one optimist volunteered, we still had a shot.
As expected, King voiced his displeasure upon arrival. "There's nothing here for me," he declared. Here it comes, I thought. He'll walk if he doesn't get a piece of Top Rank on ESPN.
Someone dared to ask, "What would you like?"
"Doughnuts," he said. "There should be a plate of doughnuts, at least."
Enda Keenan, the proprietor of Jack Demsey's, promptly dispatched an employee, and within minutes the plate was set before us. These were not artisan doughnuts. These were old-school, generic, sidewalk pushcart, trans-fat-looking doughnuts with brown flecks that tasted vaguely like coconut, crimson jelly and hardened gobs of glaze. But they did the trick, as King spoke -- almost without pause -- for the next three-and-a-half hours.
King and Arum are more than epic antagonists. They're an existential odd couple: Arum a lawyer from Brooklyn schooled at Harvard, and King a hustler from Cleveland schooled at the penitentiary. They produced a rivalry more vicious and enduring, (with an infinite supply of low blows, most of them inflicted by lawyers) than any of their fighters.
I still think of them as they were: New Yorkers (King worked out of his Manhattan townhouse before retiring to the tax-haven of Florida) beholden only to commerce and ambition. And now it was my good fortune to have them meet for lunch, just days before their latest, if not last co-promotion, featuring Jose Ramirez and Amir Imam who meet for the WBC's vacant 140-pound title Saturday night. I mean, what were the odds, a couple of 86-year-olds wearing a wire?
It was not the interview I imagined.
Some months ago, Arum recalled for me his introduction to boxing came as a young federal prosecutor. The then-attorney general, Robert Kennedy, wanted his nemesis, Roy Cohn, investigated for his involvement in promoting the heavyweight title fight between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. While Cohn had no children, he was a legendary fixer whose protégé now resides in the White House. What's more, before Donald Trump was president, he did business with both King and Arum. It's worth noting that Arum considers Cohn, Trump and King to be unique in being entirely unencumbered by shame. And while I grant that shame isn't known as Arum's strong suit, either, I envisioned a great American through line for this interview, as King apparently considers Trump in Messianic terms.
As it happened, however, the Trump stuff -- King for, Arum rabidly against -- got a little tired. There were other moments of revelation, though. King recalled how he exploited Muhammad Ali's fetish for cash. Arum recollected a call from the feds, who were concerned that King may have put a contract on his life. And for the record, whatever came out during the Arum-King scuffle that followed the Marvin Hagler-Ray Leonard fight, it was stipulated that it was not a pistol.
As for the secret to youth, it was agreed that one should love what one does. Also, Arum volunteered, it helped to take marijuana gummies on long flights. Neither man dispensed any dietary advice, which brings me back to the doughnuts.
King had survived prison, beatings at the hands of Mike Tyson and various attempts on his life (apparently, he still sets off metal detectors with the 12-gauge shotgun pellets lodged in his person). Who was I to lecture him on lumps of fried corn syrup?
To paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, the great German philosopher King read while serving time: The doughnuts that don't kill us, make us stronger.