Story and photos by Phil Doherty
Don King entered the room quietly, flags in hand. The assembled boxing press and fight teams awaiting his arrival at The Paradise Live complex in The Seminole Hard Rock immediately shift their attention towards him. He greets his loyal team, including tireless publicist Alan Hopper and Boxing Operations Director Dana Jamison. Someone tells him something funny and there it is–the laugh. It erupts seemingly from the bowels of the building, blotting out all other conversation and just like that, the showman is on.
Say what you will about Don King, but when the man speaks, people listen.
Hosting today’s final press conference for Saturday’s Viva Don King card, the soon-to-be 81-year old impresario performed his patented stream-of-consciousness riffs on individualism, adversity and The American Dream. Blending the edification of a college professor with the fervor of a Baptist preacher, King referenced Winston Churchill, Colonel Travis at the Alamo, Seminole Chief Osceola, Charles de Gaulle, John Paul Jones (the sailor, not the bassist), William Jennings Bryant, Thomas Carlysle, Mao Tse Tung and current Seminole Chief James Billie.
King’s common theme: “Never Surrender.”
Spelling out his team’s first victory for Saturday’s event, King confirmed The DISH network and DirecTV will broadcast the 8-bout fight card after an intense, never-surrender week of negotiations.
Heavyweight Tony “TNT” Grano (19-2-1, 15 KOs) of Connecticut headlines the twelve-round main event for the vacant NABF heavyweight belt against former world title contender Davarryl “Touch of Sleep” Williamson (27-6, 23 KOs). Grano explained his team’s decision to take on the heavy-hitting 43-year old veteran, stating: “We chose to fight DaVarryl Williamson because he has had a very successful career and we need to fight guys like him. I need to fight the best to move up in this sport. I look forward to winning the NABF title.”
King stirred the trash-talking pot a bit, commenting on Williamson’s admission to suffering two black eyes during sparring with: “I’m sure Tony being the magnanimous guy he is, I’m sure he doesn’t mind giving you two more black eyes!” Grano picked up the hint and boasted: “I’ll give him three black eyes after I kick his butt!”
WBC US (USNBC) junior middleweight champion Joey “Twinkle Fingers” Hernandez (21-1-1, 12 KOs) took the podium next to reassure his large local fan base of his malicious intentions towards opponent Brandon Baue (12-6, 10 KOs), promising a knockout by the fourth round in their ten-round co-main event. The emotional Hernandez shed tears when his brother Cody took the dais to explain how the two would act out their dream ring walks as young boys when their parents weren’t looking.
Undefeated #15-ranked WBA lightweight contender Angelo “La Cobra” Santana (12-0, 9 KO’s) steps up in competition against former WBC Silver featherweight titlist Justin “Vodou” Savi (26-1, 18 KOs). Santana, the brave Cuban defector who paddled a makeshift raft to freedom in 2007 continues to garner fans and wins with amazing ease. He acknowledged the test in front of him, claiming: “I am very prepared for this fight. I am undefeated and this is an important fight in my career. Justin Savi is the best fighter I have ever faced. I must be at my best as I move up in level of competition with each fight towards a world championship.”
The packed undercard features Chicago’s own undefeated junior middleweight Omar “Oh!” Henry (11-0, 9 KOs) against his fifth and hopefully final opponent for the bout: Tyrone “Soulja Black” Selders (8-2, 6 KO’s) of Louisiana. Henry’s trainer David Ali challenged future opponents to step up to the plate and commit to a full training camp against his talented charge. (Originally-scheduled opponent Walter “Two Guns” Wright left only a nameplate and empty seat for the proceedings, citing a last-minute injury.)
Unbeaten light welterweight Amir Iman (4-0, 3 KOs) garnered high praise from trainer Stacey McKinley in advance of his six-round showdown with Kelvin Williams of Colorado (1-1, 1 KO). McKinley, who trained former heavyweight champion “Iron” Mike Tyson, drew lofty comparisons between Iman and turn-of-the century lightweight legend “The Old Master” Joe Gans. Southpaw bantamweight Thomas “The Franchise” Snow (15-1, 9 KO came to the podium with Don King’s son Carl, who instructed fans to look around the room at the young fighters he feels will soon become world champions.
Twenty-two year old heavyweight Trevor Bryant (3-0, 2 KOs) summed up a familiar philosophy leading into his four-round undercard bout with Hector Hodge stating: “I’m making my step, I’m making my stomp. How long? Not long!”
Within the circus atmosphere of a Don King Promotions event, the words sound as if they came from the ringmaster himself.
Tickets priced at $154, $104, $79 & $54* are on sale now and are available for purchase at Hard Rock Live Box Office (open daily from noon until 7 p.m. ET), all Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com or charge by phone: Miami-Dade (305) 358-5885, Broward (954) 523-3309 and Palm Beach (561) 966-3309. *Additional fees and/or service charges may apply.