By Thomas Hauser
Don King has done a lot of things in his life, but his latest venture is truly special.
King is in the process of signing up fighters for a new fight series on network television. In the process, he has spread a considerable amount of money around the boxing industry with special incentives for one or more individuals currently affiliated with the California State Athletic Commission.
King intends to sign sixteen fighters, who are being told that they will compete in a tournament with a purse of $1,000,000 going to the winner of the final fight. The contract that each fighter is being asked to sign includes the following provisions:
(1) King can, under certain circumstances, claim promotional rights to the fighter for up to five years, during which time King shall have the sole and exclusive right to secure, arrange, and promote all bouts requiring the fighter's services as a professional boxer.
(2) During the term of the contract, the fighter must fight at least twice a year at a site and on a date designated by King against opponents chosen by King in King's sole and absolute discretion.
(3) King can lie to the fighter about "any and all topics of every kind and nature whatsover." More specifically, the contract states that, among other things, King may lie to the fighter about "the other [fighters] in the series . . . any purse . . . the conditions applicable to any purse . . . and the choices and decisions [the fighter] may be required to make that may affect [his] ability to compete for any purse."
(4) The fighter must waive his right to challenge any decision rendered against him in the tournament, including his right to challenge a decision under the Rules and Regulations of the California State Athletic Commission.
(5) King, in his sole discretion, may abandon the project at any time. If he does so, the fighter will be allowed to keep the money earned for fights he has already participated in. For example, the winner of each first-round fight will receive $1,000 and the loser will receive $500. But King is under no obligation to actually hold the final fight for which the winner is supposed to receive $1,000,000.
(6) Even if the fighter wins all of his preliminary fights, King can still choose two other fighters to compete for the $1,000,000 prize.
(7) If the fighter loses a fight, King may terminate his services.
(8) If the fighter is unable to fight or retires from boxing before fulfilling all of his obligations under the contract, he cannot engage in any other form of athletic competition without King's permission.
(9) King can require the fighter to participate in forms of unarmed combat other than boxing such as mixed martial arts competition and professional wrestling.
(10) The fighter must live and train at training facility provided by King. He may bring a maximum of two pieces of luggage to training camp and may not bring a cell phone, pager, computer, credit card, cash, or any other form of currency. King may search the fighter's person and room whenever he chooses to make sure that the fighter has not brought prohibited items with him.
(11) At any time, King may advise the fighter that he has decided to require the fighter to engage in conduct that involves new "risks." If the fighter refuses to accept these risks, he forfeits his right to fight for future purses.
(12) The fighter assumes all risk of personal injury or death. Neither he nor his estate can sue King, King's employees, King's licensees, King's successors in interest, or King's assignees for negligence, even if their negligence was the direct cause of the fighter's injury or death.
(13) King has the right to obtain life insurance on the fighter or insurance against the failure of the fighter to participate a bout with King as the beneficiary. However, King is under no obligation to provide insurance for the fighter. In fact, the contract states that the fighter is "solely responsible for maintaining health insurance to cover any bodily injury . . . as well as any insurance to cover any short-term or long-term disability from injury."
(14) King will provide the fighter with a "reasonable supply of food." However, at King's discretion, "in some circumstances," such food must be "earned" by the fighter.
(15) King may record the fighter on video and audio-tape at any time with or without the fighter's knowledge. This includes "actions in bedrooms and bathrooms" when the fighter is "partially clothed or naked."
(16) King gets the sole and exclusive rights to the fighter's life story in perpetuity. This includes, among other things, motion picture rights, theatrical stage presentations, and books. In exploiting these rights, King may reveal information that the fighter believes is "false, misleading, disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing, or of an otherwise unfavorable nature."
(17) King may assign any or all of his rights under the contract to any other person or business entity. In the event of such assignment, King will have no further obligation to the fighter.
(18) If any person or corporation sues King, his employees, his licensees, his successors in interest, or his assignees, and that suit is based on a claim that conflicts with representations made by the fighter in his contract with King, then the fighter must pay all of King's expenses (including reasonable attorney's fees) in defending against the lawsuit. For example, if someone claiming to have a promotional or managerial contract with the fighter pops out of the woodwork and sues King, the fighter will be responsible for the expense of defending King against the lawsuit whether or not the claim is valid.
(19) King will establish and maintain a pension plan for the benefit of the fighter. However, King, in his sole discretion, will determine how much money is contributed to the plan.
(20) King can require the winner of the tournament to move to any location in the United States that King chooses. The fighter will be solely responsible for any and all expenses associated with relocation and moving.
(21) The fighter may not give an interview to any member of the media without King's prior authorization.
Typical Don King. Right?
WRONG ! ! !
The above has nothing to do with Don King. The promoter is Tournament of Champions LLC, which is the promotional arm of NBC's boxing reality show, The Contender.
Substitute "The Contender" for "King" and you'll have some of the contract provisions that The Contender is requiring fighters to sign.
The people who run The Contender might be well-intentioned, but there's enormous potential for abuse in these contracts. If Don King signed fighters to contracts like this, he'd be vilified in the media and government regulators would be all over him.
One of the equity participants in The Contender said this past weekend that the show would revise some of the provisions in its contracts. He also restated the commitment of the producers to treat fighters fairly and clean up boxing. If that's the case, The Contender should rethink its demand that fighters sign contracts that, in a worst-case scenario, will be economically unfair and strip them of their dignity.
Anyone who wants to take the lead as a model of probity in boxing should have model contracts for fighters.