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It Was TV Mogul Michael King, Not Don King, Who `Discovered’ Dominic Breazeale

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  • It Was TV Mogul Michael King, Not Don King, Who `Discovered’ Dominic Breazeale

    Click image for larger version  Name:	dominic-breazeale-celebrates.jpg Views:	1 Size:	44.7 KB ID:	13059

    By Bernard Fernandez

    The late Michael King obviously had an eye for talent. One of six siblings who inherited a failing television syndication company, King World, from their father Charles King in the early 1980s, Michael and his similarly prescient older brother Roger believed they could go international with a Chicago talk-show host with a strictly local audience. Oprah Winfrey is now arguably the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry, and a billionaire. But Oprah wasn’t the only beneficiary of Michael King’s vision of what American viewers might like to see; he also shepherded such modest little game shows as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! to iconic status, making Pat Sajak, Vanna White and Alex Trebek, among others, hugely popular and highly compensated celebrities.

    Not that Michael King, whose income from his deceased father’s company at the time he and Roger took over was $150 a week from Little Rascals reruns, was satisfied with being a king- (and queen-) maker for daytime TV. After he made his vast fortune, Michael, a rabid sports fan and New Jersey native, became a minority stakeholder in the New York Yankees, New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets and New Jersey Devils. Still, it troubled him that the United States had ceased, or was in the process of doing so, to be the world’s foremost power in Olympic boxing, particularly a heavyweight division that once was dominated by the likes of American gold medalists and future pro superstars Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

    King, who was 67 when he died on May 27, 2015, from complications arising from pneumonia (Roger, then 63, had passed away on Dec. 8, 2007), decided he had the determination and deep pockets necessary to restore his country’s ebbing place in that particular global world order. He founded All American Heavyweights in 1986 in Carson, Calif., with the idea of recruiting large and talented athletes from other sports, primarily football and basketball, if their dreams of making it in the NFL or NBA were not fulfilled.

    “A great athlete in any sport can pick up another sport faster than most people,” King – who sold King World to CBS in 1999 for $2.5 billion in stock – said of his grand scheme to produce a pugilistic version of Oprah, and maybe even several of them. “It (America’s receding place at the heavyweight table) really all stems from a lack of talent and lack of apprenticeship for trainers. The pipeline is dead … It’s not an NCAA sport, so it’s totally dependent on the Olympic program, and that NGB (USA Boxing is its national governing board) does not have a lot of resources.

    “Instead of getting some thug off the street, why not tap into the greatest talent pool in the United States? You’re talking about elite athletes who are in great shape, who are really big, who are unbelievably coordinated, and they are articulate college graduates.”

    About 3,000 recruited candidates eventually bought into King’s sales pitch, or at least those made on his behalf by talent scouts who fanned across the nation in search of diamonds in the rough. With one exception, all were found wanting in one way or another. The sole survivor of the now-defunct All American Heavyweights, Dominic Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), gets his second crack at his sport’s most prestigious prize when he takes on WBC champion Deontay Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) in the Showtime-televised main event Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    The 6-foot-7, 255-pound Breazeale, now 33, previously challenged IBF heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua on June 25, 2016, before a sellout crowd in Joshua’s hometown of London. Although Breazeale became only the second of Joshua’s 17 opponents to that point to last more than three rounds, his relative inexperience at the elite level – not surprising for someone who didn’t even take up boxing until he was 23 – was evident and he was dropped twice in the seventh round, at which point the fight was stopped by referee Howard John Foster.

    Since then Breazeale, the U.S.’s super heavyweight representative at the 2012 London Olympics, has put together three straight victories, all inside the distance. He said he is a much improved version of himself than the one who gamely took a licking from Joshua. Not only that, but he opined that Wilder, his -900 favoritism (a bettor would have to wager $900 on him to win $100) notwithstanding, isn’t nearly as polished as Joshua, who has added the WBA and WBO titles to his now three-belt collection. Breazeale is convinced he will delay or even end speculation about a Joshua-Wilder unification showdown by upsetting Wilder, preferably by knockout, and thus earn the do-over with the big Briton he has wanted since he suffered his first and only pro defeat.

    “I don’t see any fundamental skills,” Breazeale, who will be making his first ring appearance with new trainer Virgil Hunter, said of Wilder, the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native who took a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “He hasn’t grown. He hasn’t changed. Yeah, he’s got a big right hand, but don’t we all in the heavyweight division? We all have knockout power.

    “It’s going to be an explosive night. You’ve got two 6-7 guys. I’m super-excited to be involved in the event, and I’m super-excited to get a big KO win. I think I’m walking into a fight where I’m the more-skilled, more-athletic fighter.”

    Trash talk is the coin of the verbal realm when it comes to hyping high-visibility boxing matches, but the animosity between Breazeale and Wilder, despite their commonality as American Olympians, gives no hint of being manufactured. The bad blood between them dates back to Feb. 25, 2017, when they both appeared on the same card at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Wilder defended his IBF title with a fifth-round stoppage of Gerald Washington in one of his periodic return bouts in his home state, with Breazeale knocking out Izuagbe Ugonoh in the fifth round as the lead-in. There was a later confrontation at the hotel where both fighters and their entourages were staying, the blame for which depends on who’s telling the story.

    “He insulted my wife in a situation that was not boxing-related,” Breazeale said. “The gratification of getting my personal revenge, knocking out Deontay Wilder, is a lot bigger than a win or a KO on any other given night.”

    Not surprisingly, Wilder claims it was he who was the aggrieved party. He said Breazeale’s brash prediction is just so much hot air.

    “I’m going to smash this fly,” vowed Wilder, who will be making his ninth title defense. “This is a personal fight for me. When I take a fight personal, something magical is going to happen. I haven’t been this excited about destroying an opponent since Bermane Stiverne (in their first fight, in 2015).

    “I’ve already stated what I want to do, and I’m gonna do what I say I’m gonna do, just like I do all the time. But with this particular opponent I’m gonna make sure I do it in the most painful way possible.”

    If it is Breazeale whose hand is raised, however, it is fairly certain he will acknowledge someone who is no longer around, a would-be maker of miracles who lost, by his estimation, “tens of millions of dollars” on All American Heavyweights but still somehow might hit it big from beyond the grave.

    Michael King.

    “The idea (of Brezeale trying his hand at boxing) first came across in a phone call,” Breazeale recalled. “I told the gentleman that called, Joe Onowar, who was the recruiter, that he was crazy. There was no way in hell I was going to pick up boxing at 23 after I’d done football, basketball, track, baseball, hockey, wrestling, all that as a kid. I had never set foot in a boxing gym. Besides, I thought I was at the end of my athletic career. Honestly, at the time I thought it was a dumb, dumb idea.

    “Three months later I had my first amateur fight. Eighteen months after that I was a U.S. Olympian (losing in the first round, 19-8, to Russia’s Magomed Omarov). Now, 10 years later, I’m fighting for the WBC world title.

    “I think Michael King was the smartest man on the planet. For me to be the one to come out on top from 3,100 athletes who went through that the door … I thought Mr. King trying to turn Division I athletes into professional boxers was crazy then, but now I think it was a phenomenal idea.”

    Breazeale, from Glendale, Calif., almost certainly wouldn’t have given boxing a try had he been a better NFL prospect. He had some good moments during his two seasons as Northern Colorado’s quarterback, and he admits having entertained thoughts of latching on with an NFL team. But he went undrafted and came to realize that dream was never going to be realized. That’s when another dream, Michael King’s, became his dream as well.

    Asked if he would ever have considered boxing had he been a good enough pro football prospect to be drafted in, say, the first three rounds in 2008, Breazeale said, “No way. I was pursuing the NFL. Things didn’t pan out the way I wanted, but Michael King was still there when the NFL door closed. I thought, `I’m a big man, I’m powerful, I’m aggressive.’ That type of thing. So why not?”

    What Breazeale did not realize – not then, anyway – is that he had a genetic connection to boxing that had nothing at all to do with Michael King. It was New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2015, and Breazeale was training for a Jan. 23 fight with Amir Mansour at the Staples Center in Los Angeles when he was told that his mother, Christina “Tina” Breazeale, 56, had suffered a massive heart attack. Shortly after her son arrived at the hospital, she died.

    As Breazeale and his three siblings went through his mother’s possessions, he found boxes containing boxing items from the biological father, Harold Lee Breazeale, he barely knew, including a Golden Gloves state championship belt, boxing shoes, a mouth guard and some news stories.

    “I can’t believe she didn’t tell you,” a family member told Dominic.

    “I have the pedigree, and I didn’t even know it,” Breazeale said in describing the moment to the Los Angeles Times. “I guess it’s natural to me. It’s in blood.”

    Another thing: when a much younger Dominic, who had tried his hand at just about every sport and was good at all of them, asked his mom if it would be all right for him to go to a boxing gym with some of his friends to see if he’d like it, she put her foot down. She told him to “stick to football and basketball.”

    “It makes sense now,” said Breazeale, who considers his stepfather, Terry, to be his dad of choice. “There was no explanation, just a `No, you’re not doing it.’ She was a huge supporter of what I do, but she wanted to keep me away from boxing.”

    It’s funny how things work out sometimes. It might even be the perfect scenario, should Breazeale, the ex-quarterback, wind up shocking Wilder, the former star wide receiver for his high school football team. Breazeale would necessarily have to be the guy pitching most of the leather, with Wilder the target for all those bombs.

    Might even be good enough for Breazeale to wangle a guest shot on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Somewhere, somehow, you’d have to think Michael King would approve.

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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