With Elvis Presley dead these 30 years, FedExForum is unlikely to see as many rhinestones as it did Thursday afternoon on the denim jacket of one Don King. In Memphis to promote Saturday night's "Border Battle" between world middleweight champion Jermain Taylor (of Little Rock) and Cory Spinks (of St. Louis), King managed to quote Abraham Lincoln, the Bible, the ghetto ("back there we have a saying: SKD, something kinda different"), and his own dictionary ("This is gonna be like one of those orchestrations by Mozart."). His tie covered by a half-dozen necklaces, and his likeness not only on the shoulder but also the back of said denim jacket ("Only in America," the rhinestones said), King introduced his fighter -- Spinks -- only after encouraging all Americans to make sure we fund our troops in Iraq "irrespective" of how we feel about President George W. Bush.
It was that kind of press conference.
Promoter Lou DiBella -- the man behind Taylor and the reason this megafight (to be televised live on HBO) is in Memphis -- served as emcee for a 90-minute verbal show that we can only hope will be topped when the gloves are actually laced up. "I've got Bob Arum to my left and Don King to my right," said DiBella as he introduced himself through a smile. "I'm feeling a little boxed in."
Boxed in may have described Taylor's take on things as well, at least for the first hour of the press conference, where everyone but the cameramen in the back of the grand lobby seemed to want the belt he now wears. A pair of young contenders -- Kelly Pavlik from Youngstown, Ohio, and Edison Miranda from Colombia -- shared the dais and will square off on the undercard Saturday night. While Pavlik was an easy punchline for King -- the requisite "white boy" among the pugilistic set -- Miranda managed to bring out the "dog" in Taylor without saying a word of English.
Wearing a white t-shirt ("Undisputed Brand") that Taylor later expressed great offense over, Miranda -- through his interpreter -- described how pleased he was to be in Memphis during this great barbecue weekend. And how he looked forward to making barbecue of Mr. Pavlik. He went so far as to say he'd fight the champion Taylor for the same purse he'll earn Saturday night on the undercard . . . surely as offensive a proposition as a man in Taylor's sharp gray suit could expect. Having knocked out 24 of his 29 opponents, Miranda is on his way to entering the ring for a title shot. When that night comes, if it's Taylor in the opposite corner, buy yourself a ticket. There's nothing like old-fashioned dislike (hatred?) to fuel a title fight.
As for the champ, Taylor was at the microphone no more than ten minutes. He was first charming, the diamond studs in his ears complementing a smile rarely seen in the sweet science. But the anger -- "the dog in me!" -- came out when he looked at the other fighters and saw the t-shirts (on Miranda and Spinks) and sweat suits (on Pavlik). "This is why I'm the champ!" he shouted, the microphone now superfluous. "I look like a champ! I'm trying to represent the sport of boxing, and look at the way everyone else has dressed. And the talk! I don't play. I don't play!! They'll talk, and I'll hit you in the mouth!" Taylor returned to his seat only after a gentle nudge from his trainer, Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward.
Three feet to Taylor's right as he was releasing his inner canine? Don King, holding two American flags. Say it together: Only in America.