February 2027, 1997
Don King's latest legal quagmire and the innocent Philly fighter caught in the middle.
By Howard Altman
The spartan offices of the State Athletic Commission at Broad and Spring Garden are packed with broken noses and blackened eyes and little guys with tattoos on their chests who throw punches for a living.
It is weigh-in time for a Thursday night fight at the Blue Horizon, another card on another night in a sport where even the most blatant transgression is often met with a shrug and a sigh and an "oh, that's boxing."
One by one, the man calls out the names, and each fighter steps on a scale to prove that he is who he claims to be and weighs what he's supposed to. Meanwhile, the rest of the pugs mill about, waiting for their name to come up, trying their best to kill the nerves that will last until the bell tolls for them.
In the middle of all this bedlam stands Don Elbaum, the elfin boxing promoter whose rubbery face and slicked-back hair makes him look like Shemp Howard's long-lost twin.
Elbaum has been to hundreds of these events all over the country, and he always has an angle.
Years ago, when he was one of the first promoters to revive boxing in Atlantic City, he introduced a light-heavyweight on his first card there as a member of the Manson Family.
"It's true," he told reporters back then. "His name is Alvino Manson and everybody in his family is named Manson, too."
Today, he has a different angle, a 6-foot-3 blonde-haired criminology student from Indiana named Jen Childers, who will fight a rare women's bout at the Blue. This angle has been good for Elbaum. Cameras, microphones and notebooks from all over the world have been shoved in his face, and Childers', for the past few days.
As much as Elbaum revels in the attention, Childers seems weary, wanting, like the rest of the fighters, merely to get on with the business. Childers, who was the first boxer to weigh in this morning, is anxious to leave.
Before Elbaum can rush out the door, which is conveniently located right next to the State Department of Mental Health, he stops, shakes his head in indignation and launches into a spirited defense of another of his fighters.
Philadelphia legend Meldrick Taylor, 1984 Olympic gold medalist and two-time champion of the world, is one of several fighters named in an Oklahoma investigation into fraud and fight fixing in professional boxing that begins in the back alley clubs of the Midwest and leads all the way to the gaudy spectacles staged by the inimitable Don King.
At about the same time that Elbaum and Childers are trying to go find some lunch before her big fight, the Oklahoma Department of Labor (ODOL) is getting ready to turn over the results of its six-month investigation to the FBI and Congress.
No one is accusing Taylor of anything. Investigators in Oklahoma and Missouri and a lawsuit filed in Chicago accusing King of civil racketeering say that two of Taylor's opponents were part of a stable of paid losers who traveled the country throwing fights, boxing under phony names and sacrificing themselves to pad the records of their opponents.
Elbaum, who once served time for tax evasion, who often finds fighters behind bars and is no stranger himself to ringside shenanigans, expresses outrage at the thought that Taylor's fights were tainted. He strenuously objects to charges that Don King padded Meldrick Taylor's record by setting up fights with professional losers. And he is none too happy about the timing of the news. Taylor is working out for yet another comeback bid, to be fought in April in either Altoona or West Virginia. The last thing Taylor needs, says Elbaum, is a distraction like this.
"There's no way that Craig Houk was paid to take a dive to Meldrick Taylor," says Elbaum of the fighter accused in the Oklahoma Department of Labor report. "This didn't happen. You wouldn't have to pay Craig Houk to lie down against Meldrick. You'd have to pay him to stand up. This is ridiculous."
Elbaum is not the only one who feels that way.
The night before, in New York's Madison Square Garden, two of the men charged with masterminding the fraud described in the Oklahoma report also said that the accusations are ridiculous.
Ridiculous or not, Meldrick Taylor clearly had a lot at stake on Jan. 29, 1994 when he fought Craig Allen Houk, a journeyman club fighter with a record of 42-2.
The fight against Houk was Taylor's second-to-last tune-up before a long-sought rematch against Julio Cesar Chavez. Neither he nor Chavez's promoter Don King wanted anything to go wrong. Taylor had fought too hard and too long for another shot at Chavez and another big payday. Taylor, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, had earned $1 million for fighting Chavez four years before, the first seven-figure purse of his career. A rematch would mean another huge purse for Chavez and a nice cut for King as well.
On the night of March 17, 1990, Taylor, then the International Boxing Federation junior welterweight champ, was on the verge of unifying the title in a bout with World Boxing Association (WBA) champ Chavez. If he won, Taylor would go in the books as one of the best ever in his weight class. Yet another champion from a city with a well-deserved reputation as the best fight town in the nation.
And the way things were going, it looked like that might happen.
But then disaster struck.
Just 15 seconds from the end of the fight, with Taylor well ahead on points, Chavez clocked Taylor with an overhand right to the chin, sending Taylor on his back for the first time in his career. He got back up before referee Richard Steele could count him out. But with two seconds left in the fight Steele stopped the bout and awarded Chavez a controversial TKO.
Taylor hasn't been the same since.
Losing to Chavez, according to boxing insiders, drained Taylor's spirit. Chavez's punches broke bones surrounding Taylor's left eye. Taylor also swallowed two pints of his own blood from cuts inside his mouth, according to the Daily News.
The loss to Chavez also drained Taylor's wallet, according to the Daily News, which reported that the loss may have cost Taylor $10 million over the life of his television contract with HBO.
So there was ample incentive for Taylor and his promoters to seek another shot at Chavez.
But something always seemed to get in the way.
In August of 1990, Taylor, wearing a brace on his left knee, was roundly booed in his first fight after the loss to Chavez, according to Bernard Fernandez's account in the Daily News. Though the judges said Taylor beat Primo Ramos, the sell-out crowd thought otherwise. Taylor responded by "bending over and taunting the audience."
That fight did little to convince anyone that Taylor deserved to fight Chavez again.
But, this being boxing, four months after the Ramos fiasco, King announced that Taylor-Chavez II would take place as a non-title fight on Feb. 2, 1991, in Las Vegas. Taylor, however, was under contract with promoter Dan Duva to fight for WBA welterweight champion Aaron Davis' title on Jan. 19 in Atlantic City.
The normally genial Chavez told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Taylor signed up to fight Davis because "Taylor is afraid of me. . . The world saw me beat Taylor. The burden is on him to redeem himself. I have no respect for him."
The real reason, however, may have had more to do with the bitter feud between King and his arch-rival Dan Duva.
For a while, things started to look up for Taylor. He won a decision over Davis and took his WBA welterweight crown. Six months later, he defended it in another 12-round decision, this time over Luis Garcia. On Jan. 18, 1992, he defended it again, beating Glenwood Brown in another 12-round decision.
But the road back to Taylor-Chavez II hit a major rut on May 9, 1992, when Taylor was battered around the ring by Terry Norris in a failed attempt to wrest the World Boxing Council welterweight title. Five months later, he lost his WBA crown in an embarrassing eight-round loss to Cristanto Espana. According to the Daily News, Taylor's trainers advised him to quit after the loss to Espana.
But Taylor refused to quit.
On May 5, 1993, he knocked out Henry Hughes in the second round of a non-title fight in Las Vegas. Taylor, admittedly obsessed with getting another shot at Chavez, was training hard and was mentally and physically ready.
He was so ready that his trainers begged and pleaded with Don King to put him on the undercard of the Jan. 29 Chavez-Frankie Randall bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
King, in a phone interview last week, says he was skeptical, but changed his mind upon seeing Taylor in person.
So King agreed to let Taylor fight a guy named Craig Houk, a Greensburg, IN, fighter whose seemingly gaudy 42-2 record belied the fact that many of those fights came against men who could call themselves boxers in name only. Even his own promoters admitted their guy was by no means the Incredible Houk.
The idea, says King, was to see how Taylor did and then schedule a rematch with Chavez in May, 1994, that would earn everybody lots of money.
Taylor held up his end of the bargain, quickly dispatching Houk, knocking him out in the third round.
But Randall inexplicably beat Chavez.
And the much vaunted rematch was off until September, when Chavez again battered Taylor, winning on an eighth-round TKO.
Once again, the boxing world claimed Taylor was finished. Cries arose for him to quit the ring.
And for two years, he did. Taylor didn't fight again after losing to Chavez for the second time until he stepped into the ring last August with another palooka, this one a 33-year-old veteran named Kenny Kidd.
The press fell in love with Kidd.
In a post-fight story after Taylor knocked Kidd out in the first round, the Inquirer called him a "ring-wise but outclassed old trial horse who was ending his 10-year career." The story went on to talk about how Kidd was ending his career to give a kidney to his older brother. Another story mentioned that Kidd did not want to tell his mother he was fighting Taylor, who even though he'd been on the shelf for two years was still a far better fighter than Kidd had ever faced before.
Taylor's victory over Kidd was yet another twist in a six-and-a-half-year soap opera that began the night Taylor was 15 seconds away from beating Chavez. On the surface, it was another great story in a sport that, more than any other, exemplifies the triumphs and tragedies of human existence.
But there was a much darker tale lurking beneath the surface, a story of boxers manipulated by the promoters who rule the sport. A story of fixed fights, fighters using phony names and Social Security numbers (including in one instance that of a dead man) and tax evasion. It was a story that would begin to emerge only after a neophyte fight promoter in Chicago lost a ton of money on July 29, 1995 and then cried foul.
"My program is to help fighters that nobody else would help," says Don King. "I have always been out there for the underdog."
Somehow, Jose Venzor got it into his head that he could rake in buckets of money by bringing Julio Cesar Chavez to fight at the United Arena in Chicago.
Unfortunately for Venzor, he failed to take into account three major factors that would have warned a more sensible business person away from such a deal.
First and foremost, Chavez was no longer the champ. To most Chicagoans, he was just another has-been trying to make a comeback.
Secondly, Chicago was not exactly the home town for Chavez's main fan base recent immigrants from Mexico and Mexican-Americans who still considered Chavez a hero.
Combine those two factors with the fact that Venzor was charging $50 a pop for the fight, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Not surprisingly, instead of swimming in money, Venzor took a bath.
Just 79 seconds into the first round, Chavez knocked out one Craig Houk, in front of a hell of a lot of empty seats that Venzor couldn't fill, even though, according to Houk's manager, Venzor slashed the ticket price in half at the door on the night of the fight.
Venzor may have lost that battle with Don King, but the war was only beginning.
Upset that the fight was so quick (and perhaps looking for a way to recoup his losses), Venzor hired attorney Bob Orman, who turned loose a team of private investigators to look into the deal.
The investigators uncovered evidence they claim proves that King engineered a fixed fight between Chavez and Houk. But beyond that, the investigators say they came up with evidence of a much larger conspiracy: not only was Houk not who he claimed to be, he was allegedly part of a group of fighters in the Midwest who fixed fights, fought under phony names and committed tax and Social Security fraud in the process. The investigators also claim to have uncovered evidence that Houk's fight against Meldrick Taylor was also fixed, on the orders of Don King.
Venzor and his attorney laid out these claims on Jan. 22, 1996, in a multimillion dollar lawsuit filed against King in Cook County Circuit Court. The suit accuses King of breach of contract, fraud, consumer fraud and deceptive business practices, violating Illinois boxing regulations, and most damning of all, violating the federal civil racketeering statutes.
Essentially, Venzor claims that King lied when he promised to provide a fighter worthy of stepping into the ring with Chavez.
"In March of 1995, defendants King and King Productions represented to Plaintiff that Houk had a great record, would be a serious and competitive opponent for defendant Chavez, and would put up a 'great fight' against defendant Chavez."
According to the suit, Houk's admittedly bloated 47-6 record at the time he fought Chavez was a deception.
Houk admitted in a deposition in the Venzor suit that he also fought under the names Tim Bennett and Gary Meyers, using false Social Security numbers and fake birthdates.
As questionable an opponent as Houk was, he was even worse as Bennett and Meyers.
According to Fight Fax, the Sicklerville, NJ, company that keeps all boxing records, Tim Bennett had compiled an inauspicious 5-19 record at the time Houk fought Chavez.
Houk's other alleged alter ego, Gary Meyers, was even worse, losing all seven of the fights he had prior to the Chavez-Houk bout.
In his suit, Venzor claims that, had he known Craig Houk's real record, he would never have entered into an agreement with King.
As if that weren't bad enough, Venzor claims that many of the fights that Houk did manage to win under his own name were "pre-arranged."
"A substantial number of defendant Houk's 47 alleged wins were the result of fixed fights and, accordingly, were not 'wins' in any meaningful sense."
In addition, the suit charges that King Productions ordered Houk to "go down" in his fight against Chavez.
In early July 1995, Houk received a call from King Productions, according to the suit.
"Houk knew and understood why he was so selected. Houk knew and understood that he was being selected for the same reasons that he had been selected to fight both Gary Murray and Meldrick Taylor: to lose and get 'beat up,' to insure that Chavez would not get hurt, and to use the considerable skills he had acquired and perfected using the aliases Tim Bennett and Gary Meyers in 'going down' without anyone knowing that the fight was fixed. As of this date, all defendants were in agreement that the [Chavez-Houk fight] would be fixed."
The suit also states that Houk admitted he received a call from King Productions instructing him "to go down in the Houk-Taylor fight" as well.
In a typically rambling interview, Don King denies all these charges.
"This is ludicrous, absolutely ridiculous," says King. "First of all, I don't make the matches. I have guys like Fred Berns, an Indiana matchmaker, get guys for me. They get guys comparable to who we have fighting."
And what about the alleged mismatches? The alleged fixed fights? The alleged use of phony names?
"I don't know nothing about anything else," King says. "My matchmakers do this. My matchmakers do this, not me."
Besides, says King, it is standard practice for fighters like Chavez and Taylor to step into the ring with weaker opponents on occasion.
"When you're building a fighter and, you know, from my experience that these guys are not looking to get their heads knocked off all the time they are just looking, recordwise, to fight someone they have a better than even chance of beating."
King says this happens in other sports as well.
"TheGreen Bay Packers play the Jets," he says. "Not every team in the NFL is a threat. But like boxing, you hope that the creme de la creme rises to the top."
King adds that Venzor is only coming after him because "he lost money and I am at the top of the pole."
All this carping aside, King says he is the good guy in this story.
"My program is to help fighters that nobody else would help," says King. "I gave Meldrick a second chance to fight Chavez for the title. I have always been out there for the underdog."
Efforts to reach Houk via his home phone now unlisted and calls to his business associates and former managers were unsuccessful.
While Houk was unavailable for comment, his former manager Fred Berns is among many experts in boxing who laugh at charges that Houk was ordered to throw fights against Chavez and Taylor.
"He wouldn't be able to stand up to Chavez," says Berns. "Why would anyone pay him to lose? Houk was scared shitless going into that fight. The same thing for Taylor. Houk shouldn't be in the same ring as Taylor."
Berns, however, is not laughing at charges leveled in the suit that he, Pete Susens of Indiana and Sean Gibbons of Oklahoma formed a notorious "Indiana-Oklahoma Connection. . . that on at least 25 occasions" sold fighters to King. All except one lost to the King fighter.
Berns denies any wrongdoing.
The Illinois Boxing Commission, says Berns, tried to talk Venzor out of holding the Chavez-Houk fight. "He was in over his head and now he is going broke with all the depositions he is running around collecting. I never did anything wrong."
At the time of Houk's bout with Chavez, Berns, however, did know that his boy was fighting under assumed names.
He says he discovered this unhappy fact on Jan. 29, 1994 the night Houk fought Meldrick Taylor.
"We were walking down the aisle, Craig and I," says Berns. "He was on his way into the ring to fight Taylor. Somebody in the crowd said, 'Hey, Tim Bennett.' I said, 'Tim Bennett? What the hell is going on here, Craig?' Craig told me that he had fought under the name Tim Bennett. I turned around and walked back to the dressing room. I didn't want to get in the middle of that shit."
Despite Houk's admission, he still went on to fight Taylor.
"What did he do?" Berns says of Houk's reaction to being discovered. "He just laughed."
After the fight, Berns says that the fan who recognized Houk as Bennett came into the locker room.
"He had a whole scrapbook of Tim Bennett," says Berns. "He was a big fan."
Berns says that after learning about Houk's apparent split personality, he ended his business dealings with Pete Susens and took Houk away from him. Berns says any problems with name-changing, fight-fixing or any other incidents rest clearly on the shoulders of Pete Susens and Sean Gibbons. Like everyone else in this story, Susens and Gibbons say they've done nothing wrong.
Meanwhile, King still hired Houk for $50,000 to fight Chavez.
Which is the main point raised by the Venzor suit.
King obviously knew that Houk was little more than a stiff.
King "had previously purchased the services of defendant Houk to fight Meldrick Taylor [on Jan. 29, 1994], had videotapes of theHouk-Taylor fight, and accordingly knew that defendant Houk could not be competitive with, or give defendant Chavez a good fight," according to the suit.
Furthermore, King "had previously purchased the services of defendant Houk for the explicit purpose of giving Houk's then-opponent, Meldrick Taylor, a 'win.'"
So why did King hire Houk to fight Chavez?
King says go ask the matchmakers.
But Venzor's suit charges that the whole scheme was cooked up as a favor to Chavez, a quick and easy payday to keep Chavez from testifying in a federal wire fraud case involving an allegedly fraudulent insurance claim.
King beat that rap.
What is even more troubling to boxing officials than Venzor's allegations about what took place surrounding the July 29 Houk-Chavez fight is the extent to which similar events allegedly took place around the world.
The suit charges that beginning at least in 1989, Berns, Susens and Gibbons, acting as the Indiana-Oklahoma Connection (IOC), routinely switched the names of fighters, who often fought other fighters in the connection's stable also using assumed names.
There are several reasons why fighters change their names.
As alleged in the Venzor suit, promoters sometimes urge fighters to change their names to hide losing records, thus making them appear to be better opponents.
Also, many states force fighters to take a mandatory layoff after a knockout. To circumvent that, fighters often paid as little as $100 per bout sometimes change their names, then cross state lines just to pick up another paycheck.
Then there are instances where fighters are trying to hide income from the government.
All of these motivations appeared to be behind the IOC's machinations. And there was no shortage of such maneuvers, according to investigators.
For example, three times between March 1989 and August 1990, Houk, using the Tim Bennett alias, fought a guy named Rocky Berg, winning all three fights. In November 1989 and September 1990, Rocky Berg, using the alias Rocky Vires, fought Craig Houk, who was using his real name. Vires lost both fights to Houk.
The charade continued until February 1991, after Houk, using the Bennett alias, beat Berg in a fight in Missouri. Two years later, Missouri officials discovered the deception and ruled that fight a no-decision.
Houk and Berg weren't the only fighters in the IOC's stable to fight under phony names, according to the Venzor suit.
Terry Thompson also fought as Jim Holly and James Robinson. Eric Jakubowski fought as Dick Martin, Tim Bonds fought as Mark Hammon, Reggie Strickland fought as Reggie Busse and Tony Enna fought as Anthony Montesero as well as Anthony Saluto.
And these guys didn't just fight in the states. According to the Venzor suit, the IOC provided opponents to South African fighter Gary Murray, German fighter Michael Loewe and Danish fighter Soren Sondergaard. The IOC-provided opponents all lost.
Perhaps the IOC's most blatant use of an allegedly phony name took place in Jefferson City, MO, on March 15, 1993, in a fight ostensibly between heavyweights "King Arthur" Jimmerson and Shane Mooney.
Jimmerson knocked out Mooney in the second round of that fight.
Only it wasn't Mooney in the ring. According to the Oklahoma investigation, Shane Mooney had died five months earlier in a car accident. And he was a white welterweight.
The guy Jimmerson knocked out was not only alive, he was black and a heavyweight to boot.
The faux Shane Mooney was really a guy named Mike Smith, who was not allowed to fight because he had been knocked out two weeks earlier by Tex Cobb and was under the mandatory 30-day suspension. Smith was trying to earn a quick payday and help out the promoter Randy Cook, who needed someone to fight Jimmerson because the scheduled fighter never showed up.
The aftermath of that fight led investigators in Oklahoma to begin to take a closer look at boxing in their state. It also led to the downfall of then-Boxing Administrator Jim Hall. And to charges that Pete Susens, Sean Gibbons and Fred Berns the men who allegedly sold stiffs to Don King were behind the whole thing.
"In August 1996, serious allegations were raised about the Oklahoma boxing administrator," according to the ODOL report written by W.A. "Skip" Nicholson, administrative assistant to ODOL Commissioner Brenda Reneau. "Those allegations included poor record-keeping procedures, improper payment of boxing officials, the improper handling of the collections and deposits and other related abuses. . . These allegations mirrored the findings of an audit conducted by the Missouri auditor and inspector. Auditors in Missouri were highly critical of Jim Hall's tenure as Missouri's boxing administrator."
Last August and September, according to Nicholson's report, the internal inquiry "produced evidence that the alleged problems might have been much more serious than originally suspected."
That, says Nicholson, led to a full-fledged investigation, wherein he found that the fight-fixing and name-changing which were confirmed by Missouri officials to have taken place in their state were happening in Oklahoma as well.
In his report, Nicholson states that he pored through "hundreds of records from Missouri and Oklahoma."
Two months later, Hall resigned his post as state boxing administrator. But the probe didn't end there.
"The findings of this six-month investigation paint an unsavory picture of a sport barely one step removed from the carnival atmosphere of professional wrestling," Nicholson wrote. "Boxing is a sport where the skill of the contestants is not always the determining factor in who wins or loses a particular bout. It is a sport where some individuals compete using multiple names and fraudulent Social Security numbers. And it is a sport where unscrupulous promoters and matchmakers falsify fight records and buy and sell 'winners' and 'losers.'"
Nicholson's report, which relies heavily on statements by promoter Randy Cook and boxer Mike "Sean Mooney" Smith, who is now serving time on drug charges as well as the allegations made in the Venzor suit has some interesting findings, particularly as they relate to Meldrick Taylor.
On the same card where Mike Smith pretended to be Shane Mooney, Craig Houk, pretending to be Tim Bennett, fought another IOC boxer, Marty Jakubowski.
The ODOL, according to the report, has also obtained videotapes from Missouri authorities showing that an Indiana boxing inspector named Kenny Kidd fought in Kansas City, MO, on Aug. 17, 1992, under the name Tony Taylor.
"Missouri officials have positively identified 'Taylor' as Kenny Kidd," according to the report, which reiterates that Kidd is a member of the IOC stable.
The same Kenny Kidd who, just last August, the Inquirer glowingly profiled as the kidney-donating hero of the ring.
Nicholson says that, late last Thursday afternoon, he sent copies of his report to the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration. A copy also went out to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who sponsored the federal boxing bill, which takes effect this July, that deals specifically with fraud and corruption in boxing.
As a result of the ODOL report, the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain chairs, will hold a hearing to determine what, if any affect, McCain's law has had.
Sitting on a plush couch in the lobby of the East Side Marriott, amid the suits and skirts and end-of-the-workday Manhattan revelers, Pete Susens and Sean Gibbons laugh at the idea that either Julio Cesar Chavez or Meldrick Taylor would need Craig Houk to fall down.
"It is all an attempt to make something out of something," says Susens, the bearded, meaty 41-year-old boxing promoter from Indiana. "The only thing you can get a unanimous vote in boxing on is that Craig Houk had no shot against either Chavez or Taylor."
Susens, who admits that he fought under phony names himself, says there is nothing wrong with the practice.
"They can fight under any name they want," says Susens. "It's a common practice and has been for 100 years. Nobody appointed me to go out and check these guys and make sure they are who they said they are. The only thing I care about is if they go out and give an effort in the ring."
"It is comical," says Gibbons, a tall, wiry 30-year-old with glasses who looks more like a bookkeeper than a fight promoter. "Like Meldrick Taylor or Julio Chavez needed to pay this guy to lose. Enough already. Puh-lease. The theories the lawyers put together are nice, but complete nonsense."
The two men are in town to help promote Dickie Ryan, a tough but not overly talented heavyweight who has come to the Big Apple to tune up former heavyweight champ Buster Douglas in his comeback attempt.
On the cab ride over to the Garden, in between swearing that it would have been safer to walk, Gibbons talks about the time he fought Mickey Rourke and how he didn't want to get too close to Rourke in the ring because the actor apparently hadn't bathed in a while.
The cabbie, seemingly oblivious to the laws of nature and the New York City traffic code, makes several gravity-defying turns before depositing Gibbons, intact, at the Garden.
Upon entering the employee gate, Gibbons is immediately pressed into service as the corner man for a woman boxer from Ohio who has arrived for her first visit to New York with only her mother and hardly a clue.
In the locker room next door, her opponent, a former American Gladiator, looks ferocious, all toned and tight, throwing punches in the air with confidence.
The Gladiator has company.
Three hundred and twenty pounds of bald-headed white boy from Alabama named Eric Esch.
Esch, better known as "Butterbean King of the Four Rounders," reaches a beefy fist into his duffle bag, rips off a hunk of chocolate from a two-pound Hershey bar and shoves a piece into his mouth.
Before gnawing on another piece, he offers one to the Gladiator, who declines. Meanwhile, next door, the woman from Ohio waits nervously with her mother for Gibbons.
He's taken off.
The woman forgot her mouthpiece and Gibbons has run out to get one from a nearby sporting goods store.
About 30 minutes later, Gibbons pops back into the room with two mouthpieces.
"See, this is what I do. And they think I'm some horrible fight fixer."
Gibbons' trip is for naught. The Gladiator had an extra mouthpiece and gave it to her opponent.
Gibbons offers a few words of encouragement to the Ohio fighter before taking off, again, this time to work as a cut man for Russian Olympic gold medalist Vissaly Jirov.
Before Jirov gets in the ring, Gibbons questions the veracity of Mike Smith, the jailed fighter whose deposition is a key part of both the Oklahoma investigation and the Venzor suit.
Smith, says Gibbons, was not only a stiff who didn't belong in the ring. According to Gibbons, Smith also took part in robbing Gibbons' home, and was caught when he tried to sell tickets he stole from Gibbons to a George Foreman fight Gibbons was promoting.
A little later, as he stands in the crowd, watching his boy Dickie Ryan fend off some of the flashes of brilliance that Buster Douglas used to knock out Mike Tyson, Gibbons talks about the charges and their effect on him.
"They are ridiculous," he says. "And now, there is a letter going around, saying that anyone doing business with me will wind up as part of a federal investigation. That cost me a fight already. Who knows what else will happen?"
Through it all, Meldrick Taylor continues to work hard for his upcoming bout.
According to his trainer, John McClary, Taylor is sticking to a regimented workout that has him running in the mornings, six miles up the Lincoln Drive, followed by afternoon workouts at Best Karate dojo in Germantown.
None of the between-rounds feasting that saw Taylor's weight balloon as in the past.
Taylor, says McClary, seems completely focused on what he is doing, even though just about a month ago, he and his family were nearly killed in a car wreck when a tractor trailer cut them off on the Schuylkill Expressway.
Taylor, says McClary, is fine. So are his two kids, even though they are shaken up. Their mother, says McClary, suffered the most serious injury.
McClary says he had not heard about the charges that Craig Houk and Kenny Kidd were part of a ring of paid losers. He adds that Taylor has said nothing about the charges and seems not to be worried about anything.
In an extremely brief conversation interrupted when his lawyer tried to get on the line in a conference call, Taylor said he was unfamiliar with the accusations.
His lawyer, Melvine Sharpe, says that Meldrick has done nothing wrong and is more than ready to get on the stand and testify to that effect.
"There is no basis to this at all," says Sharpe, adding that none of this is fazing Taylor.
"He's got a fight coming up," says Sharpe. "That's the only thing on his mind."
Not quite. Taylor may not be worried about anything, but he's extremely angry to see his name dragged into the mud.
"He's really upset," says McClary a few days later at Best Karate. As he talks, his dojo partner, Shiloh Bey, dials up the boxer to see whether he'll be making it to his afternoon workout; Taylor cancels, voicing his displeasure in no uncertain terms at the presence of reporters and the pain of having his name mentioned in a lawsuit.
"He's a very sensitive man," says McClary. "This has really hurt him."