You simply must hand it to the man, love him or loathe him. Don King, the pre-eminent promoter of the ages—-in the realm of boxing and otherwise, I'd argue–got himself some one-on-one time with the Pope. King handed His Highness some title belts on Wednesday in Rome, and a letter which asked for the Catholic figurehead to pray for the world's sick, aged and the nation's embattled President, George W. Bush, a King fave.
The high-haired hypemaster was front and center interacting with Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square and he called the opportunity a “deep spiritual experience.” King was in Rome to discuss placing some of his clients on a forthcoming card in Italy. One of the boxers in his stable is Italian 154 pounder Luca “The Bergamo Bomber” Messi. Messi's bro is a priest, and he made the arrangements to put King in front of the Catholic heavyweight. King sat in the first row on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, one of about 25,000 folks who came to soak up the saintly atmosphere. “I was very humbled by this divine experience and revelation,” King said. “I presented him with the championship boxing belts because he is a fighter for Jesus, peace and love all over the world. “I gave Papa a note asking him to pray for many people including my injured boxer Victor Burgos, President Bush, Laura Bush, all of our troops, my wife Henrietta, my children and my grandchildren.” King gave ceremonial title belts to the Pope from the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation, Italian Boxing Federation and the French Boxing Federation. He and his PR chief, Alan Hopper were blown away by the charisma of Benedict. And King, who's no slouch in the oratorical department, came away duly impressed as the Pope spoke English, Italian, French, Spanish, German and Latin during the session.
The once-in-a-lifetime meet and greet came on the final day of King's three-day tour of Italy. He also entered the Parliament's Chamber of Deputies, where he spoke to Parliament Member Massimo Romagnoli and former Minister for Italians Abroad Mirko Tremaglia. King hit some of the typical tourist haunts, like the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. So one wonders…is The Don softening? Now 75, is he grappling with the inevitability of the tides of time? Is he contemplating the sum of his life, and pondering the afterlife, and his place in it? Heading into his special Papal interlude, King, who actually subscribes to the Baptist faith, was in most humble form. “I will be prepared to kiss his ring,” said the Pope of Pugilistic Promotion, who's typically in the position to have his ring kissed. Many of us follow the sport for, of course, the unrivaled level of athletic drama we see in the ring, but also the fascinating characters that dot the boxing landscape, and the situations they find themelves in. But c'mon, this one, I couldn't have seen this one coming. Don King, presenting title belts to the Pope. Pretty damned priceless.