POP FOR THE KING: Steve Cunningham of Philadelphia catches Wayne Briathwaite of Ghana flush with a left jab during their IBF cruiserweight championship elimination during â€˜A Tribute to Michael Jacksonâ€™ at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, FL last Saturday July 11.Â Cunningham won a unanimous decision to move back in line for a title shot.
Photo by David Martin Warr for Don King Productions
Legendary promoter Don King salutes his Pop King
SUNRISE FL-The sun may have set on Pop Icon Michael Jackson in the Los Angeles, but it rose again at the BankAtlantic Center as legendary boxing promoter Don King hosted and elaborate send off to his fallen friend.
King, who has maintained a life long friendship with Jackson’s parents Joseph and Katherine, was instrumental in a landmark Pepsi endorsement deal for the singer who died on June 25 at the age of 50 at his home in Southern California.
Jackson would have been most proud of the tribute before more than 10,000 spectators who came to honor him as much as watching the nine fight-boxing card.
Each of the fighter serenaded to the ring to Jackson’s music and everything in the arena from the ring mat which bore a silhouette of the world’s greatest entertainer, to the placards the ring girls brought into the ring, their outfits which featured a Jackson symbolic fedora hat and a sequined glove, and even the credentials which depicted a photograph of King and Jackson reflected Jackson’s likeness and image.
Many of the fighters on the card had a personal story to tell about the singer and applauded King for his courage in staging the tribute.
“I think it’s awesome of Don King to honor Michael Jackson. This is another genius move by him, and I am privileged and honored to be taking part of it,” said Steve Cunningham of Philadelphia who won a hard fought cruiserweight IBF title eliminator in one of the co features. Cunningham defeated Wayne Braithwaite in one of the more compelling fights on the card, and although he lost Braithwaite was thrilled to turn his attention to Jackson.
“It’s an honor to be part of a tribute to Michael. Coming from Ghana we use to dance to his music all the time. I use to do the moonwalk as a kid,” added Braithwaite.
It did not matter where they hailed from the accolades were all similar and affectionate for Jackson.
Undefeated Puerto Rican cruiserweight Francisco Placios said just fighting during a night and honored Jackson, ” means a lot to me because he was the greatest pop singer ever.”
“I use to have a jacket with the zippers and pants and everything. He was a huge giant in Puerto Rico.”
Former undisputed lightweight champion Nate Campbell was ringside for the fights and the tribute and remembered growing up with Jackson’s music.
“I’m a real fan. I am one of the few fighters who can actually say they grew up with his music. I remember as a kid rushing home to the Jackson 5 cartoons. I danced to ‘Never Can Say Goodbye.’ I was training the day I learned that he died and I felt like a kid again-I was real sad,” offered Campbell.
The most poignant moment during the evening came when a group of four 10-year-old children entered the ring wearing tights and mask and dance to a bevy of Jackson’s hit songs.
Performing under the name Undr Kunstrukshun, the group had been featuring Jackson sons in their dance routine before he succumbed.
The crowd was on its feet throughout their performance and immediately afterward, the giant overhead scoreboard illuminated with a 10 minute video tribute with speeches from King and the Rev. Al Sharpton and songs of Jackson.
“I thought it was super fantastic,” King said afterward.
“He [Jackson] came from a working class family in a state that was home to the Ku Klux Klan and they overcame all of the circumstances that keep many Blacks hostage for ever. We should always remember him as a singer, a son, a brother and a symbol of what it means to be great.”