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"Yeah," he says. " Ali's got about $4 million in property, and he could live off that alone."
"Why is he afraid of becoming another Joe Louis?"
"I don't know," Herbert says, "but I'll tell you this. I got $1 million in municipal bonds. I'd give it all to him, before I see him go broke. He go broke—I go broke."
For some, Herbert's sincerity is undeniable, while others pass over what he says and look at Herbert as a businessman. "A man who has made $38 million," says one, "should now be worth close to $100 million, with sound investments and good business direction. Ali's real estate isn't worth much, probably less than half of what he paid for it. The Deer Lake camp, for instance, is totally unattractive as real estate. He always comes up way short in deals he makes. His friends get something for $1 and sell it to him for $2. Some friends. Another thing—no good tax shelters have been set up for him." Is Herbert at fault here? Hardly, it seems, for he is not a money manager; he is the man who brings in the deals, sees to it that Ali gets every cent coming to him. Nobody tells Ali what to do anymore, especially with his money.
Before Herbert came along, the promoter was the man who wielded the mackerel, usually slapping fighters and managers in the face with it. For all his great power at the gate and his magnetism, Joe Louis took orders from Mike Jacobs. Al Weill, who was a matchmaker as well as a manager, dictated to Rocky Marciano and his camp; he never referred to Rocky by name or even by "champ." He always could be heard saying, "Git the fighter in here; tell the bum I wanna see 'im." Herbert tells promoters what to do. "I don't owe them anything," he says. "I don't work for promoters. I work for one man—Muhammad Ali. I answer to him. It's my job to get the money for him, and if I don't, he has a right to know why."
Even so, Herbert seems to have blundered in the Tokyo bout and there were a lot of rough edges around the Dunn fight. Both events took place after Herbert left Don King for his old promoter, Bob Arum. Arum says he was not the promoter in either fight, just the television conduit. "The German promoters," says Herbert, "reflect what's wrong with a lot of promoters. They were so eager, they were dreamers. They overpaid for a fight, and then they suffered. Look, it's simple; if you can't handle your business, you don't belong on the other side of the table with me." A stubborn and proud negotiator, Herbert does not bend easily to ultimatums, as Promoter Jerry Perenchio discovered. "He made a good offer for the Zaire fight," says Herbert, "and then he said, 'That's it, you're not going to get one cent more, and nobody else will give it to you, either.' Well, that made me determined to teach him a lesson." Offstage was Don King—with a few million more.
How Herbert handled King sharply defines the views, the thinking of Ali's manager. Before the entrance of King, it was clear that Herbert had become restless. He was looking for a way to unload Arum, his longtime confederate, who had annoyed Herbert by suddenly moving "out front too much." King had also sold Herbert on his blackness, saying that Arum did not care about blacks or Ali, that the Muslims, of all people, should give a black man his chance to promote Ali. Herbert was amused by King—also quite skeptical—but he decided to gamble that King could deliver. Under pressure all the way, King got the money for the Zaire fight, and from then on the two collaborated on seven title bouts; eager to please Herbert and Ali, King inflated the market to a preposterous level.
"The pace became deadly," King says now. "More and more fights, no time to promote in between. I wasn't through with one fight when I had to find money for the next one. Herbert never leaned on a white promoter like he leaned on me, threatening always to go elsewhere if I didn't get what he wanted. I performed for Herbert and Ali, and they tossed me aside like a bum. Not the slightest loyalty."
As the fights went on, those around Herbert knew that King's promotional head would end up in a basket. As far as Herbert was concerned, King had taken his ego and twisted it into his own future as if it were a knife. King had become too big, upstaging Ali in the press and on television, until Herbert was certain the public believed King was the man behind Ali. In Malaysia, when Ali said he was going to retire, King innocently told the press, "No, he won't. I'm going over there now and unretire him." The comment enraged Herbert; he confided, "He's going to have to go." After that, Herbert used King brilliantly for five more fights, then went to Arum and Madison Square Garden for the lucrative Ken Norton-Ali fight in Yankee Stadium next week. King had worked toward this event, had sacrificed money (the huge purses left him little) for promotional continuity with Ali and Herbert, but the two of them had summarily turned him out. Did Ali, a highly sensitive athlete, loyal beyond belief, come to King's defense? "Herbert makes my business decisions," says Ali.
Herbert says, " Don King was never the exclusive promoter of Ali. I never worked for him. I don't owe him anything. I owe only Ali; I must be loyal only to him, to do the best I can do for him. King says he made millions for us. Well, where did he get the money? He never gave us anything. He could have had the Norton fight. I gave him more time than I would give any promoter to come up with the money. But he came up with it too late. We wanted a deal. We couldn't wait for him forever. As for him being black, I don't believe in any fight game around Ali being black or white. Ali is universal."