MTK Global is a fighter management company now headquartered in Dubai. It offers managerial services to more than two hundred boxers (foremost among them, Tyson Fury) and is affiliated with gyms around the world. Its website states, “We have firmly established our presence in over 25 locations worldwide” and lists sites in the United Kingdom, Spain, the United States, Canada, France, South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Denmark, Latvia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Nicola Tallant is the investigations editor for the Sunday World in Ireland and has written extensively about organised crime. Now Tallant has authored Clash of the Clans (Mirror Books) – a work that focuses on Daniel Kinahan, who helped build MTK Global and is identified by Tallant as “boss of the largest organised drug gang to ever come out of Ireland” – an enterprise that, Tallant estimates, has enabled the Kinahan family to amass a “£1 billion drug fortune.”
Kinahan, age 44 , has never been convicted of a crime. That should be said at the start. But in Tallant’s words, “He has been identified in the High Court in Dublin as a senior figure in organised crime on a global scale. And the Criminal Assets Bureau, one of the most respected forces in crime fighting across the world, has said that he ‘controlled and managed’ the operations of the Kinahan Organised Crime Group, who have in turn been described as a murderous group who have smuggled guns and drugs into Ireland, the UK, and mainland Europe on a massive scale.”
This characterisation was echoed by Kieran Cunningham (chief sports writer for the Irish Daily Star), who said of Kinahan in a May 31, 2020, podcast, “He was identified by the Criminal Assets Bureau as controlling and managing the Kinahan organised crime group. This is an organisation that smuggles drugs and guns into and out of the UK [and] mainland Europe. It has been involved in money laundering. It is a major drugs cartel. It’s involved in a feud in Ireland that has killed eighteen people, and sixteen of the murders have been by the Kinahan cartel.”
Compared to the crimes that Kinahan is alleged to have committed, Don King was a choirboy in his earlier incarnation as the biggest numbers tsar in Cleveland.
Tallant traces Kinahan’s entry into boxing to 2012 when Matthew Macklin (a widely respected middleweight contender) founded Macklin’s Gym Marbella (MGM) in Spain in association with Kinahan. Macklin later sold his interest in the gym, which evolved into the company now known as MTK Global.
In a column for the Sunday World, Tallant wrote, “Daniel and Matthew decided they should open a gym to give something back to the community. They found a premises near Puerto Banus where they like to hang out and set themselves up as a not-for-profit organisation. They decided to choose a local charity for sick children to give any money they made to. MGM hosts youth boxers from clubs in Ireland as part of their community service. It gives free training for under-16s. No doubt the kids are impressed with the flash cars that Daniel and his pals drive. I’m sure they couldn’t help but notice the massive watch on his wrist. I suppose you could say that, when he wasn’t organising drug shipments and murder, he was a pretty good guy.”
“MGM is to Daniel Kinahan what Atlético Nacional was to Pablo Escobar,” Tallant continued. “Have you heard of Escobar? He is the guy with all the money, the one who ran the Medellín Cartel, the one who remorselessly killed any man, woman, or child that stood in his way. Pablo was a psychopath, but he also loved football and he bought the best players with his blood money so he could control Colombia’s finest sport. Daniel likes boxing. I think we can safely say that, just like Pablo Escobar, he orders death in the same way the rest of us might ring for a pizza.”
In 2015, an underworld feud burst into the open when Gary Hutch (nephew of mob figure Gerry “The Monk” Hutch) was assassinated in Spain. It was widely believed that Kinahan ordered the execution. At least eighteen people were killed in the internecine warfare that followed. The most notable of these killings occurred on February 5, 2016, at the Regency Hotel in Dublin at the weigh-in for a fight card that was to be headlined by Irish lightweight Jamie Kavanagh. Armed men carrying AK47s and disguised as Gardaí (Irish police) entered the hotel and opened fire. Kinahan (believed to have been the object of the attack) escaped unharmed. Three people were shot. David Byrne (a friend of Kinahan’s) was killed.
Later that year, Kinahan moved to Dubai, which Tallant describes as “a safe place for the likes of the Kinahans,” before adding, “It had become a hub for money laundering and a hideout for criminals from all over the world. Amongst the glittering extravagance of Dubai, all money was welcome, no matter how it was earned – and with no extradition treaties with most modern countries, it kept crooks at arm’s length from the law.”
Reading Clash of the Clans, one gets the impression that Kinahan might have relocated to Dubai, not just because there’s no extradition treaty between the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom or Ireland but also because his personal security is better safeguarded there.
Officially, Kinahan has severed his ties to MTK Global. On May 14, 2020, Sandra Vaughan (then the company’s chief executive officer of record) told IFL TV, “Everyone knows, legally and legitimately, I purchased the business from Matthew Macklin in 2017. There are no ties to Daniel Kinahan. He hasn’t got anything to do with MTK Global. We manage fighters; that’s our role. A fighter has a team, not just a manager, a team. And ninety-nine percent of the time, they will have an advisor. That can be Daniel. That can be a family member. It could be a cousin or a father. There is always somebody around them that is giving them advice. We don’t employ any of these people. They have got no official connection to MTK Global. They are part of that fighter’s team just like we’re a member of that team. These are independent professional athletes and will decide themselves who they want to speak to, who they want to train with, and who they want to have with them supporting the team.”
That said; it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Kinahan is intricately involved in the operation of MTK Global. Bob Yalen (identified by the MTK Global website as president and CEO of the company) has relocated from the United States to Dubai. And shortly after Vaughan’s statement to IFL TV, there was a hitch.
Tyson Fury, in Tallant’s words, is “the Golden Goose” for MTK. The Gypsy King, his former trainer Ben Davison notes, “was struggling in many ways when he was introduced to Daniel Kinahan in early 2017.” Four years and seven fights later, Fury is The Man in boxing’s heavyweight division.
On June 10, 2020, four months after Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder in their second encounter, the Fury and Joshua camps reached an agreement in principle for a two-fight deal between the fighters. Later that day, Fury posted a video on Twitter in which he thanked Kinahan for his role in arranging the fights and proclaimed, “Just got off the phone with Daniel Kinahan. He has just informed me that the biggest fight in British boxing history has just been agreed. Big shoutout, Dan. He got this done, literally over the line.”
That earned a sharp rebuke from Leo Varadkar (Ireland’s minister for enterprise, trade, and employment) who asked Sky Sports and BT Sport to boycott the fight should it happen. “The Kinahan gang no longer operates from Ireland but from the United Arab Emirates,” Varadkar added.
Former Dublin Lord Mayor Nial Ring supported Varadkar and said, “I have seen what a criminal gang named in open court as the Kinahan organisation has done to the north inner city of Dublin. And what they have done should never be forgotten. People in professional boxing should take a look at themselves and who they are dealing with. I would not only invite Fury and the people involved in this over to Dublin to see the devastation that has been caused here; I would also invite them to give some of their massive profits to anti-drug schemes around the world.”
After Fury’s shoutout to Kinahan, Tris Dixon wrote, “Boxing finds itself at a crossroads. The sport has a divisive powerbroker calling shots at the very highest level. Boxing has needed someone calling the shots for years, but is this the right guy? Kinahan’s role in the sport is dominating the front and back pages in Ireland. But boxing, the UK, and the rest of the world doesn’t see the story.”
In a similar vein, Wallace Matthews took aim at Kinahan and ESPN (which had a multi-bout contract to televise Fury’s fights in the US).
“Right now,” Matthews wrote, “an unholy alliance of wiseguys, boxers, and Disney princesses is being formed and presented for your viewing pleasure on the Magic Kingdom-owned ESPN, the self-styled Worldwide Leader in Sports. In fact, the only ones who don’t seem to know – wink, wink – about Kinahan’s shady past and his involvement with one of their showcase sports is ESPN.”
Matthews then proceeded to recount, “An email sent to an ESPN flack seeking comment from its president, Jimmy Pitaro, drew the following reply: ‘My pals in programming say we have no relationship with [Daniel Kinahan] and that he’s really not involved with our boxing. I don’t know him at all. Not much for us to discuss.’”
Pressed for more, the ESPN spokesperson responded, “Not sure what you want me to do here. I’m told we don’t deal with the guy. No relationship with him whatsoever. Our agreement is with Top Rank, full stop.”
Some blowback against Kinahan did follow – ironically, from the Middle East. In mid-May of 2020, Kinahan had been named as a “special advisor” to KHK Sports, an organisation set up by Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa (a member of Bahrain’s royal family and president of that nation’s Olympic committee) to bring combat sports to Bahrain. On June 16 (six days after Fury’s Instagram post), it was announced that Kinahan would no longer advise KHK Sports.
But Bob Arum took a different tack. Apparently unaware of the party line that Kinahan was no longer involved with MTK, Top Rank’s CEO held forth on the subject with various news outlets:
- “Kinahan is one of my favorite guys because I like to deal with guys, no-nonsense people, whose word is their bond, and that’s what it’s been with Daniel. I think Dan’s influence is tremendous because people trust him.”
- “Those are allegations, and I don’t know anything about that. And they don’t really speak to how he [Kinahan] has acted when he has been involved in boxing, which is forthright, honest, reliable. This is not unusual where somebody has some questionable background in the past, then goes into boxing. He’s judged for how he acts in the sport, whether as a performer or a businessman. I’m not naive. What did or didn’t happen prior to his involvement in boxing is not of a major concern to me. If anybody asked me, I would say without any question that I find him to be an honorable man. Whatever the other allegations are, whether they’re true or not, I’m not going to get into it because it’s not my business.”
- “Our relationship with MTK has been tremendous and particularly with Dan, who was the original founder of MTK and now is still an advisor to them and is in effect our advisor regarding the Mid East. He’s living in the Mid East and he has very good connections. So we early on ceded to Dan the authority to explore opportunities in the Mid East on behalf of Top Rank. Because of our connection with MTK, we’ve been able to get a whole host of events from MTK and televise them in the United States on ESPN.”
- “We told Frank [Warren] what our preference was, and Frank agreed to go along. His company is the co-promoter of Tyson Fury. We’ve even been talking to Eddie [Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn]. Let’s not go crazy with everybody talking to different people in the Mid East. Let Dan field all those proposals and report back to us. And so that’s what we’ve been doing. That’s what Dan is looking into because everybody trusts Kinahan with handling that situation, whether it’s Eddie or Frank or myself. So Dan is like the captain when it comes to the practicalities of doing a fight in the Mid East.”
But Sky Sports and BT Sport (who would have shared pay-per-view rights to the fights in the United Kingdom had they taken place) issued public statements distancing themselves from Kinahan. And Arum then told Gareth Davies of The Daily Telegraph, “Over the weekend, I’ve had a lot of conversations with Tyson Fury. And what we both decided is that myself, Top Rank and Fury will do all negotiations for fights in the future. This will eliminate a lot of confusion. We’ve talked with Dan – who Tyson and I both love and admire and respect – and he understands that it’s best the negotiations on Tyson’s side be handled that way. He is amenable and satisfied and wished us luck.”
That said; it’s widely believed within the boxing industry that Kinahan still influences matters of substance involving MTK Global fighters. And MTK has continued to grow. Virtually every major promoter in boxing now does business with it.
On February 1, 2021, Panorama (the BBC version of 60 Minutes) ran a lengthy investigative piece on the ties between MTK Global and Kinahan. In response, Robert Smith (General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control) noted that Kinahan had never held a licence of any kind with the BBBofC and added, “We can’t stop people taking advice from whomever they want.”
Kinahan was sufficiently stung by the Panorama telecast that he issued a written statement to TalkSport.com denying the allegations against him and declaring, “I’m Irish. I was born and raised in Dublin in a deprived area with serious levels of poverty, of crime, of under-investment. People like me, from there, aren’t expected to do anything with their lives other than serve the middle and upper classes. Boxing is a working class sport for which I’ve had a lifelong love and passion. I love the sport of boxing but didn’t love how business was done. I got into boxing to make sure that boxers get fairly rewarded and not taken advantage of. The boxers put their lives on the line. It’s my mission to ensure that the boxers are financially secure when they finish boxing and healthy too. I have dedicated myself to my work in boxing for over fifteen years. I have started from the bottom and worked my way up. I’m doing all I can to give fight fans around the world the fights they want. My professional commitment is always to the boxers, those who take the ultimate risk. I firmly believe that my success has led to an increase in the campaign against me. Pretty much anything can be said about me or inferred about me, and it goes unchallenged and is sadly believed.”
The Sunday World (which Tallant writes for) is a tabloid, and she writes with a tabloid flourish. Boxing and MTK Global are only part of her narrative in Clash of the Clans, but they constitute the chapters that will interest fight fans the most. There’s a lot in the book about organised crime in Ireland and the role that Tallant says the Kinahan family has played in it. Readers already familiar with the ins and outs of that subject will find it easier to navigate the book than other readers. The uninitiated might have to make a genealogical and organisational chart to fully understand it all.
I don’t have the background to evaluate the accuracy of Tallant’s writing on matters relating to organised crime. I do know that she’s not a boxing writer or an expert on the sweet science. The core of her writing about the business of boxing rings true. But there are times when she gives in to hyperbole. For example, writing about the appointment of Bob Yalen as president and CEO of MTK Global, she refers to Yalen as a “boxing megastar.” Yalen is many things. A “boxing megastar” is not one of them.
So where does all of this leave boxing?
Tallant makes the point that, when organised crime moves into a legitimate business, it doesn’t necessarily play by the same rules as everybody else. There’s an undercurrent of intimidation when dealing with someone who comes from a world in which – to use her words – “a bullet in the head is just another way of doing business.” And while Kinahan, as noted above, has never been convicted of a crime, Ron Lewis wrote earlier this year, “There seems to be no rush to return to his homeland in order to clear his name.”
At some juncture, the networks that fund boxing in the United States and United Kingdom will have to confront this issue. As a start, they might read Tallant’s book, make appropriate inquiries after reading it, and act based on what they determine to be the truth.
Meanwhile, three days after Tyson Fury’s June 10, 2020, shoutout to Daniel Kinahan, Tris Dixon summed up the ambiguities involved when he wrote, “Kinahan is two different things to two groups of people. If you read the Irish media, he is the devil incarnate, a mafia kingpin responsible for wreaking havoc in Dublin and further afield. A Google search doesn’t do him any favours. Ask those in boxing about him and you would think he’s a cross between the Pied Piper and Robin Hood. Boxers are old fashioned. Many of them might have come from tough backgrounds, dabbled in crime, been associated with it. And to a man, they say Kinahan has treated them wonderfully.”
Thomas Hauser’s most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honoured Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honour – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.