Home > Boxing > Don King: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Don King: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Don King; DK; The Shock Haired One. Whatever you may choose to call him, Don King is the most recognisable face in the sport of boxing. During his 38 years in boxing, King has blazed a trail. He has promoted over 500 world championship fights; paid 100 boxers $1million or more for a single fight; promoted or co-promoted seven of the top ten PPV events by total buys; become the first promoter to sell a fight to a prime-time TV network for $1 million & $2 million and put on the fight with the largest ever live gate. Much is said about King, some of it true, some of it not. Sport Report takes a closer look at the grand old man of boxing promotion.

The Man

Donald King was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 31st 1931 into a working-class family. He lost his father at a young age when he died in a work-related accident, at which point his mother moved the family to a middle-class neighbourhood.

As a teenager, King became involved with gambling rackets, first working for other runners, then establishing himself as the most successful runner in Cleveland. King was accepted to Kent State University, but opted instead to focus on business ventures. This proved to be a good decision as King continued to make money, cruising round in flashy cars and wearing the latest fashions.

Things took a turn for the worse in 1954 when King ran in to his first legal troubles. King caught a man named Hillary Brown trying to rob one of his business properties and shot him. Brown died and King found himself facing a murder case. The shooting was deemed to be a justifiable homicide and King was free to continue his business activities. Thirteen years later however, King found himself in serious trouble with the law. King entered a gambling house and saw Sam Garrett, a former employee who reputedly owed King $600 and so King attacked him. Garrett died from his injuries. Witness accounts vary, with some saying it was a sustained beating intended to kill Garrett, while others said King had acted in self-defence. King once again found himself accused of murder and was found guilty. However, the presiding judge reduced the charge to manslaughter and so King served only four years at Marion Correctional Institute in Ohio. While in prison, King focussed on improving his level of education, reading much material from literary classics to philosophy.

Controversy seems to have followed the world’s most famous boxing promoter almost anywhere he has been and King has seen almost as much action in the courtroom as he has in the ring. In 1984, the IRS filed suit against him claiming tax fraud and although one of his associates was jailed, King was acquitted. In 1992, following evidence gathered during an FBI investigation, he was quizzed about his alleged involvement with known Mafiosi such as John Gotti. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment. A further case was brought in 1998 by insurance company Lloyd’s of London, which claimed that King had defrauded it of $350,000 in relation to a cancelled Julio Cesar Chavez fight in 1991.

Then there is the list of charges brought against King by boxers. In 1980, Muhammad Ali sued king for $1.2 million for underpaying him for a fight versus Larry Holmes, but settled out of court for a meagre $50,000. Tim Witherspoon successfully sued King for $900,000 and Terry Norris settled out of court for $7.5 million in a breach of contract case. In September 2009, Nicaraguan wild man Ricardo Mayorga filed a case alleging that King had failed to arrange fights for him. However, without doubt the most famous case came from Mike Tyson who described King as: “a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker, and “a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He’s ruthless, he’s deplorable and he doesn’t know how to love anybody.” Tyson believing he had been cheated out of large sums of money by his former promoter, sued for £100 million but eventually settled for $14 million.

Many things in the world of Don King may be shades of grey and somewhat murky, but one thing is crystal clear, nothing is boring when the man known as DK is around.

The Myth

Don King’s flamboyant and outspoken personality means that everyone has an opinion of the man. One commonly held opinion of King is that of a clueless clown who has achieved all he has through skulduggery. Sure, he talks too much and his hair looks like he is permanently connected to a van der Graaff generator. He carries around little flags on sticks and pointlessly quotes verses from the Bible, but a clueless clown Don King is not.

The man has been at the top of the boxing game for over 30 years now and that is no accident. He has been both shrewd and ruthless in equal measure, but what really sets King apart from his counterparts is his fearlessness. DK always backs himself to ‘pull it off,’ a prime example being the Rumble in the Jungle, which will be discussed later. This brash confidence, combined with a willingness to tread on other people’s toes and excellent business acumen, have made King the king of boxing promotion.

The Legend

Whatever your opinion of Don King, it cannot be disputed that he is one of the most famous faces in boxing. Throughout his illustrious career, King has promoted some of the greatest fighters ever to grace a ring including: Muhammad Ali; Joe Frazier; Larry Holmes; Roberto Duran; Mike Tyson; Evander Holyfield; Julio Cesar Chavez; Bernard Hopkins; Felix Trinidad; Marco Antonio Barrera and Roy Jones Jr.

His career in boxing began in 1972 when he convinced Muhammad Ali to take part in a boxing exhibition in aid of a local hospital in Cleveland, but the making of King came just two years later when he fended off a whole host of rivals to secure promotional rights to the highly anticipated George Foreman-Muhammad Ali fight. King was still a relative newcomer to the fight game at this point, but was able to achieve this by offering a previously unheard of fight purse of $10 million. Many were baffled as to how King was able to fund this and some even speculated that he secured the fight first and then worried about how he was going to pay for it. King eventually struck a deal with the government in Zaire and the fight was held in Kinshasa, hence the name Rumble in the Jungle. Whatever King’s methods were, he delivered and the fight became the stuff of folklore as the underdog Ali went on to beat the previously undefeated Foreman by 8th round stoppage.

King cemented his position as the pre-eminent promoter of the time a year later when he put on the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier rematch. King took the fight to the Philippines and dubbed it The Thriller in Manila. The fight was one of the greatest the heavyweight division had ever seen and Don King Promotions (DKP) had once again delivered the goods.

With his status as the heavyweight division’s leading promoter all but secure, King began to branch out in to lower weight classes by signing the likes of Roberto Duran; Salvador Sanchez; Wilfred Benitez and Alexis Arguello.

The 1980s saw the heyday of Mike Tyson, as the Brooklyn native smashed his way to the undisputed heavyweight championship. Inevitably, it was King that oversaw this meteoric rise and made a fortune doing so. Tyson was King’s cash cow and this, coupled with King’s hold over fighters such as Terry Norris; Aaron Pryor; Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez, made King the most influential promoter in the sport. As if that were not enough, he went outside of boxing and promoted the Jacksons’ reunion tour in 1984.

The King-Tyson partnership eventually ended in acrimony (as mentioned above) but King powered on in to the 1990s, promoting the likes of Gerald McClellan; Marco Antonio Barrera and his new superstar, Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad.

Don King continued to be a major player in boxing in to the new millennium and although his influence has waned as the likes of Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions have taken over as the major players, he has still had recent world champions such as Nikolai Valuev; Ricardo Mayorga; Cory Spinks and Marco Antonio Barrera.

The intriguing story with King is this: is he, at the grand old age of 79, about to regain his place as boxing promotion’s top dog? Maybe. He was spotted at Cory Spinks’ fight in August sat next to current pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather and rumours have since been rife that the two are keen to work together. First Floyd must do what King has done expertly on several occasions and beat the law, but if he does and King can then deliver what nobody else has been able to, a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, his legend will grow further still. Given King’s track record of ‘getting it done,’ it may not be as ridiculous as it seems.

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