Profile: Don King

13.12.2005 - Don King coined the phrase, "Only in America." He lives it. He breathes it. He believes it. It's part of his soul. "Only in America can a Don King happen," explains Don. "America is the greatest country in the world—I love America. What I've accomplished could not have been done anywhere else." Indeed, the odds have always been long for King. A product of the hard-core Cleveland ghetto, he beat the system to become the world's greatest promoter..

His shocking hairstyle, infectious smile, booming laugh and inimitable vocabulary have made Don King universally recognizable. He has been featured on the covers of Time, Sports Illustrated, Ebony, Jet, and countless other magazines. He has appeared in movies, television shows and on numerous television and radio talk shows. There was even an award-winning unauthorized movie loosely based on his life and numerous other attempts by Hollywood to depict his larger-than-life personality.

Don's promotions have entertained billions around the globe. His life has been devoted to staging the best in world-championship boxing as well as always giving something back to the people. Don King-promoted events have given the sports and entertainment world some of its most thrilling and memorable moments.

Inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997, King was the only boxing promoter named to Sports Illustrated's list of the "40 Most Influential Sports Figures of the Past 40 Years." The New York Times published a list that included Don King among 100 African Americans who have helped shape this country's history during the last century. When asked recently in a private meeting with Mandalay Bay hotel executives in Las Vegas about what he would like on his epitaph, King quickly responded, "He worked for the day when all people would be clothed in dignity."

This statement belies the belief that King is merely a boxing promoter. At heart, he is, foremost, a civil rights activist.

"Nothing makes me happier than to promote a fight card with boxers from 10 different countries: the fighters, the corner men, the media, the business people-all of them," King said. "The thrill comes when these people, who would never normally come into contact with one another, work together on an event. They learn that no matter what color, race, religion or whatever you are, underneath the skin we are all the same on the inside." King added, poignantly, "I must take the splinter out of my eye before I can ask you take the two-by-four out of yours."

King's career as a promoter spans three decades and includes more than 500 world-championship fights, but it began as a humble plea to help save a Cleveland hospital in 1972. Facing a severe shortage of funds, Forest City Hospital was prepared to shut down. King knew the hospital served a vital function to a poor, working-class community. He sought out heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and asked him to come and support a fundraising benefit to help turn around the hospital. The two men hit it off, and a new era began in boxing.

King inked a fight between Ali and George Foreman in 1974 that promised both fighters more than $5 million each, which was unheard of at the time. When his financial backers lost faith and pulled out and everyone else turned their backs on Don, he held the fight together on his own and took it to Zaire. He proved the doubters and critics wrong by staging one of the greatest fights in history with The Rumble in the Jungle.

King has gone on to set new high-water marks in the boxing promotion business. Nearly 100 individual boxers have earned $1 million, or more, under Don King Productions-promoted events. The first Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield fight shattered all previous viewing records for a boxing event, seen in more than 100 countries by more than two billion people.

Holyfield-Tyson II created even more attention, attracting 1.95 million domestic households in addition to a massive global audience. The live gate sold out in days as a crowd of 16,331 paid a record $14.2 million to see the fight in person. The fight became the most watched one-day event in sports history.

Don made a commitment to provide quality fight cards, and in 1993 he staged a fight in Mexico headlined by Julio Cesar Chavez that featured four world championship bouts on one night. The public responded as 136,274 fans flocked to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico, and established a paid live-gate record of more than 132,000 that is still listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Not just once, but twice, he has promoted fight cards with six world-title fights. In 1994 he staged a record 47 world-championship bouts. In 1981 King was the first promoter in history to guarantee $1 million paydays to non-heavyweights when featherweights Salvador Sanchez and Wilfredo Gomez clashed. That same year he became the first promoter to guarantee one fighter (Sugar Ray Leonard) a $10 million purse in the first Leonard vs. Roberto Duran fight.

But for every successful boxing event Don promotes, he makes it a personal rule to give back far more than he ever receives. King's tireless and continuous philanthropic efforts are rarely chronicled, but, as he says, "If you do something just to get noticed, then it is not a truly charitable gesture."

He established the Don King Foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to worthy causes and organizations. As a self-reminder of the economic hardship he endured growing up, King has gone into neighborhoods every holiday season and personally handed out turkeys to needy families. Don's "Turkey Tour" has given away hundreds of thousands of turkey dinners over the years in cities across the country during the holiday season.

King is a longtime supporter of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, National Hispanic Scholarship Fund, National Coalition of Title 1/Chapter 1 Parents, Wheelchair Charities, Our Children's Foundation among other organizations, charities, colleges and hospitals that has made him one of the world's leading philanthropists.

When the Deerfield Beach Fire Department in Florida badly needed a new fire engine, Don stepped forward with the necessary funds.

Don has been bestowed with many honors, including the Black Achievement Award and being named Man of the Year by the Black United Fund and Brotherhood Crusade. Among his proudest moments was when he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's women's membership in 1987. Cities including Newark, N.J., have declared "Don King Day" and presented him with official proclamations for "behind-the-scenes" contributions he's made towards community projects.

The NAACP recognized Don with its highest honor, the President's Award, and he received Lifetime Achievement accolades from Grambling State University. Shaw University, the oldest black college in the South, bestowed Don with an honorary doctorate degree and named him to its prestigious Board of Trustees. He also recently received the prestigious “Legacy Award” for Outstanding Community Service from Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. All three major boxing organizations, the IBF, WBA and WBC, have proclaimed Don King the "Greatest Promoter in History."

He got together with Felix Trinidad, Sr. and Felix “Tito” Trinidad to donate a much needed Fire Truck to Ladder Company 30 in New York’s Harlem.

Together with many celebrity friends such as Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover, Don helped raise enough money to pay off the $5,000,000.00 mortgage at Ms. Dorothy Height’s building in Washington, D.C.

Last December 13th he promoted a sold-out event in Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. featuring a record-breaking eight (8) world championship fights. He broke his own record of six (6) world championship bouts on one card.

Don is always supportive of our Armed Forces both here and around the globe. He has visited various military bases and has pledged to help them with their projects. He most recently visited Fort Campbell in Kentucky, the home of the “Screaming Eagles” – 101st Airborne. Don was made an Honorary “Screaming Eagle” by Lt. General David Petraeus for all his contributions and support.

A true patriot, he spent much of last year helping to re-elect President George W. Bush. “I believe in him,” King says. “He says what he means and means what he says. I like the way he stands up. He also put two blacks in very important posts in his cabinet, and that speaks volumes for the man.”

At age 73, King has no plans to slow down. He gives full credit for his rise from the Cleveland projects to his mother, Hattie, who taught him the difference between right and wrong. Don and his lovely wife Henrietta spend time at their homes in Ohio and South Florida. Their family includes sons, Carl and Eric; a daughter, Debbie; and five grandchildren.

Don King Fact Sheet

World-renowned promoter of boxing luminaries including Muhammad Ali, “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, “Big” George Foreman, Larry ‘The Easton Assassin” Holmes, “Iron” Mike Tyson, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, Felix “Tito” Trinidad, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, Ricardo “Finito” Lopez, Salvador Sanchez and Wilfredo Gomez—to name a few.

Promoter of over 500 world championship fights—so far. Nearly 100 boxers have earned $1 million or more in Don King Productions-promoted fights—so far.

Don King Productions holds the distinction of having promoted seven of the 10 largest pay-per-view events in history, as gauged by total buys, including: Holyfield vs. Tyson II, 1.95 million buys, June 1997; Tyson vs. Holyfield I, 1.6 million buys, November 1996; Tyson vs. McNeeley, 1.58 million buys, August 1995; and Bruno vs. Tyson, 1.4 million buys, March 1996.

Don King Productions holds the distinction of having promoted or co-promoted 12 of the top-20 highest-grossing live gates in the history of the state of Nevada including the top five: Holyfield vs. Lewis II, paid attendance: 17,078, gross: $16,860,300 (NOTE: Also highest live-gate gross for any event in the history of the world.), date: Nov. 13, 1999; Holyfield vs. Tyson II, paid attendance: 16,279, gross: $14,277,200, date: June 28, 1997; Holyfield vs. Tyson I, paid attendance: 16,103, gross: $14,150,700, date: Nov. 9, 1996; Tyson vs. McNeeley, paid attendance: 16,113, gross: $13,965,600, date: Aug. 19, 1995; and De La Hoya vs. Trinidad, paid attendance: 11,184, gross: $12,949,500, date: Sept. 18, 1999.

His first boxing promotion is staged on Aug. 28, 1972, a charity event featuring Muhammad Ali for Forest City Hospital, in his hometown of Cleveland and becomes the second-largest gross in history for a boxing exhibition ($80,000) featuring Muhammad Ali to benefit Forest City Hospital.

First to guarantee the then-unprecedented amount of $10 million, split between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to participate in the classic Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire, Africa, on Oct. 30, 1974. This prizefight also holds the distinction of being the first television-boxing event to be viewed by one billion people worldwide.

First to receive $1 million to deliver a prime-time network television match for Muhammad Ali vs. Ron Lyle on May 16, 1975.

Promoted the classic third and final epic battle between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier known as the Thrilla in Manila viewed by over one billion people worldwide on Oct. 1, 1975.

First promoter to sell a fight for $2 million to a network featuring heavyweight contenders when Ken Norton faced Jimmy Young on ABC at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 5, 1977.

First promoter to give Home Box Office a heavyweight world-title fight for I Love New York featuring Larry Holmes vs. Mike Weaver at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 22, 1979. He declined an $800,000 bid from ABC in favor of HBO for $125,000.

Promoter of The Last Hurrah featuring Larry Holmes vs. Muhammad Ali, which produced the then-largest live gate in history, $6 million, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., on Oct. 2, 1980.

First promoter to guarantee a boxer $10 million when he paid that amount to Sugar Ray Leonard to face Roberto Duran at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada, on June 20, 1980.

First promoter to guarantee $1 million fight purses to featherweights when Salvador Sanchez met Wilfredo Gomez at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., on Aug. 21, 1981. It takes 13 years for another boxing promoter to match this feat.

Promoter of The Pride and the Glory featuring Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney, which produced the then-largest live gate in history, $8 million, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., on June 11, 1982. This event also holds the distinction for the then-highest amount paid for a tape-delayed re-broadcast of a boxing match, $3 million, by ABC.

Promoted an unprecedented 13 world champions, exclusively, and was the first promoter to stage 23 world championship fights in the same year—1982.

First promoter to sell Home Box Office a fight for $2 million for Michael Dokes vs. Mike Weaver at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., on Dec. 10, 1982.

First promoter to establish his own television network, the Don King Sports and Entertainment Network, in 1982.

First and only promoter to place two world-heavyweight title bouts on the same card during The Crown Affair, which pitted Larry Holmes against Tim Witherspoon for the World Boxing Council title as well as the second clash between Michael Dokes and Mike Weaver for the World Boxing Association championship in Las Vegas, Nev., on May 20, 1983. First promoter to sell a package to these three television entities: closed circuit, pay television and network television.

Promoter of the Jackson Five’s Jacksons Victory Tour in 1984. This worldwide mega-event grossed $150 million. Don King then brokered an enormous product-endorsement deal on behalf of Michael Jackson to appear in a series of television commercials for Pepsi-Cola.

Sold Home Box Office a $26 million heavyweight elimination series in 1986, which resulted in Mike Tyson being crowned the fist undisputed heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali.

First promoter to stage 25 world-title bouts in one year, 1986, breaking his record of 23 set in 1982. Named Promoter of the Year by the World Boxing Association for 1986.

Named Promoter of the Year by the World Boxing Association for 1987.

Promoter of Once and for All featuring Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks, which became the then-highest-grossing event in history exceeding $13 million at the Trump Plaza Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J., on June 27, 1988. The fight also held the distinction for the then-largest single payday in history with Mike Tyson receiving an estimated $22 million and Leon Spinks $13.5 million.

Promoter of Ultimate Glory between legendary Mexican champion Julio Cesar Chavez and Hector “Macho” Camacho, which became the then-highest-grossing non-heavyweight fight in history and fastest sellout in the history of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev., on Sept. 12, 1992.

Promoter of the Grand Slam of Boxing featuring four world-championship bouts headlined by Julio Cesar Chavez facing Greg Haugen, which holds the record for largest in-person paid attendance in boxing history with 132,274 people packed into Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico, on Feb 20, 1993. (This broke the previous record held by Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney for their fight in Philadelphia, Pa., on Sept. 23, 1926.)

Promoter of The Fight between Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez attended by 59,995 (the second-highest attendance ever for an indoor bout) at The Alamodome in San Antonio, Tex., on Sept. 10, 1993, which becomes the then-highest-grossing non-heavyweight match in history—breaking his own record for the third time in less than a year. Pay-per-view audience tops 1 million buys.

Co-promoted Judgment Day between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank for Benn’s WBC super middleweight title, which set the record for highest attendance for a British boxing match, 47,000, on the grounds of the Manchester United Club at Old Trafford Stadium on Oct. 9, 1993.

Promoter of Explosive Fury: Battle in Puebla featuring Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Andy Holligan, which draws 45,000 people in Puebla, Mexico, on Dec. 18, 1993.

Promoted, for the second time in his career, more than 20 world-title fights in one calendar year: 22 in 1993. Named Promoter of the Century by the World Boxing Association for 1993.

First and only promoter to put five world championships on one card—and he did it not once but four times in just over one year: Global Warfare II in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on May 7, 1994; Revenge… The Rematches in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on May 7, 1994; The Real Thing in the Bull Ring at the Plaza de Toros in Mexico City on Nov. 12, 1994; and Burden of Proof at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., on April 8, 1995.

First and only promoter to ever hold six world-title fights on the same card—and he did it twice in one year: Judgment Day in Monterrey on Dec. 10, 1994, in Mexico and Unfinished Business on Sept. 17, 1994, in Las Vegas, Nev.

Promoted an incredible 47 world-championship fights in 1994—shattering his previous record of 25 title bouts in 1986. Named Greatest Promoter of All Time by the World Boxing Council in 1994. Named Promoter of the Year by the World Boxing Association for 1994.

Only boxing promoter named to Sports Illustrated’s 40 Most Influential Sports Figures of the Last 40 Years in 1994.

Promoter of He’s Back featuring Mike Tyson vs. Peter McNeeley, which became the then-highest-grossing event in history, $13,965,500, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on Aug. 19, 1995. Also marked the first time a boxer (Mike Tyson) received $25 million for a 10-round fight.

Named Promoter of the Year by the World Boxing Association for 1995.

First promoter to pay $30 million to a boxer when Mike Tyson received that amount to face World Boxing Council champion Frank Bruno in The Championship Part 1 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 16, 1996.

Promoter of Finally featuring Mike Tyson vs. Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, which became the then-highest-grossing event, $14,150,700, in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 9, 1996. It also became the then-most-watched pay-per-view event in history with 1.6 million buys. The match was seen around the world in more than 100 countries—shattering all previous boxing-event viewership records.

Named Promoter of the Year by the World Boxing Association for 1996.

Named Promoter of the Decade by the International Boxing Federation in 1996.

Paid Mike Tyson more than any other athlete in history—$120 million—during the 15 months between Aug. 19, 1995, and Nov. 9, 1996, to face the following opponents: Peter McNeeley, $25 million, Las Vegas, Nev., Aug. 19, 1995; Buster Mathis Jr., $10 million, Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 16, 1995; Frank Bruno, $30 million, Las Vegas, Nev., March 16, 1996; Bruce Seldon, $25 million, Las Vegas, Nev., Sept. 7, 1996; and Evander Holyfield, $30 million, Las Vegas, Nev., Nov. 9, 1996.

Promoter of The Sound and the Fury featuring the second pairing of Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield and Mike Tyson, which grossed more than its predecessor to become the then-highest-grossing event in history, $14,277,200, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on June 28, 1997. This event also eclipsed its predecessor to become the most-watched pay-per-view event in history with 1.95 million buys.

First promoter inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., in 1997. Named Promoter of the Year by the World Boxing Association for 1997.

Named Promoter of the Year by the World Boxing Association for 1998.

Promoter of Kings’ Crowning Glory… The Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship between Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, which holds the record highest-grossing event ever in Madison Square Garden history and New York state history at $11,425,494 on March 13, 1999. It also holds the record for the fastest sellout for a boxing event in MSG history.

Co-promoted the Fight of the Millennium between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix “Tito” Trinidad Jr., which holds the record for highest-grossing non-heavyweight fight, $12,949,500, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., on Sept. 18, 1999. This match also holds the record for most-watched non-heavyweight pay-per-view event in history at 1.4 million buys.

Promoted Unfinished Business… Search for the Truth re-match between Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, which holds the record for largest gross in history at, $16,860,300—the event sold out in 90 minutes—at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 13, 1999.

Named Promoter of the Millennium by the World Boxing Association in 1999.

Named Promoter of the Year for the year 1999 by

First promoter to host a boxing card at the AmericanAirlines Arena with Glory & Adventure: A Tale of Two Cities featuring Felix “Tito” Trinidad vs. Mammadou Thiam on July 22, 2000. The 12,506 paid spectators contributed to a gross of over $1.2 million.

Promoted Forces of Destruction featuring Felix “Tito” Trinidad vs. “Ferocious” Fernando Vargas at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Dec. 2, 2000. An epic battle that included six knockdowns, Trinidad emerged victorious with a knockout in the final round, which garnered him Fighter of the Year and Fight of the Year honors. Holds record for eighth-largest live-gate gross in the history of the state of Nevada.

Promoted The Middleweight World Championship Series to determine the first undisputed 160-pound champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler held that distinction from 1980 through 1987. Longtime International Boxing Federation middleweight champion Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins outpointed World Boxing Council middleweight champion Keith Holmes in The Theater at Madison Square Garden on April 14, 2001, to advance to the championship round. WBA and IBF 154-pound champion Felix “Tito” Trinidad left his 154-pound titles behind to enter the 160-pound fray and defeated two-time World Boxing Association middleweight champion William Joppy by technical knockout in front of 18,235 fans that comprised the fourth-largest live-gate gross in Madison Square Garden boxing history on May 12, 2001. In the MWCS finale, Hopkins dominated the previously undefeated Trinidad and won the tournament with a dramatic final-round TKO in front of 19,075 fans that comprised the second-largest live-gate gross in Madison Square Garden boxing history on Sept. 29, 2001.

Promoted Cory Spinks vs. Zab Judah II: Arch Rivals… Meet Me in St. Louis, which boasted the third-largest attendance for a boxing match at an indoor arena in history when 22,370 patrons sold out the Savvis Center in advance to witness Zab Judah knock out Cory Spinks in the ninth round to become the undisputed world welterweight champion on Feb. 5, 2005.

Article posted on 13.12.2005

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