Don King, the self-titled ‘Only in America man,’ is 90 today. In many ways, its incredible King has lived this long. And King’s life has certainly been nothing but incredible. King, said today to be frail physically, is almost invisible compared to the all-conquering profile he once enjoyed. But the crazy-haired one was truly massive during his prime years; he was all-devouring, he was everywhere.
King was, for good or for bad, the face of boxing. King, who overcame tremendous odds to both get his start and then become ‘The King,’ either worked with, signed up, or owned and controlled all the greats – his only rival being the equally fierce Bob Arum. From heavyweight all the way on down the weights: from Ali and Holmes to Duran, Sanchez, Gomez. And then, in the 1980s and the 1990s: Tyson, Chavez, Nelson, McClellan, and so many more. King had them all in his stable. And it could be argued King viewed even his greatest fighters as horses; with never a genuine emotion slung in their direction.
King was all-powerful. King was able to make even the smartest fighters do his bidding; with even the majestic Ali falling under his spell. After giving King his start by agreeing to fight for a hospital benefit, Ali was instrumental in helping make King a genuine star and power broker with “The Rumble in The Jungle” in Zaire. After pulling off that unprecedented monster, King was simply unstoppable. All the top fighters were his prey and, sure enough, more often than not King got his man. No boxing promoter has been sued more times by aggrieved fighters than Don King.
But the bad stuff aside – and there is plenty of it: two deaths at King’s hand, one ruled justifiable homicide, the other ruled as nonnegligent manslaughter – King has done plenty good for the sport.
When he was on top of his game, King put on a genuine fight card, a show everyone could afford. His fights/events were either genuine, unmissable global attractions staged in exotic locations, or later, they were layered cards, with the supporting bouts being almost as attractive as the main event.
In short, nobody today does it like King once did it. Perhaps nobody ever did it quite like King, and never will again (there’s a thought). And King was never fearful of playing the jovial fool; something he never was at all. In fact, for years, decades even, many people, if they heard the name Don King, would instantly break into a smile or a laugh; they just make sure no one was looking at the time. Make no mistake – we will miss King when he’s gone.
Former rival Arum began before King, and the Harvard lawyer has outlasted the former numbers runner from Cleveland. But who will go down as the greater boxing promoter? That’s a tough one. As tough as it is not to show your teeth whenever you hear or see King. He truly is a man millions love to hate, and more. King is an iconic figure who has (or had) so many critics/secret admirers wishing they had his brains, his moxy, his style, his sheer energy, and his flair.
As even his harshest critics have said, Don King simply makes you feel good. Will you wish Don King a happy birthday today?