Don King has certainly lived some amazing life, and he’s not finished yet. The Only in America man has slowed down significantly, but what do you expect – he is 89 years old (today). King still gets involved with the odd fight (and odd is perhaps the best way of describing the latest King brainwave: that of promoting a heavyweight “world” title fight between Trevor Bryan and the even less prominent Christopher Lovejoy; the planned September fight about as far away from King’s glory days as the biggest boxing promoter in the world as can be imagined).
But King was massive during his prime years, he was all-devouring, he was everywhere. He 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 great fighters (barring the ones he couldn’t pry away from his fierce rival, Bob Arum). From heavyweight all the way on down the weights: Ali, Holmes, 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. To this day, Gerry Cooney at least partially blames his not signing with King, and thus being unable to get any fights because King “owned all the top heavyweights,” for his failure to become world champion.
Indeed 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, fighters being ripped off, numerous legal investigations of King, lawsuits and prosecutions, etc, etc – King has done plenty good for the sport. King put on a SHOW. 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. No doubt about it, King gave fight fans tremendous value for money.
In short, nobody today does it like King. Perhaps nobody ever did it quite like King. Plenty of people who profess to dislike King, hate him even, secretly both like and admire the man. For years, decades even, many people, if they hear the name Don King, instantly break into a smile or a laugh; they just make sure no-one is looking. And we will miss King when he’s gone.
Former rival Arum began before King (Arum also getting his start due to the great Ali) 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 style, his sheer energy, and his flair.
As even his harshest critics have said, Don King simply makes you feel good.