PHOENIX—It will be suntan lotion in the afternoon and stars at night with the retractable roof open at Chase Field on Saturday when Don King presents the first world heavyweight championship ever held in Arizona. Sergei “White Wolf” Liakhovich (23-1, 14 KOs), originally from Belarus and now a seven-year resident of Scottsdale, will defend his World Boxing Organization crown for the first time against Brooklyn, N.Y., native Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs (47-4-1, 41 KOs), the No. 3-ranked WBO contender..
King wanted the fans to be as close to the action as possible, so he only put 20,012 of the 49,800 available seats on sale—the ones closest to the infield, up and around home plate—with the ring placed over the pitcher’s mound. Ringside seats will be placed on the grass around the ring. Should there be any threat of rain showers, the roof can easily be closed.
“It was important to me that the people of Phoenix have the best seats possible to witness the first world heavyweight championship decided on Arizona soil,” King said with his usual exuberance. “I have also put together a wonderful card with three world championships and many other great fights so it will be action-packed from the afternoon on into the evening.”
King’s Vice President of Boxing Operations and Public Relations Bob Goodman said it brought back a lot of memories for him when he visited Chase Field on Thursday.
“We were out at the pitcher’s mound where the ring will be set up on Saturday and I got goose bumps,” Goodman said. “I was there for the last world heavyweight championship staged at a Major League Baseball park back in 1976 when Muhammad Ali met Ken Norton for the third and final time at New York’s Yankee Stadium. The only difference is the site lines and weather will be better here in Phoenix.”
Goodman also made sure the ring was set up properly for King when he staged another history-making outdoor event, 1974’s epic Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa, Zaire, where Ali stunned “Big George” Foreman and the world by scoring an eighth-round knockout.
The doors to King’s history-making event will open at Chase Field at 2:30 p.m., and the first of nine scheduled matches will begin minutes later to make sure all seven supporting attractions are completed prior to 7 p.m. local time when the co-featured main events, also televised on SHOWTIME Championship Boxing (9 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast), will begin with undefeated World Boxing Association lightweight champion Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz (30-0, 15 KOs), from Houston, taking on Fernando “La Fiera” Angulo (18-3, 11 KOs), from Caracas, Venezuela, immediately followed by Liakhovich vs. Briggs.
King’s career has been a seemingly endless string of records and firsts. At age 75, many marvel that the tireless promoter known around the globe for his stand-at-attention hairdo and “Only in America” catchphrase is still making history.
His first boxing event, a 1972 Muhammad Ali exhibition to benefit a financially troubled hospital in his hometown of Cleveland, became the second-highest gross ever for a boxing exhibition.
The Rumble in the Jungle was the first television boxing event viewed by one billion people, and the $5 million each given to Ali and Foreman was the top boxing purse in history when King paid it in 1974.
The following year, he staged another match viewed by a billion people, the classic third and final battle between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier known as the Thrilla in Manila viewed by over one billion people worldwide in 1975.
King promoted 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.
The largest crowd to have ever witnessed a boxing event live, 132,274, was promoted by King when Julio Cesar Chavez faced Greg Haugen in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in 1993.
He was the only boxing promoter named to Sports Illustrated’s 40 Most Influential Sports Figures of the Last 40 Years in 1994, the same year he promoted an incredible 47 world championship fights—shattering his previous record of 25 title bouts in 1986.
King is the 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 in 1995.
King has promoted over 500 world championship fights with nearly 100 individual boxers having been paid $1 million or more.
He holds the distinction of having promoted seven of the 10 largest pay-per-view events in history, as gauged by total buys, including the top four: 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.
King has promoted or co-promoted 16 of the top 25 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 date: Nov. 13, 1999 (NOTE: Also highest live-gate gross for any event in the history of the world.); 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; De La Hoya vs. Trinidad, paid attendance: 11,184, gross: $12,949,500 (Also garnered the most pay-per-view buys for a non-heavyweight fight at 1.4 million.).