Wednesday, 20 August 2014 04:00

Don King | Wild-Haired, 'P.T. Barnum' of Boxing Turns 83

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Fight promoter Don King turned 83 today.

He is arguably the most controversial figure in boxing history and perhaps all of professional sports.

His contributions to the sport are undisputedly legendary. However, many will assert he's a nefarious, seemingly unscrupulous character who has used his charm and guile to ride a wave of success off the backs of others.

Regardless of what some will say, there will never be another Don King - for better or worse.

Best known for his wild hair, everlasting wit and the titanic bouts he's arranged, the eccentric Don King first rose to prominence with his promotion of the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" - a high-profile bout between then Heavyweight Champion of the World George Foreman and superstar challenger Muhammad Ali.

Arrogant yet hard-working and extremely cunning, the brash, world-renowned, quick-witted King has promoted some of the most prominent names in boxing, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, EvanderHolyfield, Roy Jones Jr., Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, Ricardo Lopez, Salvador Sanchez, Wilfredo Gomez and Nikolai Valuev.


don king sports illustrated

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1931, King ran an illegal bookmaking operation, and was charged for killing two men in separate incidents.

In what was determined as justifiable homicide, King shot a man in the back while he was attempting to rob one of King's gambling houses.

Thirteen years later, Don King was convicted of second degree murder after he was found guilty of stomping to death an employee who allegedly owed him money in 1966. The ruling was eventually changed to non-negligent manslaughter and King served just under four years in prison.

Some would call King the 'John Gotti' of pro boxing and, ironically, King was once investigated by the U.S. Senate for possible connections with organized crime, including his alleged relationship with Gotti himself.

In "Tyson," a 2008 documentary film about the life of former undisputed heavyweight world champion boxer Mike Tyson, the former fighter said of King, "(He is) a wretched, slimy, reptilian m**herf**ker. This is supposed to be my 'black brother' right? He is a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He's ruthless, he's deplorable, he's greedy, and he doesn't know how to love anybody."

In addition to Tyson, other fighters felt betrayed and defrauded by the promotional giant who was sued by a literal "Who's Who" of boxing including Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Terry Norris, Tim Witherspoon, Chris Byrd and Lennox Lewis.


Arguably the most successful high-profile promoter ever, and in any field, some would call the flamboyant Don King a cross between J.R. Ewing and P.T. Barnum.

But the fast-talking 'J.R. Ewing' of boxing is not without a soft, benevolent side. It's a side of Don King many don't see.

Despite his apparent love for opulence and power, Don King has been a charitable human being over the years, donating large sums of money to school systems, orchestrating and funding food giveaways to the poor and making donations to a 2003 fund for injured construction workers.

Perhaps Don King will forever remain the great dichotomy in boxing. He was, and perhaps still is, a cut-throat businessman who often colors outside the lines yet is still capable of generosity at high levels.

And while his level of integrity has come into question for every bit of the last 35 years, his contributions to the sport are monumental.  Like the legendary P.T. Barnum before him, Don King was, and still is, the consummate businessman/showman/swindler.

The first promoter inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., in 1997, Don King has a list of promotional achievements that will not likely be surpassed.

Happy Birthday to the shrewd, seemingly-villainous-but-sometimes-charitable boxing icon.

Just a Few of the Legendary Don King's (Legal) Achievements...

  • Coined the phrase, "Only in America"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • The character of flashy boxing promoter George Washington Duke, played by Richard Gant in the film Rocky V, is a parody of Don King.

Funny Chris Rock Interview with Don King - 1999

Warning: Explicit Language

Lee Cleveland

Lee is Managing Editor of, a student of the Sweet Science and longtime boxing fan.