The legendary boxing promoter reflects on racism and hardships over his life of almost 80 years.
Don’t let his gray hair fool you, Don King still has a mean walk, big talk and, at almost 80 years old, he’s back in New York City. In just 10 days, the man who promoted over 600 world championship fights will be making history again.
On one night, June 25, former WBC-IBF world champion Devon Alexander will face No. 3-ranked Lucas Matthysse, and in the same night four world championship fights will be on the identical card. Combining this many high-stature matches in one evening has never been done before.
King is shutting down all his critics who think his legacy is stuck in the '70s and '80s through his new fights and the unveiling of his application for the iPhone, iPad and iTouch. That’s right, Don King is letting the world know who’s still the promotion king in the 21st century. The app features information about his production company’s upcoming events, photos with his prizefighters and even ringtones.
“It’s something that’s new, innovative and imaginative and we’re doing it for free. I’m a promoter of the people, for the people and by the people,” King tells BET.com.
But before personal applications and iPhones existed, there were challenges and hardships for King. As he approaches his 80th birthday, he’s thankful to still be here.
“My house was blown up, I was shot and it’s only by divine providence that I sit with you today,” he says, attired in his trademark custom-made U.S.A.-sequined denim jacket.
As a native of Cleveland, Ohio, King never thought that his legacy would be this big. Though he gave a punch, literally, inside of the ring, he found that his calling was outside of the four corners. Why? “Because he wooped me,” King jokingly says.
A traditional career wasn’t the right route for King either, however. With dreams of becoming a lawyer, King says he “hustled with the numbers” in order to get his tuition money. Unfortunately that tuition money was completely lost when King lost a large bet and had to use his tuition money to pay his debt.
From there he started making an inconceivable amount of money in the gambling business, but one night didn’t end in smiles when someone didn’t give King his owed money. He was convicted of manslaughter in the death of the man who owed him $600.
“Next thing I know I’m in the penitentiary. I’m in the penitentiary for four years,” he says.
King considers going to prison a difficult time in his life, but a time that allowed him to reflect and create an outlook on life that would help him to think about how to make creative opportunities for himself despite the racism prevalent in the '70s.
“Everybody in jail is trying to find a way to get out. When I came out of jail, I found out that many people outside of jail were mentally incarcerated and they didn’t want parole. Our people outside were accepting the injustice,” he says.
Just a couple years after he was released, King entered the boxing-promotion world and tried to shop a fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
“When I came into boxing they wouldn’t even let Blacks into the arena. I had the two hottest boxers in the world and you couldn’t even get in because of the segregation and discrimination that permeated the whole country side. “
The solution? Take the fight to Africa.
“I called it from the slave ship to the championship. I took them all to the motherland, the land from which we spring. Africa gave us visibility, because we were invisible,” King says.
On October 30, 1974, “Rumble in the Jungle,” the historic boxing event that took place in Kinshasa, Zaire, became one of the most popular boxing matches to date. In the eighth round Ali won by knocking Foreman to the ground.
Calling it a breakthrough for sports, King says that the match has become immortalized and that, as his hero Frederick Douglas would say, “There’s no progress without struggles.”
“Fighting is life, and life is fighting. You can’t call a substitute when you get tired. If your problem is right before you and if you run out of gas, ain’t no gas station in sight. You have to deal with reality as it stands,” he says. “In life it’s the same thing. You get your problems, you get knocked down, but you get back up and you get back to the game. You stay there and fight for your family, your kids, your education, for yourself."
Today King’s net worth exceeds $250 million. He has promoted boxing greats including Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Julio César Chávez, just to name a few.
He’s faced adversity, but still wears and waves his flags high. Sound like a dream? Well, maybe, but as King would say, “Only in America.”
(Photo: David Martin/DKP)