DON KING

“Only in America!”

— -Don King

Don King and his sordid past have been well-documented.

Old news really, but somehow, still intriguing.

Though he’s now two months shy of ninety and has been out of the limelight for the last ten years, the shine on his star remains glowing, if not blindingly bright.

The man is worth $150 million for heaven’s sake, at least some of which is rightfully his.

He listened to the first Ali-Frazier fight on the radio in prison.

Three years later, he promoted the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire.

How in God’s name did he do it?

And how in the world did he get away with it?

Any of it, and all of it?

By being Don King, that’s how.

Don King is synonymous with boxing.

He is undoubtedly, the most recognizable boxing promoter of all time, which, in turn, makes him the best boxing promoter ever.

The jabber.

The prattle.

The banal babble.

The bling.

The everpresent luminescent smile.

THE HAIR.

THE HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHTS — Extravaganzas all.

In the ’70s, along with the “Rumble in the Jungle,” featuring Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, there was the “Thrilla in Manila”, the third and final bout in the famed trilogy, between Ali and Joe Frazier.

He went on to sign Mike Tyson, perhaps the biggest fighting sensation of the last four decades.

His ’70s fighters, also including Larry Holmes, Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Salvador Sanchez, Wilfredo Gomez and Alexis Arguello, would all fight under the Don King Productions promotional banner.

He got his hooks into Julio Cesar Chavez and Roy Jones, Jr. too.

Lest we forget, Evander Holyfield.

As for his checkered past, where to begin?

He ran an illegal bookmaking operation in the 50s; he was charged with killing two men, thirteen years apart; and, as noted, he called prison “home” for a while.

His career as a promoter, while certainly lucrative, was stained indelibly by controversy; he was accused and sued by many of his fighters, for misappropriating money.

Stealing scads of it.

Scores of lawsuits followed, the vast majority of which were settled out of court.

He was charged with tax evasion countless times, but never convicted.

An original Teflon Don.

Before John Gotti.

But eons prior to Don King ever promoting his first fight, fueling his subsequent rise to fame and fortune, he killed not one, but two men, in separate incidents.

And he wound up spending fewer than four years in the can.

(Three years; 11 months, to be precise).

Then freedom rang.

And with a 1983 pardon from Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes, bolstered by supporting letters from the likes of Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Cleveland Mayor George Voinivich, Art Modell and Gabe Paul, no less.

WHAAAT???

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1931, King did some amateur boxing of his own.

He showed up at high school and went to college for a year, before dropping out.

That alluring seductress — the illegal gambling industry in his hometown — caught his eye and turned his head.

King controlled one of the biggest numbers rackets in Cleveland, and in 1954, he shot and killed a man named Hillary Brown, who was trying to rob one of his gambling houses.

When the case went to court, Don King claimed he had killed Brown in self-defense.

The court agreed.

He walked.

“Justifiable homicide.”

Then on April 20, 1966, King, still in the numbers game, got into a beef with one of his employees, Sam Garrett.

It was near the intersection of Cedar Avenue and East 100th Street in Cleveland.

King claimed that Garrett owed him $900.

Garrett thought he owed his boss $600.

$900.

$600.

The two fought in the street.

Happened.

Happens.

Garrett died in the hospital five days later.

King went away in ’67 to the Marion Correctional Institution.

The conviction of second-degree murder — after just four hours of deliberation — carried with it, a possible life sentence.

The charge was later reduced to voluntary manslaughter.

Three years; 11 months.

And somehow, King was pardoned in 1983.

Unfathomable.

He skated.

WOW!!!

Only in America?

“This is America, baby!”

— -Don King

In November 1986, Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history at 20, defeating Trevor Berbick for the WBC crown.

Four months later in March 1987, he added the WBA title in a victory over one James “Bonecrusher” Smith, and five months after that, he beat Tony Tucker to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

You think Don King wasn’t salivating at the prospect of lassoing Tyson?

Blood in the water.

A shark in human’s clothing.

Anything Tyson touched at the time, turned to gold, and King knew it.

In 1988 Don King wooed Mike Tyson away from his splintering management team and for the next decade, the two printed money together.

Tyson earned it and overspent it.

And King stole it.

From Tyson.

“Iron Mike” wasn’t happy.

An expectable major falling out between the two incendiary and combustible parts, preceded a $100 million lawsuit filed by Tyson against King.

Among other things, Tyson claimed in the suit that King had defrauded him in two mega-contracts with Showtime, upon his release from prison in 1995.

Further, he alleged that King charged him for millions of dollars in expenses, which included renovations to King’s home and office, along with high-paying salaries to a number of King’s family members.

The case was eventually settled, with Tyson receiving $14 million.

In 2003, during an attempted reconciliation, things went off the rails — as they were wont to do.

In his autobiography, “Undisputed Truth,” Tyson says the two had planned to get together to discuss a new $20 million deal for King to once again become his promoter.

King agreed to fly Tyson to Florida on his private jet, which Tyson was convinced he (Tyson) had paid for.

As in, King, yet again, reaping the fruits of Tyson’s labor(s) over the years.

So Tyson started to chip away at the half-brick of cocaine he brought on board.

When King and his driver picked up Tyson in one of King’s collection of Rolls Royce motor vehicles, Tyson snapped.

And nearly snapped King’s wildy-froed head off.

“The drugs were playing with my head and I was freaking out and getting jealous.

Don picked us up at the private airport in his Rolls and he had Isadore Bolton, who used to be my chauffeur before he stole him from me, driving down some of Don’s associates in the lead car.

We were driving down to Miami from Fort Lauderdale on the I-95.

Don said some innocuous thing, and all that jealousy and rage spilled out of me and I kicked him in his f — -ing head.

Boom!

You don’t turn your back on a jealous cokehead.”

— -Mike Tyson on assaulting Don King

At almost 90, King has pretty much withdrawn from the world of boxing.

The 2010 death of his wife of 50 years, Henrietta, devastated him and he has become something of a recluse since then.

For him.

His trademark hair has wilted.

But his bank account remains healthy.

Most contend that the dough is not all his.

Though he hasn’t promoted a heavyweight bout in years, he told the New York Times, he’d do it again, were it not for the fact that he questions the desire of the fighters.

“These guys are not dedicated and committed to the sport like the older guys were.

They all want to read the headlines, and when you go out and extol them virtuously and say things about them, they believe the things to the extent they don’t have to do nothing.

They believe it’s going to be like osmosis; it’s going to fall from the sky.”

Waxing ‘eloquent,’ that Don King.

The sport and the fighters may have changed, but he hasn’t.

“Only in America!

This is America, baby!!!”

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store