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L E’s Stories – “He Talks Black, Lives White and Thinks Green….Cuz Even Crooks Can Be Patriotic” – The Story Of Boxing Promoter Extraordinaire Don King

When you have a boxing video library that includes 75% (482) of the televised live boxing title fights from 1975 to 1990…..then you have an abundance of fights that boxing promoter Don King promoted…..so, he deserves his place in boxing history…..albeit he was a pretty shady character….while being a large bit of  a crook….but when you consider that the history of boxing is full of shady characters….it is little wonder that many of the promoters were “birds of a feather”….and certainly the two most prominent boxing promoters during the span of our ImaSportsphile boxing library were…..for the fact remains that Don King and his chief rival promoter, Bob Arum, each had more law suits than they had business suits throughout their careers…..but that all seemed to go with the territory in the universe of boxing.  However, on the flip-side of the Don King coin lies one of the best showmen to ever produce and promote an event….I mean, the bling….the smile…..the hair…..cuz, yes, Don King is undoubtedly the most recognizable boxing promoter of all time….which in turn makes him the best as well.  Don’t believe me?….just look at his resume…..as the man orchestrated “The Rumble in the Jungle,”…. which was the amazing heavyweight match-up between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman…..plus, he also boasts “The Thrilla in Manila.”…. and this was just in the 1970’s….then he later went on to sign Mike Tyson….who was arguably the biggest fighting sensation of the last 25 years…..with other notable names including Mexican superstar Julio Cesar Chavez and Roy Jones, Jr…..but of course, there is always a bit of controversy surrounding the man and the occasional “fixed” fight….of which much of it is warranted….but let’s not focus on the bad, ok people?  Give credit where credit is due, as the man has undoubtedly left a tremendous mark on the sport of boxing….and that is why I am telling his story here today.                                                                       

Boxing – 1982 – Late Night With David Letterman – With Guest Boxing Promoter Don King

Don King is an American boxing promoter known for his involvement in historic boxing match-ups. He has been a controversial figure, partly due to a manslaughter conviction (later pardoned), and civil cases against him…..as King’s career highlights include, among multiple other enterprises, while promoting  some of the most prominent names in boxing history….a list which includes Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Tomasz Adamek, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Julio César Chávez, Ricardo Mayorga, Andrew Golota, Bernard Hopkins, Félix Trinidad, Roy Jones Jr., Azumah Nelson, and Marco Antonio Barrera. Some of these boxers sued him for allegedly defrauding them…..as most of the lawsuits were settled out of court.                                                           

Boxing – 2013 – Special Interview – Bernard Hopkins Puts Don King “Out Of Business”                                       

King with killing two people in incidents 13 years apart…..when in 1954, King shot a man in the back after spotting him trying to rob one of his gambling houses….as this incident was ruled a justifiable homicide….and then in 1967, King was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for stomping one of his employees to death…..for which he served three years and eleven months in prison…..when in 1983 he was pardoned by Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes.                                                                                                        

News & Boxing – 1991 – Frontline PBS Documentary – “Don King Unauthorized” – Part 1

King entered the boxing world after convincing Muhammad Ali to box in a charity exhibition for a local hospital in Cleveland with the help of singer Lloyd Price…..when early on he formed a partnership with a local promoter named Don Elbaum….who already had a stable of fighters in Cleveland….and years of experience in boxing.  In 1974, King negotiated to promote a heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire, popularly known as “The Rumble in the Jungle”…..which was a much-anticipated event between Ali vs. Foreman….as King’s rivals all sought to promote the bout …..but King was able to secure the then-record $10 million purse through an arrangement with the government of Zaire.  According to columnist Red Smith, King “induced a Cleveland tycoon named Carl Lombardo to underwrite [Ali’s 1975 fight against journeyman Chuck Wepner] for $1.3‐million. Video Techniques put in $200,000 and that just about took care of the nut.”….as Chuck Wepner went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali….while “knocking down” Ali by stepping on his foot in the 9th round…..as an unheralded challenger for the WBA and WBC world heavyweight champion crowns in 1975.  Boxing legend has it that Sylvester Stallone saw the fight….which Wepner lost to a knockout in the final seconds….and was spurred to write the screenplay for Rocky (1976)….which won the 1976 Best Picture Oscar.  King solidified his position as one of boxing’s preeminent promoters the following year with the 3rd fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in Manila, the capital of the Philippines….which King deemed the “Thrilla in Manila”.                                                                                                                                                               

News & Boxing – 1991 – Frontline PBS Documentary – “Don King Unauthorized” – Part 2

Aside from promoting the premier heavyweight fights of the 1970’s…..the flamboyant King was also busy expanding his boxing empire…..as throughout the decade, he compiled an impressive roster of fighters…. of which many of whom would finish their career and go into the Boxing Hall of Fame…..as the list of fighters included Larry Holmes, Wilfred Benítez, Roberto Durán, Salvador Sánchez, Wilfredo Gómez, and Alexis Argüello…..who would all fight under the Don King Productions promotional banner in the 1970’s.  For the next two decades, King continued to be among boxing’s most successful promoters….as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio César Chávez, Aaron Pryor, Bernard Hopkins, Ricardo López, Félix Trinidad, Terry Norris, Carlos Zárate, Azumah Nelson, Andrew Gołota, Mike McCallum, Gerald McClellan, Meldrick Taylor, Marco Antonio Barrera, Tomasz Adamek and Ricardo Mayorga are some of the boxers who chose King to promote many of their biggest fights.  Outside of boxing, he was the concert promoter for The Jacksons’ 1984 Victory Tour.  In 1998, King purchased a Cleveland-based weekly newspaper serving the African-American community in Ohio, the Call and Post, and as of 2011 continued as its publisher.  King, was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2008.                                                                         

News & Boxing – 1991 – Frontline PBS Documentary – “Don King Unauthorized” – Part 3

King has been involved in many litigation cases with boxers that were focused on fraud. In 1982 he was sued by Muhammad Ali for underpaying him $1.1 million for a fight with Larry Holmes. King called in an old friend of Ali, Jeremiah Shabazz, and handed him a suitcase containing $50,000 in cash and a letter ending Ali’s lawsuit against King. He asked Shabazz to visit Ali (who was in the hospital due to his failing health) and get him to sign the letter and then give Ali the $50,000. Ali signed. The letter even gave King the right to promote any future Ali fights. According to Shabazz, “Ali was ailing by then and mumbling a lot. I guess he needed the money.” Shabazz later regretted helping King. Ali’s lawyer cried when he learned that Ali had ended the lawsuit without telling him.                                                                                          

Boxing – 1974 – “Rumble In The Jungle” PreFight Interview – With Muhammad Ali By Don King – On Eve Before Heavyweight Title Fight With George Foreman

Larry Holmes has alleged that over the course of his career King cheated him out of $10 million in fight purses, including claiming 25% of his purses as a hidden manager. Holmes says he received only $150,000 of a contracted $500,000 for his fight with Ken Norton, and $50,000 of $200,000 for facing Earnie Shavers, and claims King cut his purses for bouts with Muhammad Ali, Randall “Tex” Cobb, and Leon Spinks, underpaying him $2 million, $700,000, and $250,000, respectively. Holmes sued King over the accounting and auditing for the Gerry Cooney fight, charging that he was underpaid by $2 to $3 million. Holmes sued King after King deducted a $300,000 ‘finder’s fee’ from his fight purse against Mike Tyson; Holmes settled for $150,000 and also signed a legal agreement pledging not to give any more negative information about King to reporters.                                                                                                           

Boxing – 2013 – Nevada Boxing Hall Of Fame Event – With Larry Holmes + Don King On Time King Told Holmes He Was Fighting Mike Tyson

Tim Witherspoon was threatened with being blackballed if he did not sign exclusive contracts with King and his stepson Carl. Not permitted to have his own lawyer present, he signed four “contracts of servitude” (according to Jack Newfield). One was an exclusive promotional contract with Don King, two were managerial contracts with Carl King, identical except one was “for show” that gave Carl King 33% of Witherspoon’s purses and the other gave King a 50% share, more than is allowed by many boxing commissions. The fourth contract was completely blank.  Other examples include Witherspoon being promised $150,000 for his fight with Larry Holmes, but receiving only $52,750. King’s son Carl took 50% of Witherspoon’s purse, illegal under Nevada rules, and the WBC sanctioning fee was also deducted from his purse.  He was forced to train at King’s own training camp at Orwell, Ohio, instead of Ali’s Deer Lake camp which Ali allowed Witherspoon to use for free. For his fight with Greg Page he received a net amount of $44,460 from his guaranteed purse of $250,000. King had deducted money for training expenses, sparring partners, fight and airplane tickets for his friends and family. Witherspoon was never paid a stipulated $100,000 for his training expenses and instead was billed $150 a day for using King’s training camp. Carl King again received 50% of his purse, despite Don King Productions falsely claiming he had only been paid 33%.  HBO paid King $1,700,000 for Witherspoon to fight Frank Bruno. Witherspoon got a purse of $500,000, but received only $90,000 after King’s deductions. Carl King received $275,000.  In 1987 Witherspoon sued King for $25 million in damages. He eventually settled for $1 million out of court.                                                                                                                                                      

Boxing – 1986 – Special Interview – Two-Time Heavyweight Champion Tim Witherspoon Talks About Don King

Former undisputed World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson has described King, his former promoter, as “ruthless, deplorable and “greedy.”  In 1998, Tyson sued King for $100 million, alleging that the boxing promoter had cheated him out of millions over more than a decade.  The lawsuit was later settled out of court with Tyson receiving $14 million.  In 1996 Terry Norris sued King, alleging that King had stolen money from him and conspired with his manager to underpay him for fights. The case went to trial, but King settled out of court for $7.5 million in 2003. King also acceded to Norris’ demand that the settlement be made public.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Boxing – 1985 – Special Film – “How Don King Stole From Mike Tyson”                                                                       

Boxing – 2018 – Boxing Hall Of Fame Event – Mike Tyson Throws Water On Don King And Explains Why

In 2005 King launched a $2.5 billion defamation suit against the Walt Disney Pictures – owned ESPN, the makers of SportsCentury, after a documentary alleged that King had “killed, not once, but twice”, threatened to break Larry Holmes’ legs, had a hospital invest into a film that was never made, cheated Meldrick Taylor out of $1 million, and then threatened to have Taylor killed. Though the documentary repeated many claims that were already made, King said he had now had enough. King’s attorney said “It was slanted to show Don in the worst way. It was one-sided from day one, Don is a strong man, but he has been hurt by this.”  The case was dismissed on summary judgment with a finding that King could not show “actual malice” from the defendants…..and that King had failed to prove that any of the challenged statements were false. The judgement also pointed out that the studio had tried on a number of occasions to interview King for the documentary….but he had declined….while not suggesting that King had a legal obligation to do so, the court sympathized with ESPN’s circumstances on those grounds.  King appealed the decision and, 3 years later, the Second District Court of Appeals upheld the summary judgement…..but disagreed with the original finding that none of the statements were false.  In any case, Judge Dorian Damoorgian ruled, “Nothing in the record shows that ESPN purposefully made false statements about King in order to bolster the theme of the program or to inflict harm on King”.  In May 2003, King was sued by Lennox Lewis, who wanted $385 million from the promoter, claiming King used threats to pull Tyson away from a rematch with Lewis.  In early 2006, Chris Byrd sued Don King for breach of contract…..and the two eventually settled out of court under the condition that Byrd would be released from his contract with King.

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Boxing – 1974 To 1996 – Special Footage – Promoter Don King Being Dissed By George Foreman + Muhammad Ali + Mike Tyson

King has been politically active throughout his career…..and supported Barack Obama in the 2008 and  2012 presidential elections…..whereas, during the previous election, he had made media appearances promoting George W. Bush….which had included attendance at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City….plus, King has been investigated for possible connections with organized crime.  During a 1992 Senate investigation, King invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned about his connection to mobster John Gotti.  When IBF president Robert W. “Bobby” Lee, Sr. was indicted for racketeering in 1999, King was not indicted, nor did he testify at Lee’s trial, though prosecutors reportedly “called him an non-indicted co-conspirator who was the principal beneficiary of Lee’s machinations.”…. then on September 21, 2016, King caused controversy when introducing Donald Trump at a campaign  event at a black church in Cleveland by using the word “nigga” seemingly by accident. In King’s speech he was giving his thoughts on how black people cannot achieve success in the United States by acting like white people…..while stating, “If you’re poor, you are a poor negro — I would use the n-word — but if you’re rich, you are a rich negro.  If you are intelligent, intellectual, you are intellectual negro. If you are a dancing and sliding and gliding nigga — I mean negro — you are a dancing and sliding and gliding negro”  ….but regardless of what party or candidate Don King supports….and no matter what lies on the “bad sides” of Don King…..one thing is for sure about this the man….he blood runs “red, white and blue”….for he is and has been a devout patriot throughout his entire career as a promoter….cuz as Don King puts it….“ONLY in America can a story like mine be written, for there is no other place like it for allowing a man to make his dreams come true.”                                                                                                                                      

News – 2011 – Interview At Occupy Wall Street Rally – With Boxing Promoter Don King

In concluding this story, it has become obvious to me that Don King deserves his spot at the top of all great promoters throughout American history including P T Barnham, Tex Rickard, Bill Veeck, Bob Arum, Vince McMahon, Chet Helms, Berry Gordy Jr., Oscar de la Hoya. et al…..cuz simply put, Don King is the name that comes to mind most often when a list of great promoters in American history is compiled, even still today in 2020…..and when it comes to ImaSportsphile, it is Don King Productions that have impacted our boxing library more than any other.  Bone Daddy, the original Sportsphile, says “The two biggest receipts days that his sports bar ever had in 17 years of operations were The Rumble in the Jungle and The Thrilla in Manila ….in which “The Rumble” drew 1100 fight fans at $12/head ($13,400) door fees….plus $11,000 in food and beverage sales….and 500 t-shirts sold at $12/shirt for $6,000…..for a total gross night of $30,400…..while “The Thrilla” drew 1173 fight fans at $15/head ($17,625) door fees…plus $14,000 in food and beverage sales….along with 700 t-shirts at $15/shirt ($10,500)…..for a gross night total of $42,125….as both events combined caused 80 barrels (16 gallon kegs) of draft beer to be floated….. which also established the all time volume of beer sales at Madison Square Garden, The Sports Place at 302 E.6th Street.”  So, it becomes obvious when considering the impact of these two Don King promoted events…..while coupled with the extensive number of Don King productions that have become a part of our ImaSportsphile boxing library…..that Don King holds a special place in our hearts here at ImaSportsphile….and therefore is worthy of this story about his promotional talents…..and the lack of love expressed by those who fought under his promotions…..a sad dichotomy…..for the fact remains that Don King has been the most powerful man in boxing for the past 60 years…..while he has also been the most disgusting man in the history of boxing.

Boxing – 1954 To Present – Special Film – “Is This The Most Disgusting Man In The History Of Boxing?”

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