Don King, a towering figure in the world of boxing, has etched his name in the annals of sports history with a persona as flamboyant as his accomplishments.
While his boisterous behavior, extravagant fur coats, and signature wild hair have become synonymous with his public image, a deeper examination reveals a multifaceted individual whose impact on the boxing industry goes beyond the surface.
According to moguldom.com, beneath the bravado was a man considered one of the top boxing promoters ever. Boxing, however, can be a cut-throat sport. Some say King’s legacy will show him as a hero for his breakthroughs in the space. Others say he was more of a villain.
Over the years, 92-year-old King, born August 20, 1931, in Cleveland, Oh, has been a central figure in some of the sport’s most iconic moments and matches. However, his legacy is marked by both admiration and criticism, leading to the question.
King initially pursued a career in law. However, his life took a different turn when he owned a popular tavern, where many top Black musicians performed. He also ventured into a illegal bookmaking operation, according to Famous African Americans.
In 1954, he was charged with murder but was eventually cleared on the grounds of justifiable homicide, as the victim Hillary Brown had been trying to rob one of King’s gambling houses.
In 1966, King was accused of fatally stomping a former employee named Sam Garrett during an argument over $600 Garrett owed him, according to Medium. While initially convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, King’s sentence was mysteriously reduced, and he served less than four years. Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes pardoned King in 1983 of his manslaughter conviction for killing Garrett.
King’s foray into the world of boxing promotion began when he convinced Muhammad Ali to participate in a charity exhibition match in Cleveland. He formed a partnership with local boxing promoter Don Elbaum, and in 1974, he secured the rights to promote the historic “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. This monumental match, watched by 1 billion people worldwide, propelled King to the forefront of boxing promotion. And, he secured the rights to promote the then-record $10 million purse for the match, according to Black Past.
King has thought of his own legacy.
“God has kept me here so I’m going to continue to work for a betterment of life,” he told the Miami Herald in 2022. “Anything I can contribute toward peace and freedom, it keeps me going. I’m a promoter of people. Boxing gives you a chance. After the fight you grab the [opponent] and hug him and say ‘Great fight.’ This is a symbol of what we should try to emulate in life.”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, King, who founded Don King Productions, continued to make waves in the boxing world, promoting legendary fights such as the “Thrilla in Manila” between Ali and Joe Frazier. He also represented such boxers as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Julio Cesar Chavez.
While King’s impact on the sport of boxing cannot be denied, his career was marred by controversies and legal battles. Ali, Larry Holmes, and Tyson filed lawsuits against King, alleging that he underpaid them and engaged in unethical practices, Union Democrat reported.
Ali sued him for fraud in 1982 for underpaying him $1.1 million for a fight. Holmes accused King of cheating him out of $10 million in prize money, and Tim Witherspoon alleged King blackmailed him to sign exclusively with him. Tyson also sued King for $100 million for cheating him out of money for fights over a span of a decade, but the case was settled out of court for $14 million. He has been involved in other lawsuits including against the sports channel ESPN and the boxers Lennox Lewis, Chris Byrd, and Terry Norris.
King has also been under investigation for connection to organized crime and has been charged with tax evasion.
Before backing his old friend Donald Trump in 2016, he campaigned for George W. Bush in the 2004 Presidential Elections and for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Still, King was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
Written by Ann Brown