Don King (boxing promoter)

Don King (boxing promoter)
Don King

Don King
Born August 20, 1931 (1931-08-20) (age 80)
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Nationality American
Occupation Boxing promoter
Known for "The Thrilla in Manila", "The Rumble in the Jungle", others

Donald "Don" King (born August 20, 1931) is an American boxing promoter particularly known for his hairstyle and flamboyant personality. His career highlights include promoting "The Rumble in the Jungle" and the "Thrilla in Manila". He also had a long association with Mike Tyson. King has promoted some of the most prominent names in boxing, including Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio César Chávez, Andrew Golota, Félix Trinidad, Roy Jones Jr. and Marco Antonio Barrera.


Early life

Don King was born in Cleveland, Ohio. After dropping out of Kent State University, he ran an illegal bookmaking operation, and was charged for killing two men in separate incidents 13 years apart. The first was determined to be justifiable homicide after it was found that King shot Hillary Brown in the back and killed him while he was attempting to rob one of King's gambling houses.[1] King was convicted of second degree murder for the second killing in 1966 after he was found guilty of stomping to death an employee, Sam Garrett, who owed him $600.[1] In an ex parte meeting with King's attorney, the judge reduced King's conviction to nonnegligent manslaughter for which King served just under four years in prison.[2] King was later pardoned for the crime in 1983 by Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes, with letters from Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, George Voinovich, Art Modell, and Gabe Paul, among others, being written in support of King.[3]


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. 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".[4] The fight between Ali and Foreman was a much-anticipated event. 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 Zaire government.

King solidified his position as one of boxing's preeminent promoters the following year with the third fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in Manila,[5] the capital of the Philippines, which King deemed the "Thrilla In Manila".[4] Aside from promoting the premier heavyweight fights of the 1970s, King was also busy expanding his boxing empire. Throughout the decade, he compiled an impressive roster of fighters, many of whom would finish their career with Hall of Fame credentials. Fighters like Larry Holmes, Wilfred Benítez, Roberto Durán, Salvador Sánchez, Wilfredo Gómez, and Alexis Argüello would all fight under the Don King Productions promotional banner in the 1970s.

For the next two decades, King continued to be among boxing's most successful promoters. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio César Chávez, Aaron Pryor, Bernard Hopkins, Ricardo Lopez, Félix Trinidad, Terry Norris, Carlos Zarate, Azumah Nelson, Andrzej Gołota, Mike McCallum, Gerald McClellan, Meldrick Taylor, Marco Antonio Barrera and Ricardo Mayorga are some of the boxers who chose King to promote many of their biggest fights.[6]

Outside of boxing, he also managed the Jacksons' 1984 Victory Tour.[7]

King was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2008.[8]


Don King has been investigated for possible connections with organized crime. During a 1992 Senate investigation, King pleaded the Fifth Amendment when questioned about his connection to mobster John Gotti. In public, however, he has responded to mob allegations by calling them racist.

Mike Tyson, the former undisputed World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, says of his former manager, "(King is) a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker. This is supposed to be my 'black brother' right? He's just 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."[9]

Lawsuits and fraud prosecutions

In 1954 King killed a man who wanted to rob one of his offices. He was found not guilty due to self-defense.

In 1967 he was sent to prison for life for murder. King killed an employee who owed him US$ 600. King did not stop striking the man when the police arrived. The victim died five days later in a hospital. Later the punishment was reduced to manslaughter which resulted in 15 years of prison. After only three years and eleven months King was released from Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio on parole in 1971.

Muhammad Ali

King has been involved in several 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 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.[10]

Larry Holmes

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 said he received only $150,000 from a contracted $500,000 for his fight with Ken Norton, received only $50,000 from a reported $200,000 for facing Ernie Shavers, was underpaid $2 million for his fight with Muhammad Ali, that King cut his purse by $700,000 for his fight with Tex Cobb and was underpaid $250,000 for fighting Leon Spinks. Holmes sued King over the accounting and auditing for the Gerry Cooney fight, charging that he was underpaid by $2-3million.[11] Holmes sued King after King deducted a $300,000 'finders 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.[12]

Tim Witherspoon

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.[13]

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.[14] 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 Promotions falsely claiming he had only been paid 33%.[15] 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.[16] In 1987 Witherspoon sued King for $25million in damages. He eventually settled for $1million out of court.[17]

Mike Tyson sued King for $100 million, alleging the boxing promoter cheated him out of millions over more than a decade.[18] It was settled out of court for $14 million.[19]

Terry Norris

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 conceded to Norris' insistence that the settlement be made public.[20][21]


In 2005 King launched a $2.5billion defamation suit against ESPN, the makers of SportsCentury, after a documentary alleged that King had "killed, not once, but twice", threatened to break Larry Holmes' legs, cheated Meldrick Taylor out of $1million and then threatened to have Taylor killed. Though the documentary repeated many claims already made before, King claimed 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."[22]

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.[23] In May 2005, 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.

Personal life

Don King's wife Henrietta passed away on December 2, 2010 at the age of 87. He has a daughter Debbie, and sons, Carl and Eric. King is also said to be close to his niece, Jean King-Battle. He has five grandchildren. King is politically active and made media appearances promoting George W. Bush during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, which included attendance at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. On June 10, 1987 King was made a Mason-on-Sight by Grand Master Odes J. Kyle Jr. of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio; thereby making him a Prince Hall Freemason.[24] The following year he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane letters degree from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, by University President Dr. Arthur E. Thomas.[25]


King frequently appears on talk shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Howard Stern Show to promote fights. He has been portrayed by Dave Chappelle in a skit about a "Gay America", promoting a boxing match between two homosexual boxers. In 1995, HBO aired Tyson, a television movie based upon the life of Mike Tyson where King was portrayed by actor Paul Winfield. Winfield also provides the voice of boxing manager Lucius Sweet on "The Simpsons". It was said that Sweet is "exactly as rich and famous as Don King and looks just like him too."

In 1997, actor Ving Rhames played King in a made for TV movie, Don King: Only in America which aired on HBO.[26] Rhames won a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of King.[27] In a 1998 episode of South Park, titled "Damien", Jesus and Satan are to have a boxing match to decide the conflict between good and evil, and Don King represents Satan.

In its first season, In Living Color featured a one-time sketch entitled "King: The Early Years", set in a schoolyard in 1939, in which the narrator led viewers to believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. got his start in childhood as a peacemaker between two fighting classmates—until "King" was revealed as a young Don King (portrayed by Damon Wayans), who promoted the schoolyard scuffle.

In the episode "My Brother's Keeper" of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Carlton is portrayed as Don King in one of Will's dreams. On an episode of Boy Meets World, Cory is having really bad hair problems, and his hair is similar to Don King's. One kid even made fun of Cory by saying, "Hey look, it's Don King." In Celebrity Deathmatch, Don King Kongs's death was a running gag during the series' first season. In the final episode of the second season, he was matched against Donald Trump, with King being killed again, this time in the ring.[28]

In New Zealand a popular Sunday morning kids program What Now was known for its Don King skit. The actor (Jason Fa'afoi) would appear in front of a grey screen dressed as Don King and begin every skit with "Hi I'm Donk Ing...and you're not" before advertising some useless product.

In the episode Knock It Off of Pucca series, Don King was parodied by the character Muji. The villain was watching a fight between Garu and Abyo in a boxing ring and he had Don King's hair.

Wayne Brady frequently impersonated King on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Twice in a game called "Hats" (spread 6 years apart) where Brady wore wigs similar to King's hair and once in a game of "Weird Newscasters" where Brady had to be a Sportscaster as King.

On The Suite Life On Deck, Mr. Moseby presents a sumo wrestling match in a tuxedo and a wig with King's hairstyle.


In the feature film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the Daimyo emerges from a bell struck by a cannonball with his hair sticking straight up. Donatello says, "Hey, look — Don King!". In the film Hot Shots at a fight it is mentioned "This should be a good fight, both men work for Don King", before the bell is rung and one fighter takes an obvious dive after the first punch is thrown and missed. The character of flashy boxing promoter George Washington Duke, played by Richard Gant in the film Rocky V, is based on King and uses his famous catchphrase, "Only in America!" King acted in a small role as more or less himself in 1982's The Last Fight and in the 1985 comedy Head Office. He also had another brief cameo as himself in the 1997 movie The Devil's Advocate. James Earl Jones portrayed a flamboyant boxing promoter in the 1984 made-for-television movie The Las Vegas Strip War, named Jack Madrid, whose character was clearly inspired by Don King. In the movie, Scary Movie 4, a man similar to Don King falls on the son of the antagonist. In The Great White Hype, Samuel L. Jackson's character The Reverend is a reflection of Don King, demonstrating the level of despair induced by Don King's control over both boxers and the sport itself. In the film Don King: Only in America a Biography of fight promoter Don King follows his rise from a street goon convicted of strong arm tactics to a minor music promoter to pulling off his first major fight with Muhammed Ali for a charity.

Don King makes an appearance in the 2008 documentary, Beyond the Ropes.[29]

Video games

In the Xbox video game Jade Empire, a character named Qui The Promoter is based on Don King, including personality and his speech patterns. In the game ABC Wide World of Sports Boxing the top manager is reminiscent of King. Also, Don King helped create a video game called Don King Presents: Prizefighter for the Xbox 360, which he promoted on IGN's podcast Three Red Lights, and another called Don King Boxing for the Wii.[30][31] There is also a Nintendo DS version of Don King Boxing.


  1. ^ a b Don King - A Prison Education
  2. ^ Puma, Mike. "Only in America". ESPN Classic. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  3. ^ "SPORTS PEOPLE; Don King Pardoned", New York Times, January 5, 1983. Accessed May 29, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Davies, Gareth A (2008-08-24). "US Open: 'Apple Grapple' brings a gleam to Don King's eye Don King, he of the tall hair, celebrated his 77th birthday last week, dancing to the rhythm of a promotional pulse which shows no sign of abating.". The D aily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  5. ^ Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King: Jack Newfield: Books
  6. ^ 54 Facts you probably don’t know about Don King
  7. ^ music female singer website template at
  8. ^ "The Gaming Hall of Fame". University of Nevada Las Vegas. 2009-02-12. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  9. ^ Tyson (film), 2008
  10. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 162-4. ISBN 978-0974020105. 
  11. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 145. ISBN 978-0974020105. 
  12. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 147-8. ISBN 978-0974020105. 
  13. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 216-7. ISBN 978-0974020105. 
  14. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 219. ISBN 978-0974020105. 
  15. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 221-2. ISBN 978-0974020105. 
  16. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 231. ISBN 978-0974020105. 
  17. ^ 'Trickeration' Trial Of Promoter Don King
  18. ^ "Mike Tyson files $100 million lawsuit against boxing promoter Don King". Jet. 1998. 
  19. ^ Tyson gets $14 million, but won't see it - Boxing-
  20. ^ BOXING; King to Pay $7.5 Million To Norris December 11, 2003
  21. ^ Is King's Run as 'Teflon Don' Over? December 14, 2003
  22. ^ Promoter takes issue with SportsCentury piece January 13, 2005
  23. ^ Neumeister, Larry (2006-01-09). "Don King teams up with legal nemesis". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  24. ^ 138th Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM. Columbus: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio. 1987. pp. 20. .
  25. ^ Jet Magazine. Johnson Publishing. 1988. pp. Jet - Vol. 74, PG 22. 
  26. ^ Don King: Only in America (1997) (TV)
  27. ^ Ving Rhames: Biography from
  28. ^ Celebrity Deathmatch on - Free Full Episodes & Clips, & Show Info
  29. ^ Beyond the Ropes (2008) (V)
  30. ^ 2K Sports - Don King Prizefighter
  31. ^ CNET review of Don King Boxing

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