When discussing the sport of boxing, it would be almost impossible to discuss anything that has happened in the past thirty years without talking about something that Don King was involved in.
With his “gravity-defying” hair and semi-professional antics, most people familiar with the world of boxing will be able to identify him while not knowing a whole lot about his history and how he got there.
The answer to the question is Don King boxing’s biggest conman is most definitely YES. But the fact of the matter is Don King brought us some spectacular fights throughout is stent on top and in this article, we take a look back through the history of one of boxing’s most memorable characters.
Donald King was born into a Depression-era Cleveland ghetto on 20 August 1931. After his father passed away in an explosion at a steel mill where the older King worked, Don King’s mother relocated them to a middle-class neighborhood where she baked pies and had her children sell them with bags of roasted peanuts.
As a way to attract more sales, the young King children began slipping “lucky number” slips into the bags.
This attracted the attention of local “number runners” and gamblers. After an unsuccessful attempt at stepping into the boxing ring as a teenager, Don King decided to focus in on the numbers game he had been introduced to while selling peanuts as a kid. His intent was to use the money he made couriering illegal betting slips to finance a college education so he could become a lawyer.
This went awry, however, when he lost a winning betting slip and had to pay the winnings out of his own pocket. After a while, he did end up taking some college courses at Western Reserve University but ended up dropping out to focus on his numbers game.
Brushes with the Law
In 1954, when Don King was twenty-three years old, one of his gambling houses was being robbed. King shot and killed the would-be assailant, Hillary Brown, and went to trial for his murder.
This was ruled a “justifiable homicide” by the courts, and King walked away without sentencing.
King was not so lucky in 1967. In this year, on 20 April 1966, Don King visited the Manhattan Tap Room and happened to come across a man by the name of Sam Garrett. Sam Garrett was formerly an employee of King’s and owed King six hundred dollars on a bet.
An argument commenced, which quickly lead to a brawl. It was not long before Garrett and King were outside, and, ultimately, Garrett ended up dying from his injuries.
There is much debate to exactly what happened, and in court, Don King attempted to call the murder a “self-defense.” Witness accounts vary, but the first officer on the scene, Officer Bob Tonne, described what appeared to be a vicious beating upon Garrett.
He described King striking an unarmed and defenseless man, frail and sickly from drug addiction, over and over before delivering a kick to the head. According to Tonne, even as King was being dragged away, “King got in one last vicious kick that I [Tonne] will never forget.”
In this trial, King was sentenced to fifteen years in prison after a second-degree murder charge was downgraded to manslaughter. Ultimately, he ended up serving only four years of his sentence as he was paroled in 1971.
The Business of Boxing
After being paroled, Don King fell right back into his niche: promoting and running numbers for sports games and other events. Eventually, he found his way into boxing through Muhammad Ali. In 1972, King persuaded Ali to compete in a charity benefit match for a Cleveland hospital.
This match was a success and, with his sails at full wind thanks to this, King became a full-time boxing promoter.
Many of Don King’s early successes involved Muhammad Ali, including the 1974 Ali-Foreman match.
In this particular fight, King promised both fighters five million dollars each. However, he discovered that financial backers for a number of that size were difficult to come by.
In order to make good on his word, King reached out of the United States to the dictator of the country of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko. Seko agreed to pay for the fighters using Zaire’s treasury, primarily in an effort to generate positive coverage of Zaire. This was the match that truly launched Don King’s career, as the match was an overwhelming success in ratings and viewership.
Throughout the years, Don King staged and promoted seven of Muhammad Ali’s title bouts. This included the now-legendary “Thrilla in Manilla” against Joe Frazier, which earned Ali six million dollars and had a viewership of over a million people.
King’s promotion career continued past Ali, however, with many popular boxers falling under his organization. With the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Roberto Duran, and Evander Holyfield under his wing, Don King’s organization grew to become an enormous success.
Boxing Legal Troubles
As with his numbers game before, King’s boxing promoter career was also plagued with legal troubles. He has been sued by a number of boxers he has represented, including Mike Tyson and Felix Trinidad, for defrauding them of their winnings.
He was also heavily criticized for the contracts he had both his fighters and their opponents sign when setting up matches, which stated that the winner (even if they were not originally promoted by King) would be promoted by King in the future, thus ensuring that Don King would always be on the winning side.
If this clause was not signed by boxers not represented by King, then he was known to make it difficult for them to obtain title fights against those in his organization. This resulted in his control over many of the top boxers in the most lucrative divisions.
However, this would be nothing more than a bump in the road in comparison to his next venture with the law.
In 1999, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Don King’s office in Florida. The stated intent was to obtain documents and records concerning alleged payoffs made to the President of the International Boxing Federation with the intent of receiving more favorable rankings for those he promoted.
Though the charges were not being levied against him and instead were being held to the IBF President, Robert W. Lee, the documentation was necessary in order for the case to proceed.
This threatened to bring the whole IBF to a screeching halt, and potentially put an end to Don King’s career. However, Lee was acquitted and Don King later went on the record to say that the FBI raid was “unnecessary.”
What is Don King’s Net Worth?
According to several sources, Don King’s net worth in 2019 stands at $150 million.
It is estimated that during his prime in the 90’s that his net worth was much more however, due to his legal battles with several boxers his net worth today stands at $150 million.
Even today, Don King is a controversial figure in the world of boxing. Had it not been for his larger-than-life personality and his pull with so many powerful individuals, it is possible that some of the largest fights in boxing history might never have happened.
However, with a past and present so full of shady business and legal tactics, he did not do much in the way of making boxing look less corrupt in the public eye.
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