At the venerable age of 90 but with the ebullience of a huckster Don King is still pulling rabbits out of his electrified hair.
It is 50 years since King walked out of prison and persuaded Muhammad Ali to take part in an exhibition match for a hospital charity in Cleveland, Ohio.
He will mark that half century here this Saturday night by putting on his umpteenth world title fight. One which gives London’s Daniel Dubois an unexpected opportunity to win a version of the world heavyweight championship.
The wheel of fortune has turned full circle. It is back to a small hall.
The numbers have dwindled. Ticket prices are down from thousands of dollars for the privilege of watching The Greatest face his mightiest rivals to a hundred bucks at ringside to see Dubois challenge Trevor Bryan for the WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight title.
The most flamboyant showman since fabled circus masters Barnum and Bailey is still beavering away in his ring with all the old verve and enthusiasm. Urging Bryan to make public mockery of Dubois for ‘quitting on his knee because Joe Joyce hurt his little eye.’
Boxing promoter Don King is overseeing another world title fight this weekend, as Trevor Bryan fights against London’s Daniel Dubois
King is a legendary figure in the world of boxing – he promoted Mike Tyson but the duo endured a turbulent relationship
Never mind that our Daniel’s orbital socket had sustained multiple fractures and his career might have been over now had he carried on boxing that night.
Not to worry if he fires up Dubois to end his man’s unbeaten record because grudge fights sell.
‘Yowza, Yowza, Yowza.’
The show must go on. For King it started when he stopped killing people and started letting others do the fighting for him.
Cleared on the grounds of justifiable homicide for shooting in the back a would be robber of his ill-gotten gains from a numbers racket, then given a state’s pardon after serving three years and 11 months for voluntary manslaughter after stamping to death a man in debt to him for six hundred dollars, King vowed: ‘I’m going to make money instead of going back inside the penitentiary. It was hell in there.’
Within two years of their benevolent hospital visit he fascinated Ali with his vision of the most spectacular landmark in boxing history: The Rumble In The Jungle.
King convinced Ali and George Foreman to sign blank pieces of paper by promising them five million dollars each for that 1974 fight in Zaire. Then tempted the president of the-then Republic of Congo to foot the bill, which he had no other way of paying.
‘You never get what you deserve,’ he said by way of explanation for his brinkmanship, ‘you get what you negotiate.’
A vast throng of jubilant Africans and a battery of world-wide television cameras bore mass witness to the founding of this King’s empire, as Ali soaked up all Foreman’s massive blows for almost eight rounds before knocking Big George flat.
Ahead of Saturday night’s fight between Bryan and Dubois (pictured), King has been taunting the Londoner about his defeat by Joe Joyce and his ‘hurt little eye’
But King is a clever promotor and will fire up a grudge match because he knows that will sell
There are enough mementoes and artefacts crammed into King’s Florida offices to fill a museum. ‘Only in America’ became the catch-phrase for his rise from the ghetto via prison to fame and wealth. Although not only in America. After Zaire came the Thrilla in Manila, as he discovered another exotic venue for the epic third fight between Ali and Joe Frazier.
The hundreds of millions to come – not least from his turbulent relationship with Mike Tyson – flowed not only in the US but from around the world.
‘Martin Luther King took us to the mountain top,’ he said of the struggle to overthrow slavery and racial prejudice. ‘I want to take us to the bank.’
There would be legal actions from fighters claiming he had taken much of their money with him. Even so, many returned to the fold of King’s patronage and friendship.
Investigations followed into his alleged links with organised crime, which came to nothing.
King celebrates every success – be they achieved by his fighters between the ropes or in court – by presiding over sumptuous banquets in keeping with his enormous appetite.
When Iron Mike Tyson suffered the Upset Of All Time at the fists of James Buster Douglas he went from protesting in vain against the result to hosting a veritable feast in his penthouse suite.
The tables were laden with mountains of beef, haunches of lamb, piles of chicken legs, shoals of lobster, crab and shrimp, sushi galore…..and every other delicacy you can think of.
A second earthquake that night in Tokyo – a real one which set those city skyscrapers swaying – sent the tons of food splattering across the floor. King’s reaction? He summoned the manager and ordered: ‘The same again.’
King (left) was a key figure behind Muhamed Ali’s career, helping to create some of his most memorable fights that are fondly remembered today
King is a huge character for boxing and his brinkmanship has helped to deliver some of the sport’s finest moments
The man is as huge as his personality. The eating is prodigious yet the heart seemingly still beating as loud and clear as when he began this odyssey.
Bryan versus Dubois is his latest of more than 500 world title fights among thousands of promotions……and counting.
When he staged Frazier versus Foreman in Kingston Jamaica he held exclusive contracts on both men but chose to accompany Smokin’ Joe into the ring. After Foreman inflicted six downs in a crushing victory King walked to the other corner proclaiming: ‘I came in with the world champion and I’m going out with the world champion.’
Might we see the same if Dubois defeats Bryan in the 6,200 seat confines of the Casino Miami arena? Not likely. Not since the English challenger is contracted to Frank Warren, who King sued once in London’s High Court but who he describes now as ‘my friend of honour, dignity and integrity.’
That he may be. Although unlike Muhammad and George, Frank is not in the habit of signing blank pieces of paper.