|Don King; “My Magic Lies in my People Ties”
INTERVIEW By Gabriel Montoya (Oct 4, 2007) DoghouseBoxing
For over 30 years now, the boxing world has been Don King’s playground, battlefield, and oyster all rolled into one. At once celebrated and denigrated, King has made some of the biggest fights boxing fans have ever known. From Ali vs. Foreman to the much anticipated 2008 bout between Felix Trinidad and Roy Jones Jr, King approaches every promotion with the same energy that he began his storied career with.
This past weekend in Sacramento, Ca. I had the pleasure of watching the master promoter at work as King gave his co-
promotion of the Chad Dawson vs. Epifanio Mendoza card the royal treatment. A whirlwind even at age 76, King started things off with an autograph signing prior to the weigh in featuring Trinidad and Jones Jr. While overseeing that event, King would get on the phone with Governor Schwarzenegger in an attempt to bring 2000 impoverished children into the following night’s card. The next moment King would be greeting Sacramento Kings owner and casino magnate Gavin Maloof while working over the crowd and signing autographs. All of it was done without breaking a sweat or looking like he was working. When asked later how he brings all this together so effortlessly, he would reply, “My magic lies in my people ties.”
King and the Maloof brothers have recently agreed to bring big time fights to the home of the Kings, Arco Arena. “Sacramento Kings fans,” King would say of the large turnout, “they are the best on the world. They come out whether you win or lose. They are dedicated. These fans need to be rewarded.” If the future fight cards are anything like last Saturday’s Showtime telecast, rewarded they will indeed be. “My hosts are Gavin and Joe Maloof. They are fighting for a new arena to host bigger events. Hopefully this is the start of that. Gavin loves people and it’s the only reason I came. He came to me and asked me to bring him a fight. He wanted me to bring Tito and Jones here,“ he says with a smile,
”but that fight is already spoken for.” King is confident however that a big fight is just down the road for Sacramento.
Looking for new venues and ways to promote the sport is part and parcel of King’s every day life. For the past few years, King has branched out into Europe co-promoting various title fights. “For various reasons, I was being ostracized by the American media so I went abroad. I went to see the world. Paris, Germany, Russia.” What King saw was a world full of possibilities.
“[Boxing] not the healthiest ever but the beautiful thing is that you have equal opportunity. Whoever wants to be champion can be. Usually we have a dominant fighter. Ali, Marciano, Foreman. Right now, anybody who wants to be champion can be if they establish themselves as a dominant force. When America lost the heavyweight championship and as you know, as heavyweight-boxing goes, so goes boxing it was a call to arms for American boxers. We have to find our heavyweight savior. We have no heroes. We have to establish them.”
Never one to shy away from promoting a future card and bring the point home at the same time, King concludes, “Boxing in the US lacks a hero. That’s what I love about Roy Jones Jr and Felix Trinidad. They put glory before money. They wanted to fight each other and they signed the deal. There wasn’t any arguing over money. If you put money before glory you put out the light.”
One of the things that occurred to King in his travels was that not only were there big fights to be made abroad but that there is growing group of hardcore American fans who are becoming more and more educated about the sport beyond their own soil. Through his friendship with Jim Dolan, chairman of the board of Cable Vision, the parent company of Madison Square Garden, sought to remedy the situation. In doing so King brought the Nicolay Valuev vs. Ruslan Chagaev fight as well Jean Marc Mormeck vs. O’Neil Bell II to the American masses via the MSG network.
“Jim Dolan recognized that there were fights that needed to be seen,” King says of his long time friend. ”You will see now see the fights that you wouldn’t normally see thanks to Jim Dolan. He is like me. He is an iconoclast. A radical for freedom. He takes criticism in stride. He’s the fighting Irish.”
As the conversation progressed, the talk turned to his vast stable of fighters and some upcoming bouts as well as future possibilities. The first of which was the Sam Peter vs. Jameel McCline bout this Saturday on Showtime. “Well, [Oleg] Maskaev came down with that Russian Back Syndrome so in their infinite wisdom the WBC saw fit to appoint Sam Peter the interim champion and we look forward to that bout October 6th. It will be an exciting night for heavyweight boxing. Sam Peter has waited long enough.”
An interesting triumvirate of fighters came up as King and I discussed the future of former heavyweight titlists John Ruiz, Nicolay Valuev and Sergei Lyakhovich. “We really need to get [Sergei] a fight. He was supposed to fight Valuev. Unfortunately in his last fight, in the last 30 seconds, he got knocked out. It could happen to anyone. He is anxious because he can’t get what he wants when he wants it. He might fight Ruiz in 2008. He might fight Valuev as well in an eliminator. Or he may take a tune-up.”
Of the ‘Beast From the East’ Valuev, King would say, “His plans are to get the world title back. He deserves it. He’s a jolly white giant.”
One bout set to be shown on the MSG network is the November 10th fight between France’s Mormeck and David Haye of England. “Mormeck vs. Haye will be a great, great fight. He’s a guy that represents France. When he went back to France the French were going crazy for him. Screaming ‘Viva La France! Viva La France!’.”
Following that is the bout between Fernando Vargas and King’s court jester Ricardo Mayorga on November 23rd. The bout had been scheduled for September but was delayed due to a stomach illness of Vargas’. “Mayorga is ready. He thinks that Vargas should taken Pepto Bismol. He is really looking forward to it.” The bout titled ‘For Pride’ has been promoted as a retirement fight for Vargas. At first thought to be disastrous, its postponement had an unusually positive effect. “This is the only fight I have seen where we did $1 million in sales after a postponement due to injury.”
As for the future of light heavyweight titlist ‘Bad’ Chad Dawson who King co-promotes with Gary Shaw, the sky is the limit “Dawson wants Tarver. He has a hunger for him. So we look to serve up Tarver to satisfy that. But we look at it like this: whosoever will, let him come. If not Tarver then we will fight the next man available and willing.”
King would go further from this point, expounding on his personal philosophy of promoting in general and luring a reluctant opponent in particular. “You have to get the guy to want to fight. The money has to be there but first you have to let the man know how you feel about him. That he is worth something. You let him know what a great fighter he is then you come with the money. I disagree with my co-promoter [Gary Shaw] when he says that they [Team Dawson] are in a position of power [regarding a negotiation with Antonio Tarver and other big name fighters]. I’d do whatever it takes to get Tarver in that ring. I wouldn’t be waiting for him to decide he wanted to fight me. I’d be sleeping with Antonio Tarver.”
Upcoming bouts covered, the talk turned to King’s past fighters. One of the knocks on King is that he promotes fighters who are past their prime. Many in the press blame King and accuse him of exploiting name fighters without regard for their well-being. He acknowledged that on two separate occasions he actually listened to the criticism and took action.
“I was promoting the great Roberto Duran. And he had couple losses, some wins. But the press said he was all through. He was on a downslide, an avalanche of decline. I received much criticism about him. ‘How can you do this,’ people cried. So I released him. Duran went over to my arch nemesis Bob Arum and ended up winning the middleweight title against Davey Moore. So I stopped worrying what the public says. With boxers you never know what they have left inside them.”
Many years later the same criticism would creep up again while promoting the ageless Evander Holyfield on his much criticized quest to reclaim the undisputed heavyweight crown.
“After the Larry Donald fight he was banned. They said he was shot. They said ‘Don, how can you do this? How can you promote him in this condition?’ So I released him out of goodwill. Out of the kindness of my heart. Now he is fighting for a portion of the heavyweight title (against Sultan Ibragimov) and will win. And now I don’t hear anything from the altruistic press. They didn’t care about Holy. They just wanted him away from me.”
But despite the criticism, King still has grand designs for the future of his beloved sport. “I want to do a Pro Olympiad where we get all the champions to fight each other. So we get a global champion. Hopefully that is in the near future.”
When asked if he could change one thing about the sport King says, “I think the sport needs to get out of the negative light it is put in. It should come out of the bottom rung of sports. Any man that walks up those steps is a man of courage and honor. All those movies that show it in a negative light like ‘The Harder They Fall’ and Brando screaming ‘I coulda been a contender’. Boxing is the greatest sport there is. There is no tag team. If you run out of gas, you can’t stop and get petrol. Boxing has been around since Picasso was drawing on the walls of caves. Boxing is reality. It’s living reality with all its highs and lows. The drama.“
So how does a 76-year-old man keep this kind of energy keep going? How does he stay fresh and full of ideas while still fighting off critics after all these years? “God,” he says with a smile, ”I have given myself over to the Lord. He’s been doing a good job so far. I can’t fight the fight myself. It was a difficult month,” referring to the rash of postponements and setbacks this past month. ”It was a September to remember. But you pick up and move on. You can’t cry about it.“ He pauses to reflect a moment. “You have to work as well as pray.” And with that, the man politely excused himself. “I think you’ve pretty much picked my brain clean,“ he said laughing. “I have a plane to Chicago to catch.”