He’s Still Don King

I had dinner with Don King last Thursday night at RedFarm, a trendy Chinese restaurant on the upper west side of Manhattan.

King no longer stands astride boxing like a Colossus. In mid-July, Sports Illustrated ran an article about him that was relegated to its annual “where are they now” issue. He’ll be 84 years old on August 20.

But King is still in the game. He promotes several fighters, the most promising of whom is Amir Imam. He has rebounded nicely from recent health issues. His weight is down from 285 pounds to a healthier 220. And he remains an imposing physical presence with the vitality of a younger man.

Here’s what happens when Don King walks into a restaurant. Heads turn. The host moves people around to seat his party of four at a table by the front window. Diners entering the restaurant do a double-take as they pass his table. The energy level in the room rises.

The other patrons are respectful. For the most part, they let him eat in peace. But more than a few stop to say hello on their way out. King has a smile and kind word for each of them. The staff is particularly attentive. He tips generously.

When King leaves the restaurant, a statuesque blonde asks if he’ll take a smartphone photo with her. After the photo is taken, she wraps her arms around him in a long embrace.

There are a lot of celebrities today but very few icons. King is an icon and a larger-than-life legend. His style, his hair, his verbosity, his smile, his charisma, his bling; all of it is his own creation. He still stops a room when he enters. He may be old. He’s no longer the force in boxing that he once was. But he’s still Don King.

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Bill Littlefield once declaimed on National Public Radio, “About the only excuse for boxing – and I’m not sure it’s sufficient – is that the sport has generated some good writing.”

British doctoral student Andrew Douglas opined, “Boxing is little more than organized crime behind a smokescreen of professional sport.”

Littlefield and Douglas are outsiders. But over the years, numerous insiders have also voiced reservations about the sweet science. A sampler follows:

John Schulian (past winner of the Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism): “Life isn’t always fair. The fight racket never is.”

Hall of Fame trainer Ray Arcel: “I don’t think boxing should be abolished. But the way boxing is today, it wouldn’t make any difference. It’s not boxing anymore. It’s exploitation.”

Bill Slayton (honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America as its 1977 “Manager of the Year”): “Boxing has some of the most rotten people you’ll ever meet. Not all of them. But ninety percent of the people in boxing are rotten.”

Randy Neumann (referee and former heavyweight contender): “They don’t dig graves in boxing. They screw people into the ground.”

Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee: “Boxing is a dog-eat-dog sport. You have to be ready to use every trick in the book. It’s not a sport for priests and rabbis. You park your conscience and do what has to be done.”

Former HBO commentator Larry Merchant: “In boxing, you can’t keep a bad man down.”

Roy Jones (pound-for-pound king in the 1990s): “One thing I learned from the ’88 Olympics; it’s not a question of if they can screw you over. It’s a question of if they will.”

And last but not least, promoter Lou DiBella: “It’s a miserable f—–g business.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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COMMENTS

-Radam G :

Da Don will be a part of the game even when he dies. His ghost ain't going nowhere just as the live real-time him ain't going anywhere. Holla!


-Kid Blast :

Ugh. Hero worship at its very nadir


-oubobcat :

King just won't go away, will he? I remember that press conference in 2013 before Hopkins-Cloud when Hopkins made sure to point out that Cloud was King's last remaining fighter with a belt and that he (Hopkins) looked forward taking the belt from Cloud for just that reason. And Hopkins went on to say that he'd be the one to ultimately retire King. Well a month after Cloud lost to Hopkins, Bermaine Stiverne sprung an upset over Chris Areolla to become the number one contender in the WBC. And who was stumbling down the ring stairs (literally, watch the HBO tape of the post fight interview) to make sure everyone knew Stiverne was his fighter, well none other than Don King. Stiverne loses to Wilder in a bad performance this January. Stiverne's career as a heavyweight contender is now in jeopardy and King's career maybe too, right? But Showtime takes a liking to Amir Imam who was in a terrific fight on the undercard and brings him back in April. Imam puts on another solid performance in an entertaining fight in a win over a Haymon fighter. Showtime then insists on having him on the card a couple weeks ago where he steals the show. And in the post fight interview with Imam, who is front and center but none other than Don King calling out Floyd Mayweather. The man will not be going away anytime soon from this sport. He just has a way it seems.


-The Commish :

King just won't go away, will he? I remember that press conference in 2013 before Hopkins-Cloud when Hopkins made sure to point out that Cloud was King's last remaining fighter with a belt and that he (Hopkins) looked forward taking the belt from Cloud for just that reason. And Hopkins went on to say that he'd be the one to ultimately retire King. Well a month after Cloud lost to Hopkins, Bermaine Stiverne sprung an upset over Chris Areolla to become the number one contender in the WBC. And who was stumbling down the ring stairs (literally, watch the HBO tape of the post fight interview) to make sure everyone knew Stiverne was his fighter, well none other than Don King. Stiverne loses to Wilder in a bad performance this January. Stiverne's career as a heavyweight contender is now in jeopardy and King's career maybe too, right? But Showtime takes a liking to Amir Imam who was in a terrific fight on the undercard and brings him back in April. Imam puts on another solid performance in an entertaining fight in a win over a Haymon fighter. Showtime then insists on having him on the card a couple weeks ago where he steals the show. And in the post fight interview with Imam, who is front and center but none other than Don King calling out Floyd Mayweather. The man will not be going away anytime soon from this sport. He just has a way it seems.
So true, oubobcat. So true, Mr. Hauser, about the treatment The Don gets in a restaurant. I've been out with him. I've seen it firsthand. He is a rock star! And in Amir Iman, The Don has one of boxing's best young stars. You're right, oubobcat. The man will not be going away anytime soon from this sport. -Randy G.


-Bernie Campbell :

What did he do with Cruiserweight Champ Guillermo Jones? (Mysteries we will never know about!)