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"Only In America" Don King Speaks to Doghouse Boxing
By Benny Henderson Jr. (June 28, 2004) 
Don King
"Only in America" is the catch phrase of undoubtedly the most controversial and prolific figure in the history of boxing. With a flashy philosophic vocabulary and a hair-do that only he could get away with, it could only be Don King. Loved by some hated by others, King is never at a loss for words or intimidated by any. After serving a six-year prison term for murder, King stepped into the promotional side of boxing. Over three decades later he has produced more than 500 world championship fights and numerous world champions. King has put together some of the most electrifying boxing events in the history of the sport, including the 1974 classic 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and then unbeaten George Foreman, an event that was watched by one billion people on television. He also brought to the boxing fans 'Thrilla in Manila' Ali-Frazier; 'The Last Hurrah' Ali-Homes; 'He’s Back' Tyson-McNeeley; 'Finally' Tyson-Holyfield I; 'The Sounds and the Fury' Tyson-Holyfield II; and many more unforgettable bouts. And the 71-year-old promoter doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit. Don King was more than happy to step in the Doghouse and answer a few questions for the fans.

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Benny Henderson Jr.: What is your secret to success?

Don King:
The secret to my success is very simple – hard work and dedication. I’ve been No.1 ever since I first started promoting over 30 years ago. That’s a long time to stay on top. It wasn’t easy. I couldn’t walk in the front door of the corporate office; I had to break it down. Your desire to remain No.1 must always be driving you. You have to be creative, innovative and have the guts to stand up. A man who has no wings – he cannot fly – he shall remain on the earth. I want to let everyone know how much harder it was and still is for me. We have to make sure that we’re a step ahead of everyone and work 24-7 to accomplish that. For anyone to live their lives that way – through dedication and hard work – they can realize their dreams. Not everyone’s goals or dreams will be the same, but they all require a commitment.

BH: Very few people can walk this earth and can be recognized everywhere.  When people recognize you, they instantly recognize that they are looking at the World's Greatest Promoter, a term which has no borders.  With recognition also comes its downside.  Have you ever felt concerned for you Safety?  And is it true that a few years ago you and Julio Cesar Chavez were mugged in Mexico? If true, can you explain what happened?

DK: I love being recognized and enjoy being with the people. I consider myself a 'people promoter'. I gain a lot of my strength from the people and try to remain someone that they can always identify with. I feel very safe among the people – that’s my roots – I’m a product of the people and the inner city. I’m very comfortable there. Yes, there was an incident in Mexico City when I came in to promote a fight between the great champion Julio Cesar Chavez and Miguel Angel Gonzalez, another legendary Mexican world champion. We were stuck up and some thugs held up a vehicle that I was in, so what – we lost a trinket or two. Nobody was hurt and it’s only a little money. It was an isolated incident and I have never had any problems in Mexico prior to that or since. I love Mexico and the Mexican people.

BH: What career path besides boxing would you have taken?

Well there were many career paths that I had chosen prior to boxing. I was a club owner for many years, and my club 'The Corner Tavern' in Cleveland, Ohio was inducted into the 'Rock and Roll Hall of Fame'. I was very proud of that. I also was in the numbers business as a young man and learned to become very good at it. I paid a price for that. Actually, I first did a benefit boxing show with Don Elbaum in Cleveland for Hospital. Ali came and did an exhibition and told me that I should become a boxing Promoter. I was then managing a boxer or two in Ray Anderson, Jeff 'Candy Slim' Merritt and got involved with big Earnie Shavers. I migrated to boxing promotion because Ali thought that I’d be good at it and after thinking about it, I agreed.

BH: There are many fighters such as the legendary Earnie Shavers who can't speak enough good about you.  Earnie has said time and time again that you helped him in many ways, especially finically, motivationally and he was treated with the kind of love you'd expect from a family member.  He is a fighter who became a legend without ever winning the Heavyweight Championship title.  Yet, his name is known by every fan and his accomplishments have not faded or been forgotten.  You've helped a lot of fighters make the kind of money they would never get anywhere else and achieve the kind of fame that few tread. You not only help fighters get rich, but you also help them become famous.  Why do you do what other promoters don't?

There are many boxers like Earnie Shavers who have talked good about me through the years, because I stood up for them. I cared about them, not only as a talent that could make us some money, but as people. I like to think I treated them like human beings and not just pieces of meat. Most of the boxers who are with me, have been with me for a long time. I’ve gotten them opportunities and in most cases made them world champions. I don’t believe in kicking someone to the curb because they lose a fight or two. I like to try and dust them back off and get them another opportunity. Most of those who have left invariably come back. That makes me feel good.

BH: Out of all the fights you have promoted, which ones are your most favorite?

It might be very hard for me to pick just a few from the many fantastic fights that we’ve been so fortunate to promote, but there are some favorites, for different reasons at the time. Fights that stand out so much to me, had to be the 'Rumble in the Jungle' Ali vs. Foreman in Zaire in 1974; 'The Thrilla in Manila' Ali vs. Frazier in the Philippines in 1975; Holmes vs. Norton 1978 Caesars Palace, Las Vegas; Holmes vs. Cooney at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas in 1982; Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal in 1980; 'The Grand Slam of Boxing' Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Greg Haugen (record 132,274 people paid) in Bull Ring in Mexico; March 13, 1999 Evander Holyfield vs. Lennox Lewis N.Y. State all-time gross gate record at Madison Square Garden – $11.5 million; it’s too hard to name them. Don’t forget about the great fights with Felix 'Tito' Trinidad – one of the all-time greats – Trinidad vs. De La Hoya – Trinidad vs. Fernando Vargas – Trinidad vs. Whitaker; what about the 'Little Giants', there was Salvador Sanchez, Azumah Nelson, 'Finito' Lopez, Wilfredo Gomez, and Edwin 'Chapo' Rosario. I’m also very proud of the sell-out show we did in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall featuring a record eight world championship fights on one show. What about the fight between Wilfredo Gomez and Lupe Pintor? What classics! What champions! What fighters, there’s much too much for me to comprehend at this moment. I can’t forget about Mike Tyson, who was one of the great heavyweight champions – just sheer destruction in so many big fights. There are too many, this could be an entire book.

BH: Do you ever wake up and say "Man, I’m Don King"?

When I wake up, I thank God, then I try to organize my thoughts for the day because I don’t sleep too much. I used to call my guys early in the morning and say "a sleeper can’t get nothing but dreams!" I don’t have time for reflection. Maybe someday I will, but there are too many things I want to do. I’m an advocate and I stand up for what I believe in. I’ll fight for what I believe in. I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees. I guess I became so well known, because I was doing things that nobody had ever done. I was paying boxers more money then they ever realized possible. I was going to various countries to do fights, rather than just staying here. And in many ways I was very unusual. I looked different, I talked different and I just never did things in the same ordinary manner. I created ways to be different.

BH: Exactly how many world champions have you produced?

I’ve never really counted, other than the fact that it’s been documented that I promoted more world championships and made more world champions than any promoter in the history of boxing. Now that’s something I’m very proud of.

BH: What are your plans for the second half of 2004?

There are many things that we have planned. Much like we did the World Middleweight Championship Unification Series a couple of years ago at Madison Square Garden, we want to do a World Heavyweight Championship Series. Right now we have three world heavyweight champions: Chris Byrd (IBF); John Ruiz (WBA) and Lamon Brewster (WBO). We have Brewster in his first title defense on Sept. 4 at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas against Kali 'Checkmate' Meehan, the WBA Asia Pacific and IBF Pan Pacific Heavyweight Champion from Australia. We also have Cory Spinks defending his undisputed welterweight crown against former world champion Miguel Angel Gonzalez of Mexico headlining that event on Showtime. On October 2 in Madison Square Garden on HBO PPV we have 'BACK WITH A VENGEANCE' with 'Tito' Trinidad making his return against former unified champion Ricardo 'El Matador' Mayorga. We are also looking forward to doing a World Cruiserweight Championship Series. We have three world cruiserweight champions: Wayne Braithwaite (WBC), Jean-Marc Mormeck (WBA) and Kelvin Davis (IBF). They’re all exciting champions and we’re going to come up with an undisputed champion. There are so many great fights we’re planning that we could go on for days. Some of this goes into 2005.

BH: You have made your voice very clear for the support for the troops and the War in Iraq and Terrorism. When 9/11 occurred, you were promoting a fight Between Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad. You rescheduled the fight for just a few weeks later and you kept Ground Zero as the venue for the fight. The terrorists wanted us to stop what we are doing and run and hide in fear. But you did not run and you did not hide. How hard was it for you to keep your focus and make sure that terrorists didn't stop the show or American spirit by making sure the fight went on?

Yes, we were there during one of the worst tragedies in history. If we ran and hid – like they wanted to – they win. Fear and intimidation just don’t work with us. And all of the boxers stood up as well. Tito Trinidad and his crew and the others in town training all pitched in. We served food on the chow lines at ground zero. We visited the firehouses to pray and lend our support. Tito, Papa Trinidad and I donated a fire truck to one of the needy firehouses that lost a truck. I think that our focus on the fight was broken somewhat, and we only postponed it until the end of the month, but it was an emotionally shattering and heart wrenching experience for everyone around the world, but especially those who lived through it in New York City. We were all right there. They set up a command post at the hotel we were using as our headquarters. The gym that Trinidad was training in was shut off because it was right in the ground zero area.

The American spirit and the spirit of New York was strong and alive. It was lifting to see all the people pulling together and standing as one against terrorism. Our great President George W. Bush and New York Mayor Guilliani were inspirational with their efforts. Our courageous members of the Armed Forces fighting terrorism around the globe stood up and keep fighting every day. How could we not continue to fight? That’s why all of my shows go to the Armed Forces free of charge. We must and have to continue to support their efforts – they help keep us free. It was important to all of America and important to New York City for the fight to go on. They couldn’t break our spirit and they can never break our will. That’s why I’m so proud of George Bush, because he says what he means and stands up! I not only preach patriotism – I believe it – God bless America – the greatest nation in the world.

BH: Who do you see as tomorrow’s stars?

There are many good young future stars coming up. From these unifications and stirring up the pot in the heavyweight division, you’ll see someone emerge. The best thing that happened to the heavyweights is that Lennox Lewis retired.

The heavyweights were becoming stagnant. Now there’s activity and there’s new hope for some of the younger contenders coming up. There are undefeated heavyweight kids like Gerald 'The Jedi' Nobles, 23-0 (18), a big puncher from Philly and Owen 'What the Heck' Beck, 23-0 (17 ), who fought four times in the last three months. Young heavyweight Kevin 'Big Dog' Montiy, 14-0 (11), is also developing quickly. There’s some activity now with the cruiserweights and raising the bar to 200 pounds will help some of the small heavyweights have a chance. All of the cruiserweight champions Mormeck, Davis and Braithwaite, have the potential to become super stars – they all make great fights and are exciting to watch – they just need the exposure. There’ll be activity in the welterweight and super welterweight divisions as well. There are some kids who just turned pro or are turning pro that look like future champions to me also. I’m very impressed with a young welterweight that we have out of St. Louis, a stable mate of Cory Spinks, named Vaughn Alexander – he’s now 3-0 (3) and looks like a great one. There’s also a young light heavyweight that we’ve just signed and will fight on Sept. 4 and Oct. 2 from Texas – Marcus Johnson, a heavy-handed young man who likes to fight. There are some other impressive young fighters coming into the light now, that could become something special. I still think that guys like Zab 'Super' Judah, Luis Perez, Jose 'El Gallo' Rivera, and Tim Austin, all have yet to see their best in boxing.

There are a few youngsters who can go all the way with the right commitment and that’s Quentin 'Happy' Smith, 19-0 (13), an undefeated contender that has two amateur victories over Jeff Lacy, Mark Suarez, 20-2 (8) welterweight, and Rhoshii Wells, 17-1-2 (10), a 154-pounder that was a bronze medallist. We’re looking at a lot of young talent right now that we’re going to start moving up the ladder.

BH: There has been some bad things said about you in the past. How does that affect you and how do you respond to it?

Of course I’ve heard people say bad things about me in the past. I’m sure people will say some bad things about me in the future. I can’t control what people hear from different sources, or how they react to it. I’d by lying if I didn’t say there’s some sensitivity to it. But I’m not going to react or overreact to something that someone’s said about me – I’m just going to keep on stepping. I’ve been blamed for everything from the Johnstown Flood to the burning of Atlanta. Like I learned a long time ago – you can’t have rabbit ears. There are many people that come to me and apologize, once they find out the truth. I’ve had people come to me who have been jaundiced by innuendo and tell me – now that I’ve dealt with you – I know that they’re just jealous. That’s what I chalk most of it up to – an inability to compete fairly. If the playing field were flat – I’d have little competition, because they just won’t work as hard as we do.

BH: What do you think about the new boxing reality shows on TV?

I don’t know too much about them. They came to me with 'The Contender'. They tried to get me to do so many of these different reality shows; they were coming in at least four or five a week. At this stage of my life – I just don’t feel that I want to work for somebody else. I’ll go out and work for George W. Bush, because I believe in him. I will go out and work to save a school or a hospital or help people in need, because I believe in causes and helping people who are less fortunate than I’ve been in my life.

BH: Who was your mentor?

I’ve had a lot of mentors in my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some very bright and talented people through the years. I’ve been able to pick up knowledge and pointers wherever I go. I’m also an insatiable reader and have taught myself an awful lot through my many hours of reading.

BH: What would you like to say to the fans out there?

We’d like to thank all of the fans that have supported our events through the years. They know when we put on a show; we’re always trying to give them our best. There’s no question that without their support, we wouldn’t have too much to work with.
We also thank them for judging us by our actions and deeds, rather than through rumors and gossip. We promise to keep on giving you the very best in boxing.

Some of Don King’s accomplishment:

Promoter of the Year - By the World Boxing Association

Promoter of the Century - By the World Boxing Association

Promoter of the Decade - By the International Boxing Federation

Promoter of the Millennium - By the World Boxing Association

Promoter of the Decade - By the World Boxing Association

Inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame

I would like to thank Bob Goodman for setting this interview up for me. I would personally like to thank Don King for taking time out for the fans and answering every question. It was grand, and it was an honor. Thanks.
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