Donald King (born August 20, 1931) is an American boxing promoter known for his involvement in historic boxing matchups. He has been a controversial figure, partly due to a manslaughter conviction (and later pardon), and civil cases against him.

King's career highlights include, among multiple other enterprises, promoting "The Rumble in the Jungle" and the "Thrilla in Manila". King has promoted some of the most prominent names in boxing, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio César Chávez, Ricardo Mayorga, Andrew Golota, Bernard Hopkins, Félix Trinidad, Roy Jones Jr. and Marco Antonio Barrera. Some of these boxers sued him for allegedly defrauding them. Most of the lawsuits were settled out of court.

King has been charged with killing two people in incidents 13 years apart. In 1954, King shot a man in the back after spotting him trying to rob one of King's gambling houses; this incident was ruled a justifiable homicide.[1] In 1967, King was convicted of nonnegligent manslaughter for stomping one of his employees to death.[1][2] For this, he served three years and eleven months in prison.[2] After being released, he was later pardoned in 1983.[3]

Early life

King was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended school and graduated from John Adams High in 1951.[4] After dropping out of Kent State University, he ran an illegal bookmaking operation out of the basement of a record store on Kinsman Road, and was charged with killing two men in incidents 13 years apart. The first was determined to be justifiable homicide after it was found that King shot Hillary Brown in the back and killed him while he was attempting to rob one of King's gambling houses in 1954.[1] In 1967, King was convicted of second degree murder for the second killing after he was found guilty of stomping to death an employee, Sam Garrett, who owed him $600.[1]

King was pardoned in 1983 by Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes, with letters from Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, George Voinovich, Art Modell, and Gabe Paul, among others, being written in support of King.[3]


King with producer Michael Ellis, 1985

King entered the boxing world after convincing Muhammad Ali to box in a charity exhibition for a local hospital in Cleveland with the help of singer Lloyd Price. Early on he formed a partnership with a local promoter named Don Elbaum, who already had a stable of fighters in Cleveland and years of experience in boxing. In 1974, King negotiated to promote a heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire, popularly known as "The Rumble in the Jungle".[5] The fight between Ali and Foreman was a much-anticipated event. King's rivals all sought to promote the bout, but King was able to secure the then-record $10 million purse through an arrangement with the government of Zaire.

Don King induced a Cleveland tycoon named Carl Lombardo to underwrite the show for $1.3‐million. Video Techniques put in $200,000 and that just about took care of the nut.[6] Chuck Wepner went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali, knocking down his opponent in the ninth round, as an unheralded challenger for the WBA and WBC world heavyweight champion crowns in 1975. Legend has it that Sylvester Stallone saw the fight – which Wepner lost to a knockout in the final seconds – and was spurred to write Rocky, which won the 1976 best picture Oscar and made a star of the actor. [7]

King solidified his position as one of boxing's preeminent promoters the following year with the third fight between Ali and Joe Frazier in Manila,[8] the capital of the Philippines, which King deemed the "Thrilla in Manila".[5] Aside from promoting the premier heavyweight fights of the 1970s, King was also busy expanding his boxing empire. Throughout the decade, he compiled an impressive roster of fighters, many of whom would finish their career with Hall of Fame credentials. Fighters including Larry Holmes, Wilfred Benítez, Roberto Durán, Salvador Sánchez, Wilfredo Gómez, and Alexis Argüello would all fight under the Don King Productions promotional banner in the 1970s.

For the next two decades, King continued to be among boxing's most successful promoters. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio César Chávez, Aaron Pryor, Bernard Hopkins, Ricardo López, Félix Trinidad, Terry Norris, Carlos Zárate, Azumah Nelson, Andrew Gołota, Mike McCallum, Gerald McClellan, Meldrick Taylor, Marco Antonio Barrera, Tomasz Adamek, and Ricardo Mayorga are some of the boxers who chose King to promote many of their biggest fights.[9]

Outside of boxing, he also managed The Jacksons' 1984 Victory Tour.[10] In 1998, King purchased a Cleveland-based weekly newspaper serving the African-American community in Ohio, the Call and Post, and as of 2011 continued as its publisher.[11][12]

King, was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2008.[13]

Personal life

King with Roy Jones Jr. in 2008, after his win over Félix Trinidad.

Don King's wife Henrietta died on December 2, 2010 at the age of 87. He has one biological daughter Debbie, and two adopted sons Carl and Eric. He has five grandchildren. King is politically active and made media appearances promoting George W. Bush during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, which included attendance at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. On June 10, 1987 King was made a Mason-on-Sight by Grand Master Odes J. Kyle Jr. of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio; thereby making him a Prince Hall Freemason.[14][15] The following year he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane letters degree from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, by University President Dr. Arthur E. Thomas.[16]

King with an AT4 rocket launcher in 2007

Don King supported Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.[17] King has conducted an annual turkey giveaway each Christmas for several years, in which he distributes two thousand free turkeys to needy South Floridians.[18]


King has been investigated for possible connections with organized crime. During a 1992 Senate investigation, King invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned about his connection to mobster John Gotti.[19]

Mike Tyson, the former undisputed World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, says of his former manager, "(King is) a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker. This is supposed to be my 'black brother', right? He's just a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He's ruthless, he's deplorable, he's greedy ... and he doesn't know how to love anybody."[20]

Lawsuits and prosecutions

Muhammad Ali

King has been involved in many litigation cases with boxers that were focused on fraud. In 1982 he was sued by Muhammad Ali for underpaying him $1.1 million for a fight with Larry Holmes. King called in an old friend of Ali, Jeremiah Shabazz, and handed him a suitcase containing $50,000 in cash and a letter ending Ali's lawsuit against King. He asked Shabazz to visit Ali (who was in the hospital due to his failing health) and get him to sign the letter and then give Ali the $50,000. Ali signed. The letter even gave King the right to promote any future Ali fights. According to Shabazz, "Ali was ailing by then and mumbling a lot. I guess he needed the money." Shabazz later regretted helping King. Ali's lawyer cried when he learned that Ali had ended the lawsuit without telling him.[21]

Larry Holmes

Larry Holmes has alleged that over the course of his career King cheated him out of $10 million in fight purses, including claiming 25% of his purses as a hidden manager. Holmes says he received only $150,000 of a contracted $500,000 for his fight with Ken Norton, and $50,000 of $200,000 for facing Earnie Shavers, and claims King cut his purses for bouts with Muhammad Ali, Randall "Tex" Cobb, and Leon Spinks, underpaying him $2 million, $700,000, and $250,000, respectively. Holmes sued King over the accounting and auditing for the Gerry Cooney fight, charging that he was underpaid by $2 to $3 million.[22] Holmes sued King after King deducted a $300,000 'finder's fee' from his fight purse against Mike Tyson; Holmes settled for $150,000 and also signed a legal agreement pledging not to give any more negative information about King to reporters.[23]

Tim Witherspoon

Tim Witherspoon was threatened with being blackballed if he did not sign exclusive contracts with King and his stepson Carl. Not permitted to have his own lawyer present, he signed four "contracts of servitude" (according to Jack Newfield). One was an exclusive promotional contract with Don King, two were managerial contracts with Carl King, identical except one was "for show" that gave Carl King 33% of Witherspoon's purses and the other gave King a 50% share, more than is allowed by many boxing commissions. The fourth contract was completely blank.[24]

Other examples include Witherspoon being promised $150,000 for his fight with Larry Holmes, but receiving only $52,750. King's son Carl took 50% of Witherspoon's purse, illegal under Nevada rules, and the WBC sanctioning fee was also deducted from his purse.[25] He was forced to train at King's own training camp at Orwell, Ohio, instead of Ali's Deer Lake camp which Ali allowed Witherspoon to use for free. For his fight with Greg Page he received a net amount of $44,460 from his guaranteed purse of $250,000. King had deducted money for training expenses, sparring partners, fight and airplane tickets for his friends and family. Witherspoon was never paid a stipulated $100,000 for his training expenses and instead was billed $150 a day for using King's training camp. Carl King again received 50% of his purse, despite Don King Promotions falsely claiming he had only been paid 33%.[26] HBO paid King $1,700,000 for Witherspoon to fight Frank Bruno. Witherspoon got a purse of $500,000, but received only $90,000 after King's deductions. Carl King received $275,000.[27] In 1987 Witherspoon sued King for $25 million in damages. He eventually settled for $1 million out of court.[28]

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson sued King for $100 million, alleging the boxing promoter cheated him out of millions over more than a decade.[29] It was settled out of court for $14 million.[30]

Terry Norris

In 1996 Terry Norris sued King, alleging that King had stolen money from him and conspired with his manager to underpay him for fights. The case went to trial, but King settled out of court for $7.5 million in 2003. King also acceded to Norris' demand that the settlement be made public.[31][32]


King at Madison Square Garden in October 2001

In 2005 King launched a $2.5 billion defamation suit against ESPN, the makers of SportsCentury, after a documentary alleged that King had "killed, not once, but twice", threatened to break Larry Holmes' legs, cheated Meldrick Taylor out of $1 million, and then threatened to have Taylor killed. Though the documentary repeated many claims already made, King said he had now had enough. King's attorney said "It was slanted to show Don in the worst way. It was one-sided from day one, Don is a strong man, but he has been hurt by this."[33]

The case was dismissed on summary judgment with a finding that King could not show "actual malice" from the defendants. Judge Dorian Damoorgian ruled, "Nothing in the record shows that ESPN purposefully made false statements about King in order to bolster the theme of the program or to inflict harm on King."[34]

Lennox Lewis

In May 2003, King was sued by Lennox Lewis, who wanted $385 million from the promoter, claiming King used threats to pull Tyson away from a rematch with Lewis.[35]

Chris Byrd

In early 2006, Chris Byrd sued Don King for breach of contract and the two eventually settled out of court under the condition that Byrd would be released from his contract with King.[36]

Donald Trump event controversy

On September 21, 2016, King caused controversy when introducing Donald Trump at a campaign event at a black church in Cleveland by using the word "nigger" seemingly by accident. In King's speech he was giving his thoughts on how black people can't achieve success in America by acting like white people, stating that "If you're poor, you are a poor negro -- I would use the n-word -- but if you're rich, you are a rich negro. If you are intelligent, intellectual, you are intellectual negro. If you are a dancing and sliding and gliding nigger -- I mean negro -- you are a dancing and sliding and gliding negro".[37][38][39]

Media appearances

King frequently appears on talk show The Howard Stern Show to promote fights.[citation needed]

King acted in a small role as more or less himself in 1982's The Last Fight and in the 1985 comedy Head Office. He also had another brief cameo as himself in the 1997 movie The Devil's Advocate.

Don King made an appearance in the 2008 documentary Beyond the Ropes[40] and in the 2011 documentary Klitschko.

Media portrayals

As a character

Characters based on King

  • The character of George Washington Duke, the flamboyant boxing promoter in the 1990 film Rocky V, is modeled at least in part on Don King,[46] even using King's famous catchphrase "Only in America!"
  • In the 1991 video game ABC Wide World of Sports Boxing the top manager is reminiscent of King.
  • Samuel L. Jackson played a King caricature in the 1996 comedy The Great White Hype.
  • "The Homer They Fall", a 1996 episode in season 8 of the animated series The Simpsons, features a boxing promoter, Lucius Sweet (voiced by Paul Winfield), whose appearance is modeled on King, especially his hairstyle.
  • In the 2005 Xbox video game Jade Empire, a character named Qui The Promoter is based on Don King, including personality and his speech patterns.
  • In the 2016 indie video game Punch Club, A character named Din Kong is modeled after King. In this game, Kong serves as the player's fight promoter in one of the conclusions of the game.

Other references to King

  • In the Will Smith song "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson", King is mentioned.
  • On an episode of Boy Meets World, Cory's hair gets messed up and another kid makes fun of him by saying, "Hey look, it's Don King."

Awards and honors


  1. ^ a b c d "Don King – A Prison Education – Muhammad Ali Accomplishments, Muhammad Ali Awards, Award, and Fraud – JRank Articles". Sports.jrank.org. April 20, 1966. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Puma, Mike. "Only in America". ESPN Classic. Retrieved May 3, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b "SPORTS PEOPLE; Don King Pardoned", The New York Times, January 5, 1983. Accessed May 29, 2011.
  4. ^ Williams, Bob. "Donald King's Mother Prays: God, Give Him Grace to Tell it all." Cleveland Call and Post, November 16, 1957, pg. 1.
  5. ^ a b Davies, Gareth A (August 24, 2008). "US Open: 'Apple Grapple' brings a gleam to Don King's eye. Don King, of the tall hair, celebrated his 77th birthday last week, dancing to the rhythm of a promotional pulse which shows no sign of abating". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  6. ^ Smith, Red. "But Wasn't It a Bleedin' Shame?". nytimes. NY Times. Retrieved 30 March 2017. 
  7. ^ Child, Ben. "'Real-life Rocky' to sue over copycat film based on heavyweight contender's life". theguardian. The Guardian. Retrieved 30 March 2017. 
  8. ^ "Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King (9780688101237): Jack Newfield: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  9. ^ "54 Facts you probably don't know about Don King". Boxing News 24. 
  10. ^ [1] Archived August 8, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: Cleveland Call and Post". Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  12. ^ "About Us". Archived from the original on October 20, 2011. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  13. ^ "The Gaming Hall of Fame". University of Nevada, Las Vegas. February 12, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  14. ^ 138th Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM. Columbus: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio. 1987. p. 20. 
  15. ^ Gray, David (2012). The History of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM 1971–2011: The Fabric of Freemasonry. Columbus, Ohio: Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM. p. 414. ISBN 978-0-615-63295-7. 
  16. ^ Jet Magazine. Johnson Publishing. 1988. pp. Jet – Vol. 74, PG 22. 
  17. ^ "Don King backs Obama for president, praises Bush". Usatoday30,usatoday.com. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  18. ^ Scouten, Ted (December 16, 2011). "Don King's Turkey Giveaway Canceled After Truck 'Hijacked' « CBS Miami". Miami.cbslocal.com. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  19. ^ Finkelman, Paul. Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-First Century, Volume 1, p. 99 (Oxford University Press, 2008).
  20. ^ Tyson (film), 2008
  21. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. pp. 162–4. ISBN 978-0-9740201-0-5. 
  22. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-9740201-0-5. 
  23. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. pp. 147–8. ISBN 978-0-9740201-0-5. 
  24. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. pp. 216–7. ISBN 978-0-9740201-0-5. 
  25. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-9740201-0-5. 
  26. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. pp. 221–2. ISBN 978-0-9740201-0-5. 
  27. ^ Newfield, Jack (1995). The Life and Crimes of Don King: The Shame of Boxing in America. William Morrow. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-9740201-0-5. 
  28. ^ "Sports of The Times;'Trickeration' Trial Of Promoter Don King". The New York Times. October 15, 1995. 
  29. ^ "Mike Tyson files $100 million lawsuit against boxing promoter Don King". Jet. 1998. Archived from the original on 2012-07-08. 
  30. ^ "NBC Sports". NBC Sports. 
  31. ^ "King to Pay $7.5 Million To Norris". Associated Press. December 11, 2003 – via The New York Times. 
  32. ^ "Is King's Run as 'Teflon Don' Over?". latimes. 
  33. ^ "Promoter takes issue with SportsCentury piece". ESPN. ESPN.com news services. January 13, 2005. Retrieved July 2, 2015. 
  34. ^ Gardner, Eriq (July 6, 2010). "ESPN scores TKO against Don King defamation lawsuit". Reuters. Retrieved July 2, 2015. 
  35. ^ Springer, Steve (May 2003). "Lewis Sues Tyson and King Over No-Show at Stapled". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 30, 2014. 
  36. ^ Neumeister, Larry (January 9, 2006). "Don King teams up with legal nemesis". USA Today. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  37. ^ Diamond, Jeremy. "Don King drops N-word while introducing Donald Trump". CNN. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  38. ^ Ross, Janell. "What happened after Don King used the n-word while stumping for Trump". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  39. ^ BARBARO, MICHAEL; HABERMAN, MAGGIE; ALCINDOR, YAMICHE. "Donald Trump Embraces Wider Use of Stop-and-Frisk by Police". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  40. ^ "Beyond the Ropes (Video 2008)". IMDb.com. October 14, 2008. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  41. ^ "Don King: Only in America (TV Movie 1997)". IMDb.com. November 15, 1997. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  42. ^ "Answers – The Most Trusted Place for Answering Life's Questions". Answers.com. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  43. ^ "Celebrity Deathmatch". TV.com. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  44. ^ "2K". 2ksports.com. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  45. ^ "Don King Boxing (Wii)". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  46. ^ Iron Mike Gallego (2014-05-14). "As long as boxing has Don King, it has an identity". Sports on Earth. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  47. ^ Posted 9:00 pm, April 27, 2016, by Kaily Cunningham (2016-04-27). "Don King Way – Fox 8.com (WJW-TV)". Fox8.com. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 

External links