Don King celebrates 92nd birthday

Don King is an iconic figure in the sport of boxing. If you have followed boxing, you have heard of Don King - as his persona, hairstyle, and big fights he promoted made him a fixture in boxing especially in the 90s. 

On August 20th, King turns 92-years-old. He is still promoting fights, most notably, a bout with Adrien Broner defeating Bill Hutchinson that took place in Florida this year. 

As we sit back and reflect on King's career we will also highlight some of the traits that made King what he is a visionary, an icon, and a controversial figure. 

Promotional Genius

Don King is renowned for his promotional skills and his ability to create hype and excitement around boxing events. Whether it was his phrase 'Only in America', or sporting more flags than one could count - King knew how to stand out before the internet showed the world what mattered so much. King was a master at marketing and promoting fights, using his unique and often flamboyant style to attract attention to his events.

This would include the advent of the press conference becoming an event in and of itself. King was skilled at crafting narratives and storylines that drove interest in the fight. As fighters' backgrounds or personal feuds between fighters would be told in detail to merit interest in what would happen when they would face each other. King's press conferences were often larger-than-life spectacles that were meant for people who eat with their eyes  Often trash-talk similar to that of pro wrestling would occur in these press conferences, as it would drum up interest and anticipation for what seemed to be a 'high-stakes' fight with not just a purse on the line, but also pride. 

King also focused on organized charitable events and engaged with local community-based organizations, and events to create interest in fights. As a staple of King's events often had a  positive image around his promotions or fighters, to some degree with some form of charity involved. For recent fights, he has done work in support of Ukraine given their conflict with Russia. Prior, Leading up to the highly anticipated rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in 1997, King put forth a charity auction in Las Vegas. "The Power of Love Gala," raised funds for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which was part of the build-up to the mega-fight.  

Big Fights

Don King is one of the most successful promoters ever, being a part of some of the biggest fights in boxing. King was known for putting forth epic pay-per-view cards that were stacked from top-to-bottom that gave the fans a ton of value, and bringing forth match-ups the fans wanted to see. 

Some of the most memorable fights King was involved in were as follows. 

  1. "The Rumble in the Jungle" - Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman (1974): One of Don King's most famous successes was promoting a bout that will forever go down as legendary when Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). The bout occurred during the time that Ali was unable to fight in the United States and King had secured funding from the Zairean government and convinced music legend James Brown to perform at the fight, as it became not just a fight, but an event of epic proportions. The film "When We Were Kings" does a good job of breaking down one of Ali's best moments, as King was part of a group that brought Ali to Africa for a memorable moment in history.

  2. "The Thrilla in Manila" - Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III (1975): Don King also promoted the third and final encounter between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Given the heated rivalry between the two, the final bout was built up as an epic grudge match. King's promotional efforts helped build the fight into one of the most anticipated of its era. 

  3.  Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II (1997): The rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson was promoted by Don King and was one of the biggest rematches of the modern pay-per-view era. After Tyson lost the first fight, many wanted to know what the rematch would look like. What it is best known for is Tyson biting the ear of Holyfield and the bout ending in a disqualification. The result, build-up, and drama around the fight didn't just matter to boxing fans it become a moment in world history, as King played up all the drama.

  4. "The Sound and the Fury" - Tyson vs. Lewis (2002): Don King was involved in promoting the heavyweight bout between the legend Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, the man emerging as the best heavyweight of his era. The bout saw an elaborate press tour that involved multiple cities, as it was the fighter's personalities and King's charisma that was used to market the bout. 

Controversy and Charisma

King's larger-than-life personality and controversial reputation added to his legend. While his promotional prowess was widely respected, he was also known for his legal troubles and controversies. These aspects of his character contributed to his status as a polarizing figure.

It wasn't all rosey for King as he did have misteps. 

Don King's involvement in the Gerry Cooney vs. Larry Holmes fight in 1982 had a very ugly and controversial undercurrent. King played up a  racial divide, as Cooney was marketed as the "Great White Hope" challenging Holmes, a somewhat less beloved world champion, given the flack he got for beating Muhammad Ali. The fight was built on a racial contention of black and white, that carried into press conferences. As Holmes' win was overshadowed by the dialogue and rhetoric prior to the fight. 

The build-up caught the eye of civil rights activists, and sports commentators, who viewed the promotion as manipulative.

Don King's charisma was a central element of his legendary status in the world of sports promotion, as he became a cartoon-like character who hit tropes that made fight week feel big. Whereas action stars of this era like Sylvester Stallone could be imitated through exaggeration, so too could Don King. With an electrifying personality and flamboyant style, King could command an audience like a few before or after him. King's distinctive hair was the centerpiece of a look that came closer to a Hollywood actor playing a boxing promoter than it was of a boxing promoter. 

Armed with the gift of gab, coupled with magnetic energy, empowered King to sway opinions, generate excitement, and sell the grand spectacle of boxing. King's unapologetic approach was something that made him stand out in a world where you have to stand out in sports promotion.


Don King's longevity in the world of sports promotion is a testament to his remarkable adaptability and ability to change with the times. Though he might not be as strong of a promoter as he was twenty years ago, outside of Bob Arum, you don't see many 90-year-old boxing promoters, yet King has promoted Adrien Broner and Vanes Martirosyan in recent memory. 

King's career spanned several decades, from the 1970s to the present. While King never totally forged a path into the world of social media, King was an innovator when it came to cable and pay-per-view blockbuster fights at the turn of the century. 

As King worked with Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Felix Trinidad, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon Spinks, Roberto Durán, and Julio César Chávez.

The other success that King had was selling events. King focused on entertainment as much as the sport of boxing and built up a reputation as a master promoter allowing him to gain high-profile boxers as well as land big contracts with networks. 

In short, Don King sold himself as the product first and foremost, and part of his longevity came with him being just as much a part of the show as the fighters themselves.

Impact on Boxing

Don King's impact on the world of boxing is immeasurable, as he redefined how the sport was viewed heading into the modern era. Bring a brash form to a promotion that resembled just as much the Jerry Springer Show it did a boxing event, made people want to watch again and again. One can look at a lot of how the UFC has built up a lot of their fighters and see an influence in Don King's form of promotion.

King also changed the business side of the sport. King was involved in mega-deals which required the fighters to be compensated with substantial paydays. King's skillful negotiation techniques set new standards for fighter compensation as he set new market standards at the time in his quest to break box office records. 

However, King's legacy is not without controversy, as he faced legal battles, financial disputes, and accusations of exploitation around pre-fight build-up.

With such influence on the sport of boxing, it is hard to not have a duality. 


Don King's larger-than-life persona and colorful presence made him a pop culture fixture for boxing worldwide. From a distinctive appearance you know is uniquely him, to boisterous personality, and association with high-profile boxing matches, King became one of the many standards of what a boxing promoter is to the world - as his likeness became a fixture in entertainment. 

King made cameo appearances in the 1996 comedy "The Nutty Professor," starring Eddie Murphy. The movie "Don King: Only In America", depicted his life in an HBO biopic, and "The Great White Hype" also referenced a figure not unlike King. 

King's outspoken nature and brilliance at promoting have carried over to music and other forms of entertainment as he has become a character and symbol for promoting a large event. In short, King has become iconic, as a great boxing promoter of the modern era, given his unique look, the great fighters he worked with, and his catchphrases.