Don King – Promotion with Commotion

MMA has kicked its butt in recent years. But the sport of boxing is still around.

Boxing has kicked Don King’s butt in recent years. But The King of Promotion with Commotion is still around.

As Don King has said thousands of times, “Only in America.”

Today is Don King’s 83rd birthday. Happy Birthday Don. Not bad for a convicted felon who once told me he never expected to make it to 50. Penitentiary he said changed his life.

You would be amazed at the long list of VIPs around the world who have posed for photos with Don King. The old photo above is me with him in Las Vegas. It’s one of a few photos I have with him from my television career.

Unfortunately, the best picture I have of being with Don King is only stored on the hard drive in my mind. I didn’t have a camera with me at the time. The classic photo opp took place before the smart phone era. This was back when dinosaurs and film cameras roamed the earth.

So picture this…

It’s a Saturday afternoon in summer. I walk off the Atlantic City Boardwalk into the closed theater at the Boardwalk Regency Hotel. I’m working on a TV concert series and B.B. King is performing for the cameras that night. (What a pro.) Standing alone in the lobby before me are two famous kings enjoying ice cream and conversation…none other than B.B. King and Don King. I joined them for a few minutes in what seemed surreal even at the time.

Don King had his share of friends. You would be amazed at the long list of VIPs around the world who have posed for photos with him. What’s equally amazing is that Don King had more than his fair share of enemies in the brutal sport of boxing. It’s a miracle he thrived. It’s a bigger miracle he survived.

His was arguably boxing’s greatest promoter. He was definitely his own greatest promoter. Every Don King promotion always sold tickets by having him creating commotion. We all got sucked in for a ride on his marketing machine every time.

Don King was also one of boxing’s most unique personalities. Now that is saying something. His hair and his mouth were known around the world. King is one of the most talented talkers I have ever met. You can’t always understand what he’s saying. You can’t usually get him off his message and get him to be relevant to your interview questions. But you can always count on being entertained and yes, even mesmerized.

Don King has always been a one-man show.

In the above photo I remember getting in a word with him and saying, “I’m guessing you’ve never come across a word you didn’t like!” Thankfully there was a camera around for that gem.

Don King promoted with some of boxing’s all-time greats. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and many more back when boxing packed a punch. Growing up in Philadelphia, Smokin Joe Frazier was one of my childhood heroes. It was always a thrill for me going to his boxing gym as a TV guy. God rest his soul.

Smokin Joe was also hard to understand. But his telling the story of driving in the limo with Don King to “The Thrilla in Manila,” and King leaving him to drive in Big George’s limo after Foreman took Frazier’s heavyweight title is truly a timeless classic.

Don King had the power to get rising fighters and champions to fall in love with him, and more importantly the money he could make for them. In most cases though, the fighters claimed to take a financial beating from King. The fallout from the breakups of those relationships is the stuff legends are made of. Tales of Mike Tyson and others wanting to kill King made what goes in the ring look like shadow boxing. Really.

Amazingly on his 83rd Birthday, not only is Don King is still around.. he is back on top. He is now promoting a new heavyweight champion, Bermane Stiverne. (Yeah, I’d never heard of him either). Marketing, promotion, and reputation management professionals should study Don King. People lost millions with him. People lost lives with him. He’s been knocked down, kicked around, but somehow still not knocked out. Only Father Time will get him for sure, like the rest of us.

Maybe somewhere today someone will be able to get Don King to stop talking long enough to blow out a whole bunch of candles on a birthday cake and enjoy more ice cream. Like the man says, “Only in America.”

By Thomas Baldrick   Google +