By Mauricio Sulaimán – Son of José Sulaimán & President of the WBC
Next Saturday, August 20, Don King will be turning 91 years old, and that is why I decided to dedicate this column to this icon who is undoubtedly one of the most influential and most important men in the history of the sport of boxing worldwide.
There are books and movies that describe the life of Don King, but there is no official production in which he recounts his life, and perhaps it will never exist, because he refuses to do so as he wishes to continue his boxing promoter career. In almost all of these biographical productions he is portraited as a dark and even almost diabolical being. It would be necessary to study who has produced these films, series, etc., and check the interest behind these works, because none of them does justice to how much he has achieved for the good of our sport in so many different ways.
The famous Don was born in Cleveland. He grew up in troubled neighborhoods in the midst of a society at a time when racial discrimination was at its peak in the USA. I don’t know his childhood very well, but in his youth, he was dedicated to collecting money from the famous clandestine lottery of that time called “numbers.” He eventually married Henrietta, who was in charge of that business.
One day, while trying to collect an outstanding balance, a dispute arose which led to a fight in which the debtor happened to die, leading Don King to spend four years in jail. That was the best thing that could have happened to him since he spent that time educating himself, and above all, creating a life plan for himself when he was liberated. He read innumerable books and grew inspired by the great characters in the history of his country and humanity.
When he got out of prison, he looked for a way to clear his name towards society, and it was then when he managed to contact the then-champion Muhammad Ali. He offered him to do an exhibition fight to raise funds in order to save a hospital that the government had decided to close due to lack of funds. The success of that event was such that in addition to saving the hospital to continue serving people of his race, Don King realized that boxing could be an enormous business.
He became a boxing promoter and thus began a successful career that has spanned seven decades from the 1970s to the 2020s.
The audacity, imagination and perseverance led him to be promoter of the greatest fighters in the world, as well as presenting some of the greatest boxing cards in the history of this sport.
Boxing shows promoted by King featured three, four, and even five world championship fights on the very same night.
Don King managed to promote boxing in a fashionable way, all his cards became events of great interest. He managed to capture the attention of fans and bring millions of new people to boxing. His cards were always billed with a catchy name, creating a story of what would happen in the ring and that is how those legendary events are still remembered.
The Rumble in the Jungle – the historic fight held in Zaire, now the Congo, where Muhammad Ali shocked the world by regaining his WBC World Heavyweight Championship by knocking out George Foreman in eight rounds.
The Thrilla in Manila – the third meeting between Ali and Frazier turned out to be one of the most brutal and dramatic fights in history. Ali was no longer going to come out to fight after the 14th round. Angelo Dundee begged him to just stand up, claiming he would stop the fight when he considered it. Ali accepted, and it was Frazier who didn’t come in the final round.
All of his cards received a special name and his promotional tours were simply amazing. He lived in a time without social networks, without cell phones, without internet, and even so the news of his fights reached all corners of the world.
Promoter of a huge number of Mexican boxers, and to whom we owe a large part of the growth Mexico towards worldwide boxing. Salvador Sanchez, Carlos Zarate, Lupe Pintor, Ricardo Lopez, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Chiquita Gonzalez, Daniel Zaragoza among many more, and also the great Mexican champion Julio Cesar Chavez!
Chavez and King offered great nights of glory to Mexican and world boxing. “Thunder Meets Lightning,” the unforgettable night when Chavez defeated Taylor with that historic KO in the last seconds. “Ultimate Glory”, the night when Chavez faced Macho Camacho, the most anticipated fight for many years, and “The Grand Slam of Boxing,” Chavez vs. Haugen at the Azteca stadium before 136,000 spectators.
That’s how an iconic career as a boxing promoter loaded with champions such as Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Azumah Nelson, Terry Norris, Julian Jackson, and over a hundred other champions he has promoted. Don King has promoted more than 500 world championship fights. He has paid a million dollars in a fight to more than 100 boxers and he has promoted or co-promoted seven of the 10 most successful pay-per-views in boxing history.
His iconic look, with that peculiar hairstyle with his hair standing up, is considered one of the most audacious publicity actions in history. This has served as case studies in the most prestigious universities, as well as in various marketing agencies of the world.
According to Don, he says that one good day after taking a bath, while looking in the mirror asking God for a sign to seek success, his curls began to unfold, turning straight one by one, “Ping, ping, pum, ping” until he saw how his hair had shaped into a crown. He can walk down any street in the world, enter any restaurant or store and still cause commotion among those who see him. He is undoubtedly one of the most recognized characters in the history of sports.
Did you know that…
In addition to all the success he has achieved as a boxing promoter, he was the one who promoted one of the most successful music tours in all history: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Two weeks before the great card, “The War” in the bullring in Mexico in which Julio Cesar Chavez faced Miguel Angel Gonzalez and Ricardo Lopez faced Rosendo Alvarez, my father called me while he was in his room. “My son, I am very tired. Could you go to the airport and pick up Don? I will catch up with you at dinner.”
Very excited, I got into my car and my cousin Manuel got into his so we could pick up Don and his team at the airport. Dana got into my Stratus in the back, and Don got in front with me, Isidore (RIP), his supposed bodyguard who was actually his assistant and was not able to even kill a fly, as he was so gentle and kind, like a teddy bear, traveled with my cousin in his Jetta. When we got to a red light at the corner of Campos Eliseos and Mariano Escobedo, a car crossed us and four guys got out with such tremendous guns, Don got panicked and started screaming and yelling. Fortunately, I managed to calm him down, and thank God he agreed to give them his watch. They immediately ran to their car. The traffic light turned green and I instinctively simply started to drive. There was a patrol car on the corner and I just shouted at them, “We just got robbed.” The policeman turned around and yelled with great excitement, “Don King, Don King, a photo please.”
Finally, we arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel where we met my father, and when he found out what had happened, he hugged me and kissed me with nothing but pure love: “Thank God nothing happened my son,” while Don shouted through the lobby on the way to the restaurant, “Mauricio saved me, he saved me. He saved me from those bandidos!”
As we arrived to Alfredo DiRoma restaurant, Don ordered a triple Cognac that he drank at once and ordered all the dishes on the menu, saying that he had just been reborn.
I appreciate your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.