Sunday, August 21, 2011

Don King At 80: A Wild Ride

It's a weird bit of coincidence that three of boxing's biggest power brokers over the last four decades were all born mere months apart in 1931.

It is unquestionable that the influence of World Boxing Council boss Jose Sulaiman and promoter Bob Arum remain undiminished as of this writing.

Don King, who turns 80 on Saturday, is no longer the towering figure he once was. While he has a decent stable of fighters, the most charitable view would see him as the fourth most powerful promotional entity in the sport, and possibly no higher than sixth.

It was telling that immediately after King's Joseph Abgeko was shafted last week by some of the most biased officiating seen in a major fight in years, it was left to the promoter's rep, Alan Hooper, to lobby from the fight site in Las Vegas. King was at his Florida home, unable to make the trip due to a bad back.

King used to own Las Vegas, and he controlled most of the fighters in the heavyweight division from the mid-1970s to just a few years ago. Lennox Lewis made a dent in that grip, but it was the shifting of the power base in the division to Europe and the Klitschko brothers that ended the fiefdom.

Outrageous, entertaining, contemptuous, overbearing, creative, criminal, a workaholic, Machiavellian, loquacious, blatant, shameless, shameful ... King hogs more adjectives than most public figures.

King's ability to hustle and convince two of the biggest sports stars, as well as representatives from an impoverished African nation, to come together for the Ali-Foreman fight is one of the legendary feats in sports promotion; and in the King vernacular, done using OPM — Other People's Money.

In 1986, he introduced a heavyweight unification tournament for the division he helped divide. He was clearly thinking six moves ahead, as it just so happened to come into fruition as Mike Tyson was coming into view as the next big thing.

A decade later, he helped convince about a million suckers to order Tyson's out-of-prison farce against Peter McNeeley.

As you'll see from the timeline below, though, King's accomplishments are fairly front loaded in his career.

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