One on One with Don King
DON KING, the man, the myth, the hair, was more than happy to go 12 rounds with The Sun's Jim Munro at Madison Square Garden.
After four decades in boxing, is there one fight that you could turn around and say that was THE great fight, that was the one that gave me the most pride?
Well I would have to ask you in the words of Winston Churchill, is it "the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning"?
It has to be with Muhammad Ali and the Rumble in the Jungle. Wherever you go, that was my visibility. Until then I was invisible.
Ali opened the door. Just the ability that even if they didn't believe you, you had a voice, you could say something.
Every knee must bend, every head must bow, every tongue must confess, thou are the greatest, the greatest of all times. Muhammad, Muhammad Ali."
So it was the fight that gave you a voice, but how did you get that voice, how did you get to stage the Rumble in the Jungle?
Listen, I never cease to amaze myself. Not because it's me but because it's God and God helps me to do this and bring people together.
Thirty-four years ago, Muhammad Ali was trying to fight George Foreman.
Every erudite pundit, 95 to 98 per cent, said Ali was over the hill, he was finished, he was plus 40 years and Foreman was a young buck and they said the man is going to kill him.
I got phone calls saying 'you're a mercenary, you should not let Ali go in there. He stood for too much for us for you to put him in there to get him slaughtered'.
I went to Foreman and he told me: "Man, I don't wanna fight this guy. He's an old man, he's finished, he's over the hill. If I beat him they're gonna look at me with condemnation.
"If I knock him out and hurt him they're gonna say 'look what you did, you killed an old man'. "
I went to Ali and said "he ain't gonna fight you". So Ali says: "Get him, I don't care what it is coz I'm gonna whup him. You get him."
So I went back to Foreman and said: "Ali says he's gonna whup you and you're going bye, bye, bye."
So Foreman says: "He talks too much, I gotta shut his mouth."
And I'm sayin': "That's it, that's it George. This is how you get him and shut his mouth. Give him an opportunity so you can then shut that mouth and then me and you can move on."
That he bought. He signed seven blank sheets of paper but it was a matter of emotion and ego, not about money. Foreman didn't want the money because he didn't feel it was right.
History has recorded it as a legendary classic. Rope a dope was introduced and Ali beat him, knocked him out in the eighth round.
So George Foreman loses to Muhammad Ali as a young man. Ali is 10, 15 years more than him.
Twenty years later, old man Foreman, 45 years old, goes in and beats Michael Moore and knocks him out and gets to be heavyweight champion again.
That's what you gotta do, have the desire to fight. You wanna compete with your heart, your mind and your soul. You don't throw people out, people are important.
How do you promote something that is basically two guys pummelling each other?
I don't promote boxing, I promote people. Boxing is a catalyst to bring people together.
It tells people they don't have that much difference between each other. If you cut your finger, you both bleed red. You put your pants on one leg at a time.
Reality show? You can't find anything better than boxing because of the trials and errors, the ups and downs, the struggle when you get knocked down to get back up. Use it symbolically and interchangeably for life.
It gives people the courage to stick through to the end. You're in it to win it, you can't give up, you can't give in and you can't quit. So it is in life, no matter what endeavour you try to take on.
It's always a struggle, no gain without pain. This way you can tell a story with boxing, other than just two guys in there pummelling each other. The ones that excel are the ones dedicatedly committed to excellence. Work ethic, tenacity, perseverance, resilience.
This is something you want to teach your kids. The morality, the intellect and the ability to stick to it. You can be the greatest guy in the world but if you ain't got no heart, you ain't gonna survive.
What do you say to critics who accuse you of using over the hill fighters to headline bouts, such as the recent Roy Jones Jnr-Tito Trinidad clash?
I'm an ardent American Football fan. Last year, after Green Bay got through the season, they said Brett Favre was finished because he was 38 or 39.
You should incinerate him, he's rubbish now, get rid of him. We need a new quarterback to build the Green Bay Packers around and build a whole new team.
Fast forward 12 months and Favre broke all Dan Marino's records.
People get held up in their own self-aggrandizement. And they say if you get over 30 – and that age limit keeps reducing – you get over 30, you should be given away.
You get over 30, you're in trouble. Whatever you're doing it's "Oh, you shouldn't be doing that man".
They said the same thing about Roy Jones and Tito Trinidad. Some of the press were saying they're over the hill, this should have been done seven years ago.
It can't be. It's a rendezvous with destiny. When you have a rendezvous with destiny, you gotta be able to deal with it. It chooses you, you don't choose it.
They were fighting because they wanted to beat each other up. But they were fighting for the people. That's the difference.
That's what there was with Foreman and Ali. Fighting for the people.
Ali was fighting for the recognition to say that he wasn't finished. Foreman was going to be physical and indomitable and nobody was going to be able to stop him.
What does Don King, 76 years old and still promoting all these big fights, do to unwind? Do you have time to unwind?
You know what it is? God helped me. I'm an ex-convict, an ex-number runner. I was pretty good at that, too.
I go to jail, I come out of jail. He sends me in this direction.
I got a pardon from Governor James Rhodes with guys like George Steinbrenner writing letters, trying to get me out.
There were three of us from Cleveland at that time: Don King, George Steinbrenner and Chuck Dolan. Chuck owns this Garden [Madison Square Garden where the interview took place] and owns Cablevision.
George Steinbrenner owns the [New York] Yankees. He was the only one that was rich, me and Chuck were starving to death. That was 47 years ago.
You gotta be able to take the bitter with the sweet, take it like you find it and leave it like it is. You gotta contribute, be part of responsibility, accountability, discipline, focus.
Without these you're not gonna make it in life or in boxing.
So what's the Don King philosophy to help us have a successful life?
Say "yes I can" when everyone says "no you can't". You can resolve to be what you want to be. And don't let nobody tell you nothing different.
But you've got to also touch your heart and work together with people. The highest form of charity is opportunity.
So if you give a person opportunity, they can be able to succeed and then they can give other people an opportunity.