Gods of Armageddon; Don King
“I am the living attestation of the American dream. I am the extolment of this great nation.” – Don King
When comprising a list of the God’s of Armageddon we consider first and foremost; how a person goes from merely influencing the apocalypse, but how is this person a central figure, a pillar of Armageddon. How has this person helped to bring about “The End of Days”? Sammy Davis Jr. was a Satanic-tap-dancing-Jew, who pioneered fucking white women and fucking up white-men’s perceptions of black people. Betty White mastered the art of acting clueless and turned several generations into geriatric-ophiles. Donald King was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1931; he was a college dropout who began his path toward becoming a God of Armageddon as a bookie, running numbers and such. His modest beginnings would soon grow after he was released from prison in 1970, having spent just four years in prison for one of two murders he was charged with in 1966. Though the first murder happened 13 years earlier, it was found to be justifiable homicide; Despite the fact that he shot the man in the back. The second murder was a bit more gruesome, Don King stomped one of his subordinates to death over a $600 debt. Today Don King is one of the wealthiest African American public figures in the country, with a net worth of $290 million. He has been a promoter since the days of Muhammad Ali and has been a staple in professional boxing for decades. He is the man responsible for some of the biggest fights in history like the Thrilla in Manila, the Rumble in the Jungle, and every Mike Tyson fight ever including the infamous ear biting incident. Don King helped create a video game called Don King Presents: Prizefighter for the Xbox 360, which he promoted on IGN’s podcast Three Red Lights, and another called Don King Boxing. There is also a Nintendo DS version of Don King Boxing. Don King has become a cultural icon beyond that of a simple boxing promoter, immolated in various mediums; to the point where even his very name has become a sexual act. At 78 years old; he is still an active and powerful force in professional boxing and all of entertainment. His legacy will be controversial, but one can hardly argue that Don King has not had a tremendous impact on not only professional sports, but the world.
Donald King was born in a ghetto during Depression-era in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 20, 1931. He was raised by his single mother after his father was killed in an explosion at the steel factory On December 7, 1941. King’s mother relocated the family to a middle-class neighborhood with the insurance settlement. When the money ran out, she began to bake pies, which her sons sold along with bags of roasted peanuts. As a sales gimmick, Don and his brothers began to slip a “lucky number” into each bag, which soon made them very popular with numbers runners. As a high school student, he took an interest in boxing, entering Golden Gloves tournaments as “The Kid”. After being knocked out early in his few bouts, The Kid decided that boxing was not for him. Instead, he chose to focus on the numbers rackets that he had entered selling peanuts and pies. Accepted to Kent State after high school, he spent his summer after high school working for a local numbers runner to raise his tuition. After hustling all summer, he lost a winning betting slip and had to reimburse his boss out of his own pocket, placing his college plans on hold. He saw that college was an unnecessary diversion for his goals although he would later take a few classes at Case Western University. Instead he further entrenched himself in the numbers racket, by the time he turned 20, Don King was a well-established and successful numbers runner. Here he would begin to display the panache and flair that would mark his entire life. He bought fancy clothes and drove around in expensive cars. During this time he began to reveal the talents that would take him from being more than a simple hustler. He used an insider’s tips to rig his numbers game based on stock market results, reducing his risk to 200 to 1 odd’s while collecting at 500 to 1 odds. This system worked well enough to make King the most successful numbers man in Cleveland by the time he was 30yrs old. King also became a man to be feared.
In December of 1954, he shot to death a man named Hillary Brown who was trying to rob one of his gambling houses. The killing was ruled a “justifiable homicide.” Don King’s next brush with the law would be far more serious. On April 20, 1966, King walked into the Manhattan Tap Room and saw a man by the name of Sam Garrett a former employee who owed him $600. A drug-addicted, Garrett was no match for King, their argument very quickly turned into a brawl that spilled out into the street. The beating King unleashed left Garrett dead. King would claim self-defense, though witness accounts would vary. The beating was brutal; some would say an almost demonic assault. In an interview with sportswriter Jack Newfield, The first police officer on the scene (Bob Tonne) said he saw “a man’s head bouncing off the asphalt pavement like a rubber ball”. Then he said he saw another man standing over him with a gun in his hand, kicking Garrett in the head. Even after King was subdued and the fight was over, he got in one last vicious kick that Tonne said he would never forget.[i] Yet despite the reports of witness intimidation and bribery, King was only convicted of second-degree murder. Normally, this would have meant a life sentence (with eligibility for parole after eight and a half years). Oddly, the judge in a highly controversial decision (reached in the privacy of his chambers) set aside the execution of the sentence, changing the conviction to manslaughter. This allowed King to emerge from prison in less than four years. King used his years in prison to great advantage, getting the education he had bypassed before, studying literature and philosophy. He would later say about his time behind bars: “I didn’t serve time. I made time serve me.”
On September 30, 1971, was released from prison wiser and wealthier than your typical ex-con. Upon his release he managed to purchase from a Cleveland city councilor a 40-acre farm for a mere $1,000, a suspiciously small sum for such a property. The farm was occupied by a woman named Hattie Renwick, a widow who would surprisingly become Mrs. Don King. One friend Lloyd Price was a very successful singer-songwriter who had been performing benefits and concerts at a tavern owned by Don King. The two had become fast friends, and the day after King’s parole, Price flew to Cleveland to offer his support and advice. In 1972, Don King came up with an idea that would require Lloyd Price’s assistance. A local hospital had fallen on hard times, and King came up with the idea of holding a charitable event to rescue it; a couple of exhibition matches with Price’s friend Muhammad Ali. Price made the necessary introductions, and King did the rest. The match was successful, although there were questions as to how much money the hospital actually received. Don King had found his true calling, and soon the whole world would know it. The fledgling boxing promoter had convinced Ali and his Nation of Islam handlers that they were morally obligated to do business with a “black” promoter. Around this time King claimed to have received a “sign” from God, when his Afro uncurled into the shock of hair that the world would soon recognize as his trademark look. Over the years, the story would grow more elaborate, to the point where he claimed his hair could not be cut or combed, and electric shocks would fly from it when barbers got too close with shears or scissors. He would later admit in a 1993 interview with Jet Magazine hat he uses Aqua Net hair spray and a comb to style his coif every day.
In 1974, King put together “Rumble in the Jungle” a title fights between then champion, George Foreman, and the challenger Muhammad Ali. To add a note of “black pride” or to cozy up to Ali’s Nation of Islam he would hold the event in Africa, in Zaire. He promised each of the contenders $5 million, twice of what any previous fighter had earned, and despite the corruption of Zaire’s megalomaniac ruler Mobutu and the suspicions of both Ali’s and Foreman’s managers. Not to mention a five-week delay that threatened to torpedo the entire fight, King managed to pull off the fight. Which quickly became legendary and a huge financial success for all nearly all concerned. Kings old friend Lloyd Price claimed to have never received payment despite being ultimately responsible for King even knowing Ali in the first place. With Ali’s regaining the title and King firmly inside his camp, the two began to plan the next big match. The result was the “Thrilla in Manila”, which pitted Ali against former Heavyweight Champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier. It is considered the greatest title fight in boxing history, adding a note to King’s reputation for mounting lucrative spectacles. The boxing world soon got a good sample of Don King’s audaciousness in February 1978 when he stole not a fighter but the very Heavyweight Championship title. On February 15, Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali and gained the title. Bob Arum the promoter of the fight held a contract giving him options on the first three defenses by Spinks. Yet Spinks (who revered Ali) promised Muhammad Ali a rematch. Don King saw this (honorable) gesture as an opportunity. King called the president of the World Boxing Council (WBC), and convinced him to strip Spinks of his title for giving Ali an immediate rematch instead of fighting the Number 1 contender. By stripping Spinks without due process or a fair hearing inadvertently creating a second heavyweight title, giving King a great advantage because he had all the other contenders under contract.[ii]
As King’s influence grew he attracted the attention of the federal government, most notably the FBI and the IRS. Don King has been investigated for possible connections with organized crime. In a 1992 Senate investigation, when questioned about his connection to mobster John Gotti, King pleaded the Fifth In public he responded to mob allegations as racist. Yet After numerous investigations, the FBI concluded that the chaotic structure of modern boxing meant that King probably was not criminally liable for shady deals, although it continued to watch him. He has also survived IRS investigations for tax evasion and a 1995 federal charge for insurance fraud, which ended in a hung jury. In fact, the jury convicted King’s secretary, while letting King himself off. A grateful King sprung for first-class plane tickets and ringside seats for the jurors. In addition, King has fended off a number of lawsuits from his own clients, but these have generally been settled out of court.
As Muhammad Ali entered his declining years, Don King emerged as the face of modern boxing. For a time in the 1980s, everyone who held or contended for the heavyweight championship was either promoted or managed by Don King. It wasn’t just his business savvy, forgettable Heavyweight champions never resonated with the public the way Don King did. King is well known for his flamboyant patriotism, making references to “Only in America” and what he perceives as its greatness during almost every conversation. In recent years (particularly after the attacks of September 11, 2001) he has become known for wearing his now signature denim jacket stenciled images of his self and with patriotic emblems, and waving American flags while being interviewed. Only one boxer since Ali has managed eclipsed Don King’s notoriety-Iron Mike Tyson. King sold HBO a $26 million heavyweight elimination series in 1986, which resulted in Mike Tyson being crowned the fist undisputed heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali. When Tyson went to jail on a rape conviction and lost his title, it seemed to some that King had lost his last big meal ticket. Mike Tyson has referred to King as “a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker. He’s just a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar.” King has been involved in several legal cases with boxers that were focused on fraud. Muhammad Ali sued King for underpaying him $1.2 million for a fight. Ali eventually settled for $50,000. Mike Tyson sued King for $100 million, alleging the boxing promoter cheated him out of millions over more than a decade. It was settled out of court for $14 million. In 2005, King was sued by Lennox Lewis, for $385 million, claiming King used threats to pull Tyson away from a rematch with Lewis.
Yet Don King at 78 year-old continues his promotions (including a brief detour into the music industry promoting the Jacksons 5’s Victory Tour in 1984), law suits, grand schemes for reviving the sagging fortunes of heavyweight boxing, intense rivalries with other promoters, all continue to fill the busy life of Don King. He was named Promoter of the Millennium by the World Boxing Association in 1999. Promoter of over 500 world championship fights. Nearly 100 boxers have earned $1 million or more in Don King Productions-promoted fights. Don King Productions holds the distinction of having promoted seven of the 10 largest pay-per-view events in history, he has promoted an unprecedented 13 world champions, and was the first promoter to stage 23 world championship fights in the same year. In his time in the business he has been viewed as one of the most corrupt and controversial figures in long history of boxing. He has risen from absolute poverty to one of the wealthiest men in America and one of the most recognizable figures in the world. His iconic hair and ridiculous catch phrases have earned him not only a place in history but a seat on the pantheon of God’s of the Armageddon. “Only in America could a Don King happen”.
[ii] Source: Newfield, Jack. Only in America, New York: Knopf, 1993, pp. 139-140