For a promoter to survive after five decades in the cutthroat world of the boxing, he or she must possess foresight. You have to anticipate what the people want, and be able to deliver those matchups by any means necessary. That has been Don King’s mantra through years of lawsuits, damning investigative books, accolades and finally grudging respect from colleagues.
Today, the Muhammad Alis and Mike Tysons of boxing have transitioned to the realm of legend, leaving King with the challenging task of capturing the public’s imagination with new, young talents. His latest potential breakout champion is 23 year old Devon Alexander, who he’ll take into battle Saturday night (January 29) in a highly anticipated 140 pound unification match with Timothy Bradley. This fight, between two young, undefeated African-Americans, is being viewed as a possible starting point to create boxing’s next star.
Is the mainstream public ready to put their attention on any boxer not named Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather?
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Putting this fight at the big Pontiac Silverdome was a risky decision. Now that the promotion is pretty much over, what’s you assessment of the move?
Don King: Everything has gone great. Gary [Shaw, Timothy Bradley’s promoter] has done a good job taking care of whatever he’s doing with them. All I want to do is make sure they have a super promotion with Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley. Bradley is reclaiming his opportunity to fight for the WBC title. So it’s a true unification now.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: One thing you used to do even in the 90’s was stacking the undercards. You had guys like Julian Jackson and Ricardo Lopez fighting on Tyson undercards. Golden Boy over the last few years has been one of the companies trying to bring that back. Why do you think so many promoters went away from that formula?
King: Well, they had different, various reasons. A lot of it was to keep whatever they were getting for themselves. And then they were putting guys they wanted to develop in with matchups they could win. It was not fair to the public. But that ain’t the way to promote; you have to give the people what they want. When that happens, all you’ll hear is “when is the next show?” If you sell the entire card, and the main event is bad or lackluster, you’ve hopefully had other fights that were better and exciting. So you come out ahead and there are no losers or downsides.
I believe in promoting the people. That’s why I say I’m a promoter of the people, for the people, and by the people. My magic lies in my people ties.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’re a promoter that has his fighters compete in their hometowns a lot. Sometimes that’s good and other times like Judah-Baldomir and Alexander-Kotelnik, not so much. Do you ever have apprehension making that move with fighters?
King: No, but I learned a long time ago from Squire Bill Daley that the best thing to do is fight a fighter in his hometown. Go right to his hometown. This has been a great avenue of success. Fight the best in his backyard. That demonstrates the spirit you have. And it creates a lot of havoc and excitement in the town the fighter is from. This is what I’ve been practicing for the last 3-4 decades. Either put it in the other guy’s hometown, or where the people want to see it.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’ve worked extensively with both Showtime and HBO over the decades. This bout will be one of the biggest and important for HBO this year. With all the recent big moves in the sport, do you think both networks are moving forward in 2011 with a better grasp of boxing and what fans want?
King: Well actually I think they’re retrogressing rather than progressing, because what they’re doing now is putting executives in trying to tell you who to match and why. They’re matchmaking capability doesn’t come to the top of the heap. The one that they got now is superb, but this fight has been in the making for awhile. With all the disappointment that surrounds Timothy Bradley with his disengagement with the WBC, now he finds the error of his ways. Now he goes to the green belt and kneels. He wants to be restored for the opportunity to fight for the most prestigious belt in boxing, and that’s the WBC. That’s the way it should be, a unification match between the WBO and WBC.
The IBF should be included, but they made a terrible mistake in stripping Devon of his belt on some pure bullshit. That lends a lot of credence to Arum’s idea about these organizations [not mattering]. I have always been a standard-bearer for the organizations, but I think what they did was just beneath dignity and it should not have happened. So be it.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Devon is still really young at 23 years old, and you’ve promoted many of the greats from Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes to Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez. Where do you see Devon’s potential?
King: This is a great, great fight and the sky’s the limit. I think all the beneficiaries of this fight is the public. This is what will really help boxing, when the public wins. If it’s a terrific fight, the consumer wins. It’s the epitome of fandom. You give fans a chance to latch on to one guy for their self-aggrandizement and fantasy of linking themselves to that star, like they did with Muhammad Ali. You saw Ali shadow-boxing in the dressing rooms and the dining areas. When he did that, the waiters would just stop while he was dancing around. That’s when you have captured the imagination of the people.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: One of the things people like most about this fight is that it’s on cable and not pay-per-view. Break down your perspective on when pay-per-view is warranted, and when it is overkill.
King: Well you know what this is a boon for regular cable, ‘cause this really would be a pay-per-view fight. But, the pay-per-view means awareness. It’s a public demand. When we had the development of the three networks in ABC, NBC and CBS, we brought along new stars to be shown on Saturdays. They graduated through the ranks, and you watched their development. Then you have a pay-per-view fight when you run across two of them in the same weight category that have accolades, and then you can put them together for a payday. Now the risk justifies the reward.
Beat, Boxing & Mayhem: What other things can be done to improve boxing?
King: Boxing is life and life is boxing. [Unlike other sports,] when you’re in boxing, you have to deal with your problems. You can’t call time out and send in a substitute. You can’t run out of gas because there ain’t any gas pitchers in sight. You have to deal with what is real in the center of the ring. You have to go out there [as a promoter] and make things happen for the people. Show your appreciation for them being there and give them the best of your entertainment, capabilities and qualifications.
It is a sport, so you want competition! You don’t want a one-sided event that means nothing! That unknown factor has to always be there, where you won’t know until the time comes. That makes boxing such a great sport.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You and Bob Arum have a lot of history, not all of it positive. Yet, you’ll be working with each other again in a few months for Cotto-Mayorga. The old saying is “business never personal.” Is that always the motto with you?
King: Well you can always put aside your personal idiosyncrasies, but it’s a pleasure to work with someone like Bob Arum, a real professional and promoter. Like him or dislike him, he’s still a promoter. Everybody’s got their joys and sorrows, but you got to confront it and deal with it. I don’t mind working with any type of promoter. The event here has Gary Shaw. You have to respect another fighter’s promoter.
Now the overall picture of the promotion, I’m not going to argue back and forth about who’s right and wrong. I’m taking Devon Alexander in there to win against Timothy Bradley. If he does that, I’ll be overjoyed. That overcomes any problems because I’m not going to be there forever, just for that one event. Hopefully and prayerfully my guy comes through. I can’t be any more proud of Devon. And if anyone didn’t hear it I’ll say it louder.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: For a business standpoint, what has changed, if anything, about your approach to the game now as opposed to the 90s?
King: Well, the basic ingredients are the same for me. But, there are more opportunities for African-Americans to participate in sports that they weren’t allowed to early on. So it makes it difficult. We can bear witness to the changes. You used to have boxers that gained fame and were community oriented and gave back to where they came from. So the community was there for them. Now the community is diverse and has so many different factions. The fan base is not as strong unless you develop a hero. Then you got something you can kindle into a fire and blaze.
We’re doing the best we can without having that superstar that can be the catalyst to bring the boxing fandom back. Boxing is the #1 sport because it’s man to man.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: There are still some fans not sold on Bradley or Alexander having the capability to become stars. What do you have to say to them about this fight?
King: Tell the fans, who I am one of, this is a must see. Regardless or irrespective to what you may have heard or not heard, seen or not seen, this is a must see. This is a luxury that if you bear witness to. You’ll see two young men coming up from the guttermost to the uppermost. Not coming from Yale, Harvard or Oxford, but being able to deal with the streets and disciplining themselves to deal with accountability and responsibility. Both are them are undefeated and world champions that will unify. I’m urging all the fans of boxing and life to be there. Here’s a lesson that needs to be told. Forget about the peer pressure, drugs, gangs and the corner. These guys rejected those temptations and sinfulness for a path a righteousness. These are true champions clashing on January 29, so be there!
Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander will air tomorrow night (January 29) on HBO at 10 PM EST