Steve Bunce on Boxing: Who was that talking big with the new champion on Saturday? Yes, Don King is back – and he may be just what the heavyweights need

King promotes the new WBC champion Bermane Stiverne

One afternoon in Kingston, Jamaica, Don King performed a magic trick by arriving at a heavyweight title fight in a limousine with the champ and, when he was knocked out, left in the limo with the new champ; King switched camps and nobody noticed or cared.

That fight, which was known as “The Sunshine Showdown”, was between the heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Frazier, and his No 1 challenger, George Foreman. “People have tried to claim that I stepped over Joe’s body when George knocked him down,” King said, “people have claimed I was desperate to get to George – well, that’s not true: I didn’t step over Joe, I stepped round him.” 

The story of that fight in 1973, and King’s swift switch of allegiance, is just one of thousands from an often damning dossier of the veteran promoter’s exploits during over 43 years in the boxing business. King has had his hand on the lapel – some claim that hand was usually closer to the pocket – of hundreds of world champions and dozens of his heavyweights have held or fought for sport’s richest prize.

Last Saturday at a fight inside a gym at a university in Los Angeles, watched by just over 1,000 curious people, two relatively unknown boxers had a glorious slugfest for the vacant WBC heavyweight title. It really was a good fight, the pair split a paltry $325,000 (£195,000), and King, the heavyweight promoter, again had his beefy hand wrapped round the raised arm of the new heavyweight champion of the world.

Bermane Stiverne is not Foreman or Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson, all former clients of King, but he can fight, he can punch and he has a deal with King that means there is every chance that the moribund heavyweight division will get a lift. “Let me say this and say it clearly,” King said after Stiverne had knocked out Chris Arreola in round six on Saturday. “Tell people that at this time, from this place, let the word go forth that the heavyweight division is back in business.” The division is certainly back in King’s business and with a marketable fighter like Stiverne that will mean some thrills.

King, now 82, has never really gone away but he has not had a solid hold on a world heavyweight champion in over a decade; during the last few years his fading hopefuls have lost in meaningful fights or simply slipped away into boxing’s hinterland of oblivion. His empire of the ring has dwindled to just a few loyal employees, men and women from his glory years in the Eighties and Nineties when Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez helped make King the sport’s greatest promoter. It is a title that King will never lose to any of the slick but saccharine lightweights and their anonymous sidemen who run the sport at the moment. King was, at times, a dirty promoter, but the modern millionaires who pull the strings to put on big fights now are often equally as tricky but do their best to come across as benevolent souls. It also needs to be recalled that nearly 20 years ago King was paying Tyson and Evander Holyfield the same amount of money that Floyd Mayweather, boxing’s biggest earner in this day and age, is making for his fights.

“The business right now for me is to make the heavyweight championship great again,” said King. “This young man [Stiverne] will fight anybody and it is my job to make it happen.” Stiverne has a mandatory challenger in American Deontay Wilder, who has won all of his 31 fights by knockout, but that is a fight King would prefer to build and not bury through lack of promotion. There is also Wladimir Klitschko, who holds the other three world heavyweight titles. “Wladimir is a friend of mine and a great guy, with great heart and a soft chin,” said King. It sounds like a warning.

A fight for Stiverne against Klitschko would certainly generate instant cash but during the last decade over 20 American fighters (Stiverne was born in Haiti but has been based in Las Vegas for a decade) have tried and failed miserably to dent either of the Klitschko brothers in world-title contests. King is a marvel at resurrection, working miracles with Ali and Tyson at times, and he now has the heavyweight division in his grips once again. As we say in boxing, it’s down but not out.

“I’m one of the world’s greatest survivors,” King told me one night in Mexico City in 1993. “I’ve got the right combination of  wit, grit and bull****. I broke all the rules when I arrived and I’m so good that even my friends think I’m doing something wrong.” The following night King was resplendent in the ring, watching over the 143,000 people that paid to see their idol Chavez fight at the Azteca; it is a paid-attendance boxing record that still stands, another King landmark.

He is boxing’s history man, having brokered deals with despots like the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko, dined with kings, held hands with the greatest of fighters, killed a couple of hoodlums and still he remains a fixture, waving flags and making  deals. In his ninth decade there is just a chance that he could make the heavyweights king again.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week