Don King Biography: Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson

Born August 20, 1931, Don King is now as recognizable for his hairstyle and sound bite-heavy manner of speaking as he is for his contributions to sport. Though he is now well-known as a big name in the boxing industry, Don King started his professional career running numbers in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. He eventually got into illegitimate business, but after a few encounters with the law – and a stint in jail for murder – he finally turned things around. King began following Cassius Clay – who later became Muhammad Ali – and promoting his fights, and the rest is history. In this video, learns more about the life and career of Don King.

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Biography: The Life and Career of Don King

He is recognizable for his trademark hairstyle, and for his contributions to the boxing world. Learn more about the life and career of Don King.

Early Years

Donald King was born August 20th, 1931 in Cleveland, Ohio. After an unsuccessful attempt in the boxing ring, King tried to pay for his education by running numbers. Eventually he started his own illegal lottery business.

Wealth and Enemies

By the time he was 30, he had one of the biggest rackets in Cleveland. He boasted his wealth with expensive cars and flamboyant clothing. However his success made him enemies. In 1954, King killed a robber, but successfully argued it as a justifiable homicide. Later in the decade, he survived murder attempts relatively unscathed.

Meeting Cassius Clay

Despite problems with the IRS, King’s career remained successful at the beginning of the ‘60s. During this period he met boxer Cassius Clay, and began following his career.

Arrest and Jail Sentence

King’s luck changed in 1967 when he was convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison. While incarcerated, King educated himself by reading literature and philosophy. He was paroled in 1971, and chose to seek legitimate business prospects. It was also around this time that King began wearing his hair in its trademark style.

First Legitimate Business

In 1972, he organized a fundraiser for a local hospital and convinced Muhammad Ali – formerly Cassius Clay – to fight. The event raised over $80 thousand, and convinced King that boxing promotion was where he would make his money.

“The Rumble in the Jungle”

King launched his career on a global stage in 1974 when he organized a bout in Zaire between Ali and George Foreman called “The Rumble in the Jungle.” This highly-anticipated event was a coup for King as he was able to secure over $10 million in funding from Zaire’s government. The fight was a huge success, and led to King’s next victory.

"Thrilla in Manila"

In 1975, King promoted the “Thrilla in Manila.” The bout between Ali and Joe Frazier was considered one of the greatest heavyweight fights of all time, and was watched by over one million people. King reinforced his reputation as one of the best matchmakers in the biz.

Dumped by Ali

After promoting more of Ali’s championship fights, King was eventually dumped. However, other fighters like Larry Holmes and Wilfred Benítez took him on.


Controversy followed King into the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. He was associated with some shady dealings within the boxing industry, and was accused of altering fighters’ records. In 1984 he was charged with tax evasion, though he was later acquitted. That was the year he expanded from boxing to promote the Jacksons’ final concert series, the Victory Tour.

Collapse in the 1980s

By the late ‘80s, King was as successful as ever with help from his lucrative relationship with Mike Tyson. However in the 1990s, Tyson lost a championship and went to jail, King’s relationship with HBO collapsed, and he was accused of an insurance scam. A number of King’s former fighters also alleged that he had cheated them out of money. Muhammad Ali, Tim Witherspoon and Tyson himself all brought suits against him.

King's Reputation

A derisive biography of King, called “Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King” was published in 1995, and portrayed him as a cold-blooded criminal. Despite that, King’s reputation barely suffered, and he continued working within boxing even after the sport declined in popularity.


Over his career, Don King amassed a fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He also fought allegations asserting ties to organized crime.


While he helped increase the popularity of boxing, he is also alleged to have contributed to its reputation as corrupt. Either way, his influence is huge, both in boxing and in pop culture.

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