He is 80 years old, and if I get to that place, and I told this to his face when he was in Brooklyn watching the ring action at the Aviator Complex on March 24, I do hope I am close to as vibrant, as with it, as in the game, as Don King still is.
Yes, boxing's Barnum isn't as busy as he once once. He runs shows few and far in between, none of them the blockbusters which he put his stamp up, like the The Thrilla in Manilla and the Rumble in the Jungle. His wife passed away in late December 2010, and we hear periodic stories of his own health woes, but in the flesh he is still a considerable and magnetic presence.
NYFightblog asked The Don what brought him to Brooklyn as we waited for ex heavyweight titlist Sergei Liakhovich to stride to the ring, where he would take the kind of whupping which makes man consider a new vocation, ASAP, at the hands of Bryant Jennings.
"I'm with this young man Vernon Paris, I want to see if the transition is going to take place, the old going on and the young taking their place, coming on," King told me. Alas, his man Paris showed himself to not be quite ready for prime time, as Judah, faster, stronger, more seasoned and skilled, stopped him out in round 9.
When I referenced ole PT, King said it was a pleasure to be referred to at all, and noted he didn't take umbrage at being lumped in with the man (erroneously) credited as living by the credo, "There's a sucker born every minute."
"The mere fact that they call my name is compliment to me," King said. "I feel good about that. I'm a promoter, of the people, for the people, and by the people."
It was Barnum who used to say, “Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!”...and I was reminded of that saying as I pondered the sad possibility that megastars Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao might never give the people what they want, and sign on to fight each other. King has taken periodic stabs at aligning himself with Mayweather, and injecting himself into the equation as a lubricant to getting the deal done. But he's had no success. So I asked him why. Why hasn't the Super Bowl of the sport, which would be the top-grossing fight of all time, been booked?
"Give the people what they want and they will respond," he said. "It's about two things: inclusiveness, and respect. That's why they're losing the ballgame. They're arguing about money, as if money is more important than the fighters. Respect the guy, and you'll get him in there for less. When you disrespect them, it don't even be about money...They're too busy worrying about their feelings being hurt, and being talked to condescendingly, and patronizingly, rather than respectfully."
Money isn't the be-all, en- all, King said. "People are the most important asset."
Whenever I see King, I try to tease him about his political leanings. He backed George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and helped tip crucial Ohio, which Bush won by three million votes, to the incumbent with his stumping. In 2008, he backed Obama, and in Brooklyn, he exulted in the win for racial harmony that was Obamas' 2008 victory. He noted that "we aren't there yet," however, and the subject of the slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin came up. "For the man who shot him, right or wrong, to be still free, it's like the old Western days. It's very sad," he said, before shifting to an upbeat conclusion about the racial strides the US has made.
It's good to see King, yes somewhat humbled by the great equalizer that is time, still in the game. We've lost so many legends and icons and characters lately, Joe Frazier, Angelo Dundee, Bert Sugar just a day after I chatted with King, that I find myself embracing the remaining cast-members a little bit more fiercely.