The Last Word: Don King
It’s hard to think of boxing without immediately picturing the poetic promoter behind the fights, Don King. The colorful character has never been shy to court a little controversy in the name of marketing, helping him famously promote some of the biggest bouts in the sport’s history, from the “Rumble in the Jungle” to the “Thrilla in Manilla”. When we heard the grandiloquent 80-year-old would be at the Bell Centre to promote a fight between Jean Pascal and Tavoris Cloud, we made sure to pick his brain to find out the secret behind his success. Needless to say, a few questions went a long way…
You’ve organized big fights everywhere on the planet. Where would you rank Montreal on the international boxing scene?
DON KING: I think Montreal would rank in the very, very high echelon because honor, integrity and commitment are what Montreal exudes. The people here want to see a good fight, no matter who’s fighting. It doesn’t matter if he’s the hometown guy; they don’t want him because of that, they want him because he’s the best. That was proven to me many years ago with Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard at the Olympic Stadium and when we came back for Joachim Alcine and Daniel Santos at Uniprix Stadium. This city just keeps demonstrating it one time after another. I’m very proud and pleased to be in Montreal. I love the people here and I think this city needs to be promoted like everything else in Canada. I want to give everyone here a big pat on the back and let’s make this event something that will be super-sensational so we can let the world know about this city. Let us demonstrate it with actions rather than just verbalization.
Is there something about this city that makes you want to come back every time you leave?
DK: Yes indeed! It’s such a charming city, not to mention the beautiful flowers that you have here… the lovely women, you know what I mean? (laughs) You’ve got men who stood up from the very beginning when they were trading fur, going down the St. Lawrence. All of these things add to the allure and the elegance of this great city.
|Don King's relationship to the Montreal sports scene extends far beyond the Bell Centre.
You’ve been boxing’s premier promoter for decades. In your opinion, what are some things the NHL could do to help build a bigger fan base?
DK: The NHL needs a “never say die” attitude. They have to be in it to win it, they can’t give in, they can’t give up, and they can’t quit. They have to fight everywhere to make things happen, to make it their way, you know what I mean? Same thing happened to a friend of mine who’s like a brother to me, Bob Wetenhall, who owns the Montreal Alouettes. This man has come from a long way, but he won the Grey Cup a couple times and he’s probably going to win it again this year. The Canadiens should take over the Cup again. Montreal is on the move, nothing can stop it now. But if the NHL needs some help, don’t forget to call! We’re in it to win it!
Sean Avery once said the NHL should market its players as heroes vs. villains. How much do the boxers’ personalities come into play when you’re promoting a fight?
DK: Their personalities mean a lot. Jean Pascal was really eloquent at the press conference here – that’s why I said earlier I’m going to sign him up to be a movie star! After you get through with the thunder, and the thunder gets him all disheveled like a tsunami, after these storms blow through, I’ll dust him off, get him cleaned up, put him in his robe and get him to play Shakespeare or somebody like that, you know what I mean? (laughs)
The Jean Pascal/Tavoris “Thunder” Cloud event will be one of the biggest boxing events ever organized in Montreal. Do you think it’s Montreal’s equivalent of Zaire getting the “Rumble in the Jungle”?
DK: I would place that fight in the Top 10 in history. If they can imitate what Duran and Leonard did back here 20 years ago, it would be something that would be talked about around the world. They’ve got to fight as well as Jean Pascal talks and as well as “Thunder” Cloud erupts, you know what I mean? I’m looking forward to Jean Pascal saying: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety”. That’s what Marc Anthony said to Cleopatra down the Nile in Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. It means for whatever it is, you can make the possible from the impossible. That’s why I’m going to put a nice robe on him and make him play that part. Because when “Thunder” comes here, you’re going to have a war in here, man.
|King may be promoting "Thunder" Cloud in the square circle but he can't wait to get Jean Pascal under contract for his next career. (Tom Casino / Showtime)
According to you, there are clearly a lot of things that happen “Only in America”. Are there any things you’ve noticed so far we can say happen “Only in Canada”?
DK: You know, when you say “Only in America”, you’re talking about freedom, justice, and equality, we haven’t got there yet, but we’re working through the struggles to do that. You can say “Only in Canada” because Canada, as you know, was an escape route for the slaves. A little bit like Jackie Robinson did here in Montreal many years ago. When you say “Only in Canada”, both of them are symbolic to a person having an opportunity and the will to stand up and say: “I’m not going to take this, give me liberty.”
For more information on or tickets to the Pascal/Cloud fight taking place on Aug. 11, 2012, head to evenko.ca. To learn about all of Don’s various projects, head to donking.com.
This article, written by Hugo Fontaine, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 26 No. 5.
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