Still the same 'ol King.
At 76 and with the jet-lag of a 13-hour flight from Africa weighing him down, Don King recently walked into New York's Waldorf Astoria bar, Bull & Bear, donning a denim jacket with the American flag painted on the back -- sparkles outlining its stripes -- and two flags in hand.
Middle-aged business big wigs looked on with awe, cameras speckled the room with flashes, and a circle of gazing tourists with boxing paraphernalia at their side eagerly awaited his signature.
With Hall-of-Fame heavyweight champion Larry Holmes at his side, King recited his often mangled series of clichés and flashed his famed toothy smile. It was the same childish grin he had flashed when helping to bring Muhammad Ali to the forefront. The same grin that helped make boxing a multi-million-dollar network-television sport, that promoted legends like Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and Mike Tyson. The one that helped King earn recognition as the top promoter in the game.
Only this time around, he wasn't promoting the next face of boxing; He was plugging his new Xbox 360 video game Don King Presents: Prizefighter. Out in stores Tuesday, the virtual delicacy for gamers and boxing fanatics alike was created by 2K Sports with the life of King in mind.
"I got into video games because my life is simply phenomenal -- coming out of the ghetto of Cleveland to, now, promoting fights," King said. "The players of this game are going to be able to challenge their fighting intellect against the champions of the sport. But in the same token, they'll be able to learn the virtues of success: dedication, commitment, focus, discipline, sacrifice and a never-self-defeating attitude.
"So bring me all the other companies with them other games so we can knock 'em out, so they can see that they're dealing with the real successes in the game."
In documentary style, Prizefighter casts players in the role of a talented, unknown boxer, who is fighting his way out of obscurity to make it on the international stage -- all while attempting to claim the world championship title. From the training and live fights, to the temptations of wealth and trials of stardom, King and 2K Sports try to capture the lives of boxers.
The game features 10 boxing legends, such as "The Easton Assassin" Holmes, "The Jaw Breaker' Norton and James "Cinderella Man" Braddock. Also current boxers, such as Samuel Peter, Joe Calzaghe, Kelly Pavlik and Nate Campbell.
It's arguable that the game's talent pool seems more noteworthy for the accomplishments of its past legends.
The last round of Holmes' WBC heavyweight title slugfest -- a 15-round thriller -- against Norton on June 9, 1978, can still be replayed in the minds of numerous devoted boxing fans.
King's first major promotion, Rumble in the Jungle, which pitted Ali against Foreman for the world heavyweight crown, is known just by title alone. The Thrilla in Manila and Fight of the Century between Ali and Frazier. Howard Cosell's famous three words "Down goes Frazier!"
"You have times like when Ezzard Charles fought Rocky Marciano," King said. "Ezzard Charles split Rocky Marciano's nose down to the bone. The referee said, 'I've got to stop it, Rocky, I've got to stop it.' And Rocky said, 'Please, give me one more round.' [The ref] gave Rocky one more round and he knocked out Ezzard Charles.
"The same thing happened with Larry Holmes," King continued. "He pulled a muscle in his arm. I told him there was nothing he could do, forget about the muscle. And he willed himself and he fought like he never had a pulled muscle at all, and he beat up on Ken Norton. This is what separates the men from the boys, the weak from the strong."
When was the last time recently retired champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. was mentioned in such a light? And how many current "stars" can you list ? One? Two? Let's face it, the hype for the 2007 Oscar De La Hoya-Mayweather bout received more interest with its lead-up publicity than with its result.
But even with the lack of memorable names and fights like those he once promoted, King denies any decline in boxing's eminence. He claims the sport is just as strong as ever, though it lacks the heroes of late, the fighters any type of fan can relate to. The ones who fought for the "pride and glory."
As King threw out a slew of clichés to back up his thoughts: You never to get to be like George Gershwin playing Rhapsody in Blue; Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven without practicing every day. You got to keep chopping away until the tree falls. I don't care if you have a Rolls Royce or a Model T Ford, if the Model T has gas, it'll keep on going.
You can't cook with cold grease ---
Holmes raised his head, his ears alert at the words. "You got to turn the stove on," he finished.
As the two chuckled out of nostalgia, Holmes' eyes wandered around Bull & Bear as if remembering his time with King and his life in the ring. "I don't think boxers today are as hungry as much as when I was fighting," Holmes said. "I don't know if they'll be able to get it back. I think Don King is paying them too much damn money."
But, quick to defend the sport and his last "star," King reverted the conversation back to his familiar ways. In the way he finished all his thoughts that night, King reiterated his closing spiel one more time:
"It's a game of life, and Don King Presents: Prizefighter exemplifies that. No other game can."