The Business Of Boxing

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As for Don King, he’s certainly a remarkable man. A former racketeer who once did a stretch in prison for killing a man in a street fight, King in 1974 was an obscure fight promoter who became a major power in boxing when he convinced the president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, that Mobutu could generate great publicity for his country by bankrolling a fight between Ali and George Foreman to the tune of ten million dollars. The Ali-Foreman bout was certain to take place eventually, but King stole a march on all other possible promoters by approaching a Third World nation whose leader was significantly more prosperous than his country.

And as Goldfield, Nevada, was the making of Rickard, so Kinshasa, Zaire, was the making of King. The bout came off on October 30, 1974; Ali, in a stunning upset, regained the title by wearing Foreman down and knocking him out in eight rounds. King has been involved in promoting all but a handful of the dozens of heavyweight championship bouts since then. A good many King-promoted fighters have accused him of cheating them, but he continues to be the most powerful man in boxing.

With boxing dependent on W, there are fewer boxing venues, thus fewer fights. A boxer might have fought twelve times in 1941; he might fight twice in 1991.

Whether or not his fighters actually end up as wealthy as their contracts promise, it’s clear that somebody is making more money on a single evening at the fights today than past champions and promoters could hope to make in a career. Boxing didn’t become a fabulously lucrative business the day Muhammad Ali declared, “I am the greatest!” Ali, Don King, and their contemporaries have built on the fortune their forerunners had been accumulating for a century.