Legendary promoter Don King returns to the fight game in Las Vegas
For several generations of boxing fans, Don King is synonymous with the sweet science. King promoted the first blockbuster fights (“The Thrilla in Manila,” “The Rumble in the Jungle”) and was instrumental in making Vegas a fighting town. Now he’s bringing boxing to The D’s Downtown Las Vegas Events Center with an Aug. 28 triple-bill that will be broadcast on Showtime’s Shobox: The New Generation. King reminisced with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen about boxing’s past, his upcoming event, and who he’ll be working with in the future.
Has it been a hard-working day for you?
Yeah, I’ve been working hard all day and I’m getting ready to do this interview with National Review magazine, talk about Las Vegas and what’s going on. I’m ready to get out there and talk about my great state of Nevada.
How did this event with the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center come about? Did they approach you or did you approach them?
I think it was a combination. Some of the people that did an event down at The D in Downtown Las Vegas were saying how they were just starting up trying to renew the interest into Downtown Las Vegas. They said they had mentioned me to (General Manager of Downtown Las Vegas Events Center) Paul Vella and the guys that were working down there, I think (Chief Strategy Officer at Neon Star Media) Mike Garrow. Showtime was going to give me a date for the fight and they wanted to pick out where I was at, so naturally charity starts at home and spreads abroad.
I thought about Las Vegas. If they could go to The D, it was like old-time religion. It’s going back to the days when we were working on the Strip with (former Caesars Palace president and CEO) Cliff Perlman and myself when we made Caesars Palace, arguably, a household name around the world. And you had a lot of guys that were there that came from that, working together closely with Caesars Palace, and another genius out there in Las Vegas, Steve Wynn. And Steve Wynn, you know, he was just great. He had a little piece of land next to Caesars, a gas station there, about 10 acres. And he manipulated it and maneuvered that 10 acres into building up Downtown Las Vegas with the Golden Nugget, and became one of the most formidable figures in gaming.
Steve Wynn then, with a lot of love and a lot of genius and perseverance, I worked closely with him. I loved the man, as I do Cliff Perlman. So it was an opportunity to revisit and to start again, to helping Las Vegas, from a person that has really taken over down there in Las Vegas, the owner of The D, and ready to make things happen with an outdoor affair. I always want to be a part of the pioneering effort, and this is an effort that is really evolving into something super great. Now I’m just happy that I have the honor and the privilege to be in the Downtown’s Las Vegas Events Center.
It’s a first-class center. It can accommodate 11,000 people, and [has] state-of-the-art sound, stage and lighting. It is really open-air designed. It is inviting to tourism, and those who would be questioning me about what’s happening in Las Vegas, they can see the history of it both from the beginning … “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” is what I would call this event, and you can see it from yesterday, starting again from The D down in Las Vegas, and today with Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget, and with my dear friend out there at Treasure Island, Phil Ruffin.
All these people that were there that made this thing happen, along with the guy we just lost, Kirk Kerkorian. So it was just a fabulous effort that I felt it was an obligation and a duty to bring Las Vegas back into the forefront around the world, and to do it from downtown where it’s a people population that is not visited as much as it should be, so let’s bring the people back from where it all began, and then let them walk the Strip of life, and the journey of life … I say walk the Strip and the journey of life, and see both parts, you know what I mean? The beginning, the middle and the end that establishes Las Vegas as the king around the world.
I guess you are aware downtown is undergoing a lot of revitalization. This event kind of fits into that.
Yes it does, and that’s what it is. It’s a pioneering effort. It’s like going out there many, many times before, when they were opening up the West and they had the land grab. They line people up and they can go out and stake their claim. They ride, and who gets to whatever, to stake their claim or what part they want to do. This is how the evolutionary process takes place, and Las Vegas is a tremendous example of that. It shows what you can do if you believe in yourself. You’ve got to have confidence in yourself, and that magic to say, “Yes I can” when everyone else says, “No you can’t.”
This is exemplified with this whole renovation type of thing that’s taking place in one of the most modernized cities in the country, because it was the only one that used to have gaming. They used to call it Sin City and they used to call it all these different things, but for entertainment and sports beyond the normal, there would be something that would be what we call in the ghetto S.K.D.— something kinda different—Las Vegas fit the bill. Entertainment and sports capital of the world.
It’s funny that you mention Steve Wynn and the land flip. It kind of reminds me of how you got started in boxing promoting with an event that got parlayed into something much bigger. An empire basically, and it happened around the same time.
Steve Wynn is just great. I love Steve Wynn. Steve Wynn is a guy who’s innovative and imaginative, and he does … I think George Bernard Shaw said, “Some people see things as they are and ask why, but I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’” Steve Wynn is in the field, along with the vintage guy, Cliff Perlman. Clifford Perlman and I, we was rolling in Las Vegas, taking boxing back to the people, going around the world. And people that had never seen Las Vegas—they had heard of it —it became arguably the entertainment center of the world.
Everything was there that would go with it: the good times, the elite status, the decadence. Everything that would be what life is, the ups and downs. You get knocked down, you get back up, you dust yourself off and get back into the game. It was the past, of Nevada being a slave state, a lot of the prejudices and things still exist today, but it was even more vehement during that time when Sammy Davis and all of them, they’d play out there but they couldn’t go in the front door. So you see the transitions in the journey of life in the state of Nevada that carries a whole new repertoire, so to speak, or an example or how things have transgressed, and while they can be moved and formulated and put into a situation where they have guys that are pioneer captains, like Cliff Perlman, Steve Wynn, Phil Ruffin and Kirk Kerkorian most certainly, know what I mean?
Because I opened up the MGM with the first boxing event there, and Kirk Kerkorian was just a common, ordinary man who became a multi-billionaire, but he did it in people power. He did it by being what he was, with who he was, and being somebody you could talk to. He didn’t talk down to you, and he always was inspiring and motivated. He was just a great champion of human life, of humanity and business life, where he was able to multiply from zero to hero. So it’s made me feel good to say I know those guys, and that we work, all of us, unitedly to make Las Vegas what it really is. And I take my hat off to Governor Sandoval, who is now at the helm to make things continue, so with all this new history downtown, we’re going to be part of that history there, Matt.
And we’re gonna demonstrate, on Friday night, Showtime is gonna put on a show that, even though this Showbox introduces new prospects, and I love to introduce young and old prospects, men and women, to try to fulfill their dreams. And you’re gonna have a fight there with this kid, Trevor Bryan—who’s a heavyweight hopeful, I’ve got great aspirations and hope for him—will be taking on Derric Rossy. And Derric Rossy is a veteran. He’s got like 40 fights, 39 fights. This kid’s (Bryan) only got 15, but he’s never lost. And so if he fights through this door, which Derric is blocking, is the door to greatness. And if he goes through that door you will see him fighting for the heavyweight championship very, very soon. So all of that gives a chance for identification to the people, and to walk hand in glove to become a people promoter, a people’s champion, and that’s what makes boxing sparkle and that’s what brings people. That kind of sizzle is what brings people to Las Vegas. For their hopes and dreams, and that what that city is. It symbolizes that. Hopes and dreams. Yesterday was nothing, today was something.
I watched recent fights with both Trevor Bryan and Derric Rossy, and I have to say I would give Bryan a considerable edge.
Well, I hope he jumps through because he hit the big leagues when he took on Derric Rossy. Derric Rossy is a dream breaker, not a dream maker. All these guys that’ve got their dreams and hopes on high, Derric is there. He’s a formidable challenger. He’s nothing to be underestimated. I’m looking forward to a great succession of fights, along with the rest of them, just like this young man I have, Amir Imam, who is going to be a superstar. We’re calling out Floyd Mayweather. We want this kid … I think he’s got a super-precocious talent to be able to slip in low, and has this devastating power as you saw when we fought in El Paso three weeks ago, where he hit the guy and knocked him out face down. He just laid down face down on his belly. The referee just went over and called it off, it’s over. He didn’t even bother to count him.
Hopefully and preferably nothing will be wrong with him, but his boy’s got devastating power, so you can look to hear from Imam. He’s gonna be super, Amir Imam, and you’re gonna have something that’s really good, and that’s why Showtime is helping to bring these guys to the fore for public review. And they’re doing it where? In an open-air stadium that’s going to be put together right downtown in front of The D, with this new 600-room resort. It’s going to be something kind of different. I’m looking forward to being there, Matt, and working throughout the rest of the month of August to bring that D into forefront of the world. And it will be, again, from yesterday to today and tomorrow. That’s what we’re going to put out there, so that’s gonna be a super attraction, a super location where the common folk that’s walking up and down the streets will be able to be in a cordoned-off part, where they have for the arena and for the ringside seats and things. It reminds me of the days of me and Cliff Perlman and Caesars Palace, and the open-air parking lot. We were putting on some of the greatest fights in history that took place in an open-air parking lot that he fixed in and put seats in to make it an arena, an open-air arena, and we shocked the world.