Only in America!: An Interview with Don King

Whether you love him or hate him, Don King is an American original, still a household name more than three decades after breaking into big-time boxing with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's "Rumble in the Jungle." In the intervening years, King has endured his share of derision, lawsuits, and shattered relationships with his fighters. But at 76, his hair standing tall, he is as loquacious and patriotic as ever. The Huffington Post caught up with King for a follow-up interview to his recent Op-Ed, "Barack Obama: Change." Below are excerpts.

On the election of Barack Obama:

Everyone wanted change. No one disagreed with that. The conservative, the liberal, the Jew, the gentile, the religious, the atheist. Everybody, black and white alike knew change was needed, and America made that giant step toward that change.

On the imperfect state of race relations despite Obama's election:

You still have those people that need to be persuaded or changed from something they've been conditioned to think for 300 years or more. So we have a job to do: We have to change minds and attitudes, and it's going to take time. "Remember Iowa" [referring to Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses] becomes the battle-cry, just like "Remember the Alamo," the most diverse battle-cry in American history....

...Certainly, people respect titles, especially white people, because they know how hard it is to achieve them. So having an American as president who incidentally happens to be black, that goes a long way. Once they start accepting Americans as Americans -- black or white -- that will eliminate a lot of the problems.

On reconciling supporting Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008:

Because I'm a Republicrat. I supported Bush because Bush paved the way for an Obama -- he brought inclusiveness and took it to a new level of giving high policy-making positions [to black people]. The Condoleezza Rices, the Colin Powells, the Rod Paiges. He allowed them the opportunity and they performed.

On his famous patriotism, embodied in his signature refrain "Only in America":

America's the greatest nation in the world with the world's greatest pronouncements: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

I love America because of those pronouncements. But we have to work towards them to make America fulfill its promise. But you have to have faith -- and faith is what you don't see. If you continue to believe that it will happen, it will happen. And that's why I say "Only in America." Only in America can a Barack Obama happen. Only in America can a Don King happen.

On the personal significance of staging "The Rumble In the Jungle" -- the famous 1974 Heavyweight Championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman that launched King's career as a promoter -- in Africa:

That was my first time in Africa, what I call the motherland, the land from which our people came. I came from Africa in the slave-ship and went back to Africa with the champion-ship.

On the best fighter he's ever seen:

Muhammad Ali -- he was a magnificent fighter and he was an icon.... Every head must bow, every knee must bend, every tongue must confess, thou art the greatest, the greatest of all time, Muhammad, Muhammad Ali.

On the rise and fall of Mike Tyson, whose long-term business relationship with King ended when Tyson sued him for fraud in 2004:

Mike Tyson was one of the most terrific athletes I've ever met. He was a powerhouse because he had "double-shot power." I learned that from an old Chinese man, 106-years-old, who would say, [here, King breaks into a stereotypical Chinese accent], "Tyson... Double-shot power!"

What that means is that the mind in the body are working in concert. He was a guy who could focus himself, who could discipline himself, to be in a hypnotic state, to go in there and fight with fury and devastation. But when he got out of that mode, he couldn't put himself in the mode to be able to learn, to be uplifted, to be motivated and inspired to read, write, and understand....

When you're the downtrodden, underprivileged, one of those denied an education, I can see [a fate similar to Tyson's] coming. For an unlearned kid like a Mike Tyson, it's difficult to run into a lot of money all of a sudden without having the understanding, development, enlightenment, and education that usually accompanies that money. You're going to have those types of problems. And then you have all those people whispering in his ear....

When he left me, he went down precipitously.

[Editor's note: He might have gone down, but evidently, his weight has gone up.]

On his hairstyle, which he attributes to his special relationship with God:

My hair was kinky curly like any other black man. But when I came out of the penitentiary [in 1971, after a manslaughter conviction for beating a man to death who owed him $600 in gambling debts], I had a rumbling in my head. My hair began to pop up -- ping, ping, ping, ping, ping -- each hair reaching for the heavens, straight and strong, pristine and pure. It was something I had nothing to do with other than being chosen as God's child. I don't know how it happened -- all I know is I go in the shower, and as soon as I get out of the shower -- boom! -- it pops right back up again.

[Note: In a 1993 interview with Jet magazine, King said he used Aqua Net hair spray to comb and style his hair.]