Don Wilson, more popularly known as Don “The Dragon” Wilson is an American 11-time professional kickboxing world champion who scored 47 knockouts in four decades, a European Martial Arts Hall of Famer and an action film actor. He has been called by the STAR System Ratings as “Perhaps the greatest kickboxer in American history. He has disposed of more quality competition than anyone we’ve ever ranked”. Tony Reid of MyMMANews.com recently spoke with Wilson to discuss his legendary career.
Tony Reid – Can you talk about what you have called that Zen moment of enlightenment after sparring with your younger brother for the fist time as a kid?
Don Wilson – “I was 17 maybe 18 years old at the time. I used to walk around with two pairs of boxing gloves and walk around go to playgrounds and hand friends of mine one pair of the gloves and we would spar. No mouthpieces, no headgear we would just spar. This was before my involvement in the martial arts. One day when I came home from the Coast Guard Academy, I must have been gone for about a year, my brother was a black belt in Kung Fu. He asked if I wanted to spar and he said he was going to kick a little bit. I really got my rear end beat. He had been training hard and I had not! That made a believer out of me. At that point I jumped into a few different martial arts including Kung Fu.”
Tony Reid – You are widely considered the greatest kickboxer of all time. Your career accomplishments read like a book, from the fact that you won 11 World Titles, in 3 different weight classes under 6 different sanctioning organizations. You were world champion for 11 straight years, defeating 12 other world champions, 12 number-one contenders and 15 National champions on four continents. You are in multiple Halls of Fame and the list just goes on and on. What are you most proud of during that incredible run?
Don Wilson – “The reason how that happened has absolutely nothing to do with goals or anything like that. I was a mercenary. If the money was right I would then ask what the rules were. They would tell me and then I would go. In the old days of kickboxing they wanted to do something similar to what the UFC was doing today. They wanted all the great fighters under one banner or organization. You would have been basically owned by them. That is pretty much what Dana White and the UFC is doing now. At that point it is hard to tell who the world champion is if you are only fighting under one banner. The way the UFC has solved that Rubix Cube is just by flat out buying out any organization that starts to produce any competition. That’s one way to solve it. I don’t know if it’s going to continue to be the viable way to keep the UFC as the kingpin of the sport. Eventually in my opinion that the people are not paying to just see an event, they want to see specific fighters. Those superstars then start demanding higher and higher salaries. The UFC is a promotion that can gross $40 million and pay the champion $150,000. They pay him half a million and then say he’s getting paid a ton of money. In boxing the formula was usually 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. If Tyson fought Holyfield with 2 million buys at $45 for a $90 million gross then Tyson would take $30 million Holyfield would take $30 million and Don King would take $30 million. Those are the kind of numbers they could generate. I don’t want to say it’s a bad thing because the UFC is successful.
“I look at it from a fighter’s perspective because that’s what I was. Every time you see me announcing what you are seeing is a frustrated man. All I wanted to do was get in the ring! It’s like being a concert pianist and they tell you that you can never touch the keys again with your fingers. Now they tell you to go watch all these other people play the piano. You sit ringside and watch all these other people do what you want to be doing. That’s why you always see these old fighters come back, even the smart ones. It transcends your intellect. The rush, the desire to get that excitement draws them to it until they get their rear ends handed to them. It takes the ref to stop you or to count you out and tell you that you lost. No fighter likes that.”
Tony Reid – During your illustrious career you faced a few names familiar to fans of mixed martial arts in Maurice Smith, Art Jimmerson and even Mike Winkeljohn. If you could choose one fight from your career that you are most proud of, which fight would you choose and why?
Don Wilson – “There were many fights that satisfied that description but then within a year there was one that topped it. And then the next year one topped the last one. There is always someone out there that’s a bigger and better win. There are two I can think of right now. One was Matt Hughes and the other was Cung Le. Dana White offered me a fight with Matt Hughes when he was considered the best pound for pound mixed martial artist in the world. He fights at 170 and I fought at 175. That’s not a problem. I accepted the fight, I shook the matchmakers hand in Vegas and I’m going to tell you this is flat out…People try to leave Dana but they keep coming back. This guy guaranteed me a certain amount for the fight and in the bar when I see this matchmaker, he said how he couldn’t believe that I was fighting him for that much. I told him I would have done it for half that and the offer comes in and it was a little more than half. My agent said no, that we wanted the original offer.
“I have people come up to me and say these guys are great martial artist. I say hold on a second. Bruce Lee said the most dangerous technique is the eye jab. So any of the fighters in the UFC gets into a street fight with Bruce Lee would have lost their eyes fast. Grappling is something you need to have in your back pocket as a martial artist but the first line of defense is punching, kicking and then the defense techniques of punching and kicking. The average person on the street is not going to try to submit you. They are going to try throw a sloppy old punch. Or hit you with something he can pick up. Martial arts was never designed to be martial artist against martial artist. It was designed to take on the knucklehead on the street, the guy trying to steal your wallet or assault a woman. Those guys aren’t trained martial artists.”
Tony Reid – As your kickboxing career was coming to a close, on the advice of Chuck Norris, you moved to Hollywood and started a new career. Can talk about how that decision changed your life forever?
Don Wilson – “It changed everything! I grew up on the east coast and I moved to L.A. the big city. I was called wrong way Wilson because everything that could happen did happen to me! Every time I got in my car I got lost. They didn’t have GPS back in 1985. I came out in May of 1985. Ran out of money and got back in the ring so within a year I was broke. (Laughs) It’s tough. If I would have known how tough it was I wouldn’t have come out here! It’s still tough. I have starred in a number of successful films and tis still a struggle. It would be easy to go back and do martial arts and action movies, of course there are a bunch of MMA movies out now. I want my future to go toward what Liam Neeson is doing right now, the style of the Taken movies. Where are the 25 year old action guys grossing $200 million? Where is the new Schwarzenegger? Who is the new Stallone? They are taking all the old guys and sticking them in movies together now like the Expendables. Even Jackie Chan played Mr. Miyagi in the last Karate Kid. That grossed $200 million. There are no young guys that can carry a martial arts and action film.”
Tony Reid – You witnessed firsthand some of the earliest UFC events and started commentating at UFC 7 in Buffalo. What were your thoughts and feelings at the time about the competition in general? What are your thoughts looking back now at your time spent Octagon-side?
Don Wilson – “The first UFC I witnessed was the third one. I understood where it was at. Royce’s brother Rorion was the matchmaker. If I had my brother as the matchmaker I could have knocked everyone out! He picked all the guys that didn’t know or understand grappling. Ken Shamrock snuck in and at one point fought Royce to a draw. Well that was the last time you ever saw Royce in the cage. The writing was on the wall that if they kept going at some point Royce was going to get beat. It’s that old martial arts B.S of “it’s my style”. Well if you get a superior athlete and teach them Jiu Jitsu then Royce would get beat. It’s about the individual, the athlete not the style. You study many different styles of martial arts. What was considered blasphemy in the 70’s when I started is widely accepted and common knowledge nowadays. You have your own personal style.
“I watched Royce fight Kimo and he went on and on and on trying to submit Kimo. Well, he finally did and going into his next fight he was no further than a foot away from me and he said he was too tired to go on. He quit. I went up to Bob Meyrowicz and told him I didn’t want to announce his shows, I wanted to fight Royce Gracie. It would be style vs. style, striker vs. grappler. I told him he would get the best numbers he ever got. We shook on it and he said come on and announce a few shows and then we will put on the fight. So I announced a few shows and I flat out asked him when he was going to promote the fight. “We right now have 8 people fighting for $50,000. We don’t want to start giving out percentage points.” I wanted 20% of the gross. That was a big amount of money at the time. I think they would have grossed more if they would have promoted me in the fight. I think that would have been exciting to people.”
In July of 2008 Tony Reid launched an MMA inspired clothing line that he named Reid Fight Wear. He saw a need in the MMA clothing market for a more classic, clean and timeless design and less of the dated styles seen then. In the process of major life changes, Tony cashed out his 401(k), emptied his bank account and put his heart and soul into building the brand.
In August 2009 Tony began writing for TapouT and MMA Worldwide Magazines. There he created Rattling the Cage, an MMA specific news site and home for all of his work.
In May of 2012 Reid began writing for Ultimate MMA Magazine, launching an MMA Legends and MMA Officials Series.
Also in May of the same year he started appearing regularly on ESPN 92.3 WVSL as the MMA Insider.
In early August of 2012 Reid was named General Manager of UFC Fighter Tim Boetsch’s Barbarian Combat Sports in Sunbury, PA.
By December 2012 Reid started contributing to Fighters Only Magazine. “The World’s Leading MMA and Lifestyle Magazine” is sold in over 30 countries around the world and has the largest reach of any international magazine of its type.
In May of 2013 Reid became a monthly segment host on Sirius XM Radio. Appearing the first Thursday of every month on TapouT Radio on SiriusXM (Sirius 92 XM 208) in a segment he created called “On Blast!” where he puts people in the MMA world on notice.
In June of 2013 Reid began writing for the UK based MMA Uncaged Magazine.
In August of 2013, Reid launched “Rattling the Cage with Tony Reid” a talk radio show he hosted on ESPN 92.3 WVSL “The Valley’s Sports Leader”. The show aired over 100 episodes and featured some of the biggest and brightest stars in the world of combat sports. It was one of the most successful shows in the station’s history.
In May of 2016 Reid became a feature writer for FloCombat.
In September of the same year Reid began writing for ONE Championship, Asia’s largest global sports media property in history.
Reid is happy to now join the team at MyMMANews as a contributor.