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Don King on business, Putin and concussions

Only in America could someone like Don King succeed. Where else could a man drop out of school, go to prison for killing a man, find God, meet Muhammad Ali and end up being the greatest promoter since P.T. Barnum?

This week, King is in Cleveland to promoting a boxing event airing on Showtime. The "Cleveland Show for People Care," at the Cleveland State University Wolstein Center marks a homecoming for a man whose very first promoted event happened here in 1972 with Muhammad Ali.

"Boxing is life," King told CNBC. The main event Friday features relatively unknown lightweights Angelo Santana and Hank Lundy. Young prospects Amir Imam and Jared Robinson will fight at junior welterweight. But King is intent on bringing back the glory days of heavyweight boxing to the U.S.

Boxing promoter Don King
D Dipasupil | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Boxing promoter Don King

Later this year, Chris Arreola has a shot at being the first American to hold the heavyweight title in years if he can defeat Canada's Bermane Stiverne.

The belt is up for grabs since Vitali Klitschko vacated the title to become a political opposition leader in Ukraine. (It's a good thing for Arreola that Klitschko retired—the Ukrainian pulverized Arreola so viciously in 2009 that the American's corner asked officials to stop the fight.)

King, never at a loss for words, spoke to CNBC about several topics in a wide-ranging interview seen in the video here.

(Watch: Changing careers: Exec leaves publishing—for the boxing ring)

Topics include:

Boxing versus MMA (mixed martial arts), a sport which seemed to be gaining ground on boxing but may be losing steam. "I understand that MMA is something that's great, 'sophisticated barbarism,' " said King, "Boxing is here to stay."

His best business advice: "You have to have faith in God, an abiding faith, confidence in yourself, a never-say-die attitude, so when they say, 'No you can't,' you say, 'Yes I can.' "

(Watch: CNBC's top moments at Sochi)

King also spoke about his efforts to bring peace in the Middle East, and he gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a shoutout over the Olympic Games. "Putin is going such a great job over there in Russia and Sochi, working hard, undertaking the insurmountable difficulties and risks in security."

Finally, when asked about NFL concerns about concussions and whether that might lead to more questions about head injuries in boxing, King said, "I welcome those reports and those discussions," but added, "Boxing is the hurt business, you don't go into it with a smile."

—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter: @janewells

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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