Bob Arum: Still on the grind, 50 years later
Bob Arum is creeping up on his 50th anniversary in the sport of boxing. On March 29, 1966, he promoted the highly controversial bout between Muhammad Ali and George Chuvalo from the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Canada.
For the graduate of Harvard Law School, who had worked for the government during the Kennedy Administration, this also happened to be the first fight he ever attended – and perhaps his most contentious promotion ever.
“First of all, I was happy that the fight happened because we got knocked out of the United States. Muhammad Ali said he had nothing against the Vietcong. (Ernie) Terrell dropped out of the fight; we ended up in Toronto because of the courage of one of the owners of the Maple Leafs and the fight happened by the skin of its teeth,” recalled Arum, who accidentally made this fight much tougher for “The Greatest.”
“I was having breakfast with the manager of Chuvalo and he asked me how George could beat Ali and I’d never seen a fight before but I’m a wise-guy so I told him the only way George could win the fight was to hit Ali in the balls and keep hitting him in the balls and this moron took me seriously and – watch the film – Ali had to be carried out out the ring because for 15 rounds – and every round – he got hit like five times in the testicles,” said a chagrined Arum.
Ali won a 15-round decision like that and Arum himself believed he would be one-and-done with the sport of boxing. Never did he believe this would become a career.
“No, absolutely not,” stated Arum, who admitted, “I had tremendous heat on me because, at that time, people were not against the Vietnam War; they were in favor of it, so I was a pariah. I was somebody who was not patriotic and I was very depressed and then I got contacted by an English promoter to bring Ali over to London to fight (Henry) Cooper and we flew over to London. You got over there in those days early in the morning and slept for a few hours. We were staying at a hotel at Piccadilly Circus and, when we came out of the hotel, there were 5,000 people on the street chanting Ali’s name. So that gave me the strength to go forward.”
The Arum-Ali union became one of the strongest in all of boxing and the former attorney had become engulfed in the boxing business. “Like I said, they pulled me in because of the legal issues surrounding Ali’s situation. Once I was in, I couldn’t get out,” said Arum with a laugh, which, of course, reminds you of a classic line from “The Godfather: Part III.”
“Exactly, like the Godfather,” said Arum, still chuckling at the thought. You could say that, after being associated with Ali, everything else was downhill. But Arum says the decision to leave boxing after working with Ali was never really an option for him. However, if you saw him last week at the Congo Room at LA Live to promote the April 9 pay-per-view undercard, you would have seen that this business, for Arum, has always provided a continuum of talent.
“That seems like it’s easy; after Ali, it’s a good time to go. After (Manny) Pacquiao, good time to get out. But you look up on the stage today and you see three very talented young Hispanics, all of whom can become superstars – or some of them,” he said in reference to Oscar Valdez, Gilberto Ramirez and Jose Ramirez, who will be in undercards supporting Tim Bradley-Manny Pacquiao III at the MGM Grand. “You say, ‘Hey, I brought these guys in; I have a debt and an obligation to see it through for them, with them.’ So you’re in and then, when they’re ready to go, there’s another group.”
There Arum is at 84, millions in the bank, his legacy set, on this warm Southern California day, still hustling for his clients. But he insisted, “I don’t consider this hustling. I’m presenting the undercard. I’m not hustling it; I’m exposing these guys who are terrific young men, who have great futures, who can very well make it big in the sport of boxing and, in fact, I’m performing a service for them almost like a lawyer does for a client.
“So I don’t look at it as hustling; I have an obligation to these fighters, to build them up, put ’em on platforms and present them in their best way to the public. And I take a lot of pride and pleasure in doing that.”
And post-Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., please don’t try and tell him the game and business of boxing is dying. To Arum, this industry is always evolving and changing with the times.
“There’s always the next guy; there’s ALWAYS the next guy and people forget the guys before – to some extent – because the technology is such that you monetize the next guy bigger than the guy before him because the technology is so much more advanced. For example, Muhammad Ali was the greatest, the biggest, but the bigger fights were later on with George Foreman because of the technology, the pay-per-view. Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, they couldn’t compare to Muhammad Ali. They were great fighters, great attractions – but they weren’t Ali. But Ali was limited to an era where there were no satellites and there were 400 telephone company connections.
“It’s different. I mean, by the time these guys we saw today, the Ramirezes and Valdezes finish, probably everyone in the world will pay $5 or the equivalent to watch the fight on their tablet or cell phone or whatever cockamamie device they will have at that point.”
All these years have not curbed his enthusiasm for this gig.
“I have more enthusiasm because it’s always different,” he explained. “You understand, if this was the same template, the same technology, when I promoted Ali, I’d be bored to death but it isn’t. It’s all new. In the Ali days, we reached the public through newspaper columns and so forth. We now reach the public from websites and social media more than anything else. So it’s all different and it all creates more challenges where you have to be innovative to meet those challenges.”
Arum won’t be the retiring type.
“I don’t ever want to retire. Why? Why would I want to retire doing something that I enjoy doing and it sure beats sitting at home smoking a cigar, reading a book.”
Egidijus Kavaliauskas improved to 12-0 (11), by halting Prenice Brewer in two rounds on Saturday night at the Sportsmans Lodge in Studio City, California. The “Mean Machine” is a murderous puncher with a vast amateur background coming from Lithuania. It looks like manager Egis Klimas – who also handles the careers of Sergey Kovalev and Vasyl Lomachenko – has another pugilistic prodigy on his hands.
Kavaliauskas is scheduled to go on the April 9 Bradley-Pacquiao undercard.
The plan is to move him as quickly as possible. Klimas says if they were offered a welterweight title shot today, that they would have accepted it last week. I wonder how difficult it will be to get opponents for the time being.
Kavaliauskas looks to be another in the wave of fighters from the former Soviet Union that will make a lot of noise in boxing over the coming years.
Another anniversary for Arum is, 30 years ago, he helped christen the Showtime boxing franchise with the fight between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and John Mugabi…Speaking of birthdays, Larry Merchant celebrated his 85th this past week…It was announced on Sunday morning that IBF heavyweight titlist Charles Martin will face the highly touted Anthony Joshua on April 9…Featherweight Joseph Diaz Jr. gets his HBO debut on March 26 when he faces Jayson Velez in Oakland as the co-feature to Andre Ward-Sullivan Barrera…Alex Saucedo won a hard-earned and well-deserved eight-round decision over Clarence Booth on Saturday night…So the Clippers are really thinking about trading Blake Griffin?…Aren’t you glad the NBA Dunk Contest wasn’t abolished?…I don’t know if I mentioned this last week but ESPN’s “30 for 30” on the ’85 Bears was outstanding, especially its ending…The new season of ABC’s “Scandal” is off to a strong start…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.