Bob Arum has breather after Top Rank events, talks June fights & doubts about Fury vs AJ
Bob Arum enjoyed some down time on Friday, as he grabbed some sun and deep breathes by his pool at his residence in Las Vegas. Yes, he was able to exhale and get some re-charge time, after his Top Rank ran cards Tuesday and then Thursday at MGM’s “the Bubble” in Vegas.
The 88 year old Brooklyn born boxing promoter gave the return to action high marks, and lauded his staff and ESPN for their diligent efforts which, he said, resulted in two excellent shows.
So, I asked, does this feel like you are sort of back to normal?
“Nothing is normal,” he replied, “it’s been an adventure and under these circumstances, I’m very pleased.”
By “these circumstances,” he means, among other things, getting tested himself, twice, for coronavirus.
“What I did was, Monday night at 9 PM I went to the MGM and got tested, went into “the bubble,’ stayed over, then came out, I wanted to go home, spend time with the wife Tuesday. Wednesday I went into the office, then I went back to the bubble, I got re-tested,” Arum shared.
Yes, he went to the fights both night, he was masked up and watching intently. “Like Trump would say, I passed with flying colors.”
Arum (below in Mikey Williams photo for Top Rank) explained further how their testing regimen went.
“Monday, I got tested at about 9, 9:30 PM, then I went to bed. If you are positive, they call you at 5 or 6 in the morning. I didn’t hear from them, which means I passed. You give them your cell number, and God forbid, you’re positive, they call you. Was I worried? Nah, I didn’t give it two thoughts, because I haven’t been out, to restaurants or whatever, since this started, I’ve been watching myself because of my age and also my wife had a respiratory situation a few years ago, so to protect her.”
Yes, there are different things to focus on, which can cause anxiety, or at least chew up time. But Arum was upbeat, totally. He said that he had headphones on, and thought the ESPN team, Joe Tessitore, Tim Bradley, Andre Ward etc, did a marvelous job.
“The announcing team was absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “We’re finally getting legit, really intelligent commentary. Joe Tessitore is wonderful, Tim and Andre were unbelievable. This is the first of many, many events we have to do this summer this way. And we worked so well together with ESPN. The production area, in the arena, how it looked, that’s all ESPN. We couldn’t have a better partner than ESPN, they were really spectacular.”
But, he noted, these shows are still a “work in progress.” For example, he urges fighters who are booked onto forthcoming Top Rank shows to get tested for coronavirus at home. Like Chris Zavala; he was booked onto the June 16 show, and at home in Cali he tested positive for the virus. “That saved him the trip to Vegas,” Arum said. “So once he’s over the coronavirus, we’ll out him on a later show.”
I wanted to know if already, after two shows, Arum has seen things that work so well, as part of the adaptation to the Nevada commission and common sense restraints/reactions to the threat of viral spread.
He mentioned that it felt like in some ways the show, from the TV side, responded well to separation. Tess, Tim, Ward and Mark Kriegel were at their home studios, but their interplay was superb. “In a lot of ways, it was better,” Arum said. But no, after two shows he isn’t seeing a laundry list of tweaks that will stay in rotation when actually normalcy is restored. “I can’t know that based on one weeks’ shows. By the end of June, we’ll have done seven shows, so we’ll have a better idea of the takeaways.
He thought more, and hit on one “new normal” revamp that he liked. “One of the great things absolutely was having two great cut men, paid by the promoter, available to all the corners. We know we have two guys, and we’re getting great cut work. We know it’s being done in a kosher way, no bullshit, no funny business.”
And of the fights…Arum loved it that new to 130 Shakur Stevenson came in to the fight with a bit of a different POV. He told the production that he’s understanding that some more aggression, more of a focus on setting down on punches and that conclusive finishes build buzz and get him closer to the level of prominence he seeks. “Shakur did well. I see him as being a major superstar for a number of years, and the face of boxing the way Floyd Mayweather was,” Arum said.
Regarding the change in game-planning, with an eye toward closing the show when the opportunity presents, Arum said that “there are great fighters like Floyd, and like Vasiliy Lomachenko. And I like that Shakur is modeling off Loma, who has definitely always looked to go on offense, destroy a guy. This definitely makes Shakur a better fighter.”
And I admitted to Bob that I thought the Jessie Magdaleno I saw Thursday would have more than a hard time with Gary Russell, who holds the top position at 126 in the WBC sphere. Jessie is ranked No. 1, and Arum said that there’s no reason a Russell-Magdaleno bout shouldn’t get made.
“If you want to be the best in your division, you fight the best. Russell is a terrific fighter. Hopefully we can do it on ESPN, and we’ve been working very well with PBC, but if it’s on PBC, then so be it. I wouldn’t have said before the second Wilder-Fury fight. But we’re working well with Lou DiBella and Golden Boy, everybody’s pulling together. That’s one of the takeaways, in the US, promoters working together, because in the end it doesn’t matter if it’s on ESPN or Fox or DAZN, as long as the fight happens. As long as nobody gets greedy that it has to be on one network.”
And now a look down the near line.
“Brad Jacobs and Carl Moretti assured me the cards next week are very strong,” Arum said. “Josh Greer is in a terrific fight, Jose Pedraza is in a very tough fight. And also, one of the things we learned from Thursday night, start the night with the semi main. If you start low on the card, and you’re building a guy, you don’t want him in against a killer.”
TR runs again next doing the Tuesday/Thursday flurry, which means weigh in, fight, weigh in, fight…and the promotions’ staff earns their keep. “The Bubble” is home to the cards running June 16 and June 18, then Saturday’s show will unfold in Mexico. Arum will not trek there for that.
“Are you fuckin’ crazy,” he asked. “Two events a week, c’mon, I gotta have a life.”
The topline bout, pitting Emanuel Navarrete versus Uriel Lopez, of that Arum said that the challenger is “tough” and “durable.”
We touched on some other topics. Like, how big of a deal should we make of that Tyson Fury announcement that it was agreed to this week for him to fight Anthony Joshua in 2021, and in fact, a two fight Fury-Joshua skeleton setup had been hashed out.
Not THAT big a deal, Bob Arum said on a Friday phoner. “It’s nonsense, other than the fact that we talked to Eddie Hearn (who reps AJ), and it was agreed that next year, assuming Joshua beat Kubrat Pulev, and Tyson Fury beats Deontay Wilder, we’d do two fights next year, like we did the Wilder-Fury arrangement, 50-50 for the first, and a 60-40 split, 60 to the winner of the first one.”
Fury announced on his IG that he wanted to spark Wilder again, and then fight AJ in what he believes is the biggest fight, period, end, stop, in UK history. He then told Joe Tessitore about the same, on the Thursday night ESPN cable-cast. Las Vegas would be the logical landing place for that Fury vs AJ collaboration, the “Gypsy King” told Tess.
That makes sense to Arum, who likens Fury to Elvis Presley, who in the early to mid 70s became synonymous with that Nevada entertainment destination.
“Tyson has so enjoyed Las Vegas, and Vegas has reacted to him same way they did to Elvis,” Arum said, veering a wee bit into hyperbole lane. “The way Fury conducts himself, it’s Las Vegas style, it’s one place they love his bombast. He considers himself part of there.”
(Side Note: I digressed, and asked Arum if he ever hung out with Presley himself. Nah, “The Bobfather” said, he went to some of the shows, dug him and his act, but Arum called Manhattan home in the 70s, and hadn’t yet made Vegas his business home base. “Elvis put on the big shows and I’d see it, like a regular tourist,” he recalled. “One fight Ali gave him a robe, Ali wore the robe,” Arum said. True, indeed. Elvis hooked The Greatest Up with a robe, with the words “People’s Choice” stitched or bejeweled on the back. It was supposed to read “The People’s Champ,” but anyway. Ali wore the covering into the ring for his 1973 fight in Vegas at the Convention Center against Joe Bugner. Ali sometimes referred to himself as the “people’s champ” around this time frame, with Joe Frazier boasting the WBC and WBC belts, before getting them yanked from him by George Foreman, in January 1973. The NABF title that Ali wore wasn’t the primo one, so as he looked toward re-gaining the straps that had the most mojo, he’d salve himself by using the self-honorific. Did the robe-maker mis hear, or was the wrong wording given to the robe fashioner? Not sure; but it was supposed to be “Champ,” not “Choice.” The robe appeared in the next Ali bout, on March 31, in San Diego at the Sports Arena. The Presley magic didn’t rub off on Ali, because Norton snagged a split decision, and Ali didn’t use the robe again. In 2016, it was making the rounds and enjoyed by attendees seeing the Ali memorabilia exhibition that touched down in London.)
So, anyway, Arum advises us to temper our excitement, not place our carts before our horses.
“For me, the truth is, I don’t believe either (Fury-Wilder bout) will happen, because I think Pulev will knock out Joshua, I think Joshua is spent, look what Ruiz did to him, and that rematch didn’t prove anything. And when will we do Pulev v Joshua, I’m working with Eddie Hearn, he’s bound and determined to put it in the UK, worst case without an audience or best case in an arena with limited spectators. The idea is to have say 1,500 in there, give dinner, drinks, set high prices.” Think maybe November for that one.
Fury mentioned that stadium in Vegas being fashioned for the LV Raiders. Arum likes the idea of placing the third Fury vs Wilder scrap there, with fans, capping the high end around 20,000 in a still being finished bowl that seats 65,000 when coronavirus has been tamed. July 31 is the date aim for finishing the new facility, and November and December have been debated for the third match between the long tall heavyweights. Arum went as far as to say, “We hope to do it in the stadium. But that’s all aspirational,” he cautioned.
I told Arum I was curious—is Vegas going to be THE place as Top Rank churns out shows this summer?
“All I know is Nevada has a great commission, and a great Governor and we’re working very, very carefully with them. We hope, we aspirationally hope to do Lomachenko versus Teofimo Lopez in Nevada, in September, with limited spectators.”
He pointed out that nobody really has pointed out all the challenging elements to staging these easing back into commerce shows, and that is that ESPN staff, around 40 people, is also part of the mix of persons to be kept safe. The Nevada-Top Rank-ESPN teamwork, once in place, it makes sense to not try and replicate such a division of labor elsewhere. And, Arum said, the Disney/ESPN decision-makers have to sign off on, when comfortable that their staff is part of a wise protocol that errs on the side of caution.
All in all, no, he’s not thinking or saying boxing went back to “normal” because his company staged two fight cards. But really, can’t we all agree, the fight game so regularly has us dropping our jaws, that to describe boxing as “normal” isn’t all that apt usually anyway.
–Michael Woods is a Brooklyn resident who lives in an apartment with a wife, two kids, two cats, a dog, a Gecko, and a family of cats being fostered for a local animal shelter.