Bob Arum’s Greatest Hits: ‘These are my babies’
Bob Arum is arguably the greatest promoter in boxing history. If he’s not the greatest, he’s certainly among the top two. Arum is also living history. He’s going to turn 89 on December 8th, and he’s still as bright and witty as he’s ever been.
Over the last 50 years, Arum has had his hand in many of the most-significant, most-historical, and most-monumental fights in boxing history.
Arum was involved in the seminal Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy. He was the promoter who made Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. stars. He was the one who directed the pathway to a smallish Filipino fighter named Manny Pacquiao towards international fame.
And he was at the eye of some of boxing’s most memorable fights.
“These are my babies,” Arum refers to them. “It’s so tough to single out any group, they’re so many. It’s so tough to exclude any.”
Arum has promoted fights for six decades. He’s done everything from club shows to major fights in casino parking lots.
These notable fights Arum handpicked among his greatest promotions:
Muhammad Ali KO 14 Joe Frazier III “The Thrilla In Manila”
Date/Venue: October 1, 1975/Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines
Titles: WBA, WBC, The Ring heavyweight
“That fight had to be prime time in the United States, so I remember it had to be at 11 in the morning in the Philippines. I’ve never seen a fight like that. Ali dominated the early rounds, and Frazier came on in the middle rounds. It looked like Frazier would knock Ali out. Ali then rallied and came back to close Frazier’s eyes, so Frazier couldn’t come out for the 15th round because he couldn’t see.
“I remember how dark and dingy that place was. There was no air conditioning. I’ll never forget coming out of the Araneta Coliseum, under the high-noon Manila sun that was so bright you couldn’t see. It was like we were on a different planet. Neither guy was the same after that fight. They weren’t the same as fighters, and physically, they weren’t the same as people. That fight was like watching death.”
Leon Spinks W 15 Muhammad Ali I
Date/Venue: February 15, 1978/Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
Titles: WBC, WBA heavyweight
“Everyone thought this fight was a joke. Spinks got his act together, and I don’t think Ali prepared very well. It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, considered at the time on the level of Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson. We signed Spinks out of the amateurs, and saw him against heavyweight also-rans—and struggled against those guys and got gift decisions. We were thinking how he was going to even compete with the great Muhammad Ali? So, we were watching this, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. We were stunned by what unfolded.”
Roberto Duran W 15 Sugar Ray Leonard I “The Brawl in Montreal”
Date/Venue: June 20, 1980/Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Quebec
Titles: WBC welterweight
“The Leonard-Duran fight had been building up tremendously. There wasn’t a closed-circuit fight since Ali-Ken Norton III in September 1976. From September of 1976 to June 1980, every big fight had been on network prime-time television. We took a chance and put the Leonard-Duran fight on closed-circuit and it did phenomenal business. I remember it was held outdoors in Montreal and it was under a light rain, making it very foggy and misty.
“Montreal was a great choice and the people in Montreal put up $3 million to hold that fight, which was an extraordinarily high amount at that time. The casinos in Vegas did the Spinks-Ali fight in the Hilton in a 4,000-seat arena. Then, that was a lot of money.”
“Duran had psychologically out-psyched Leonard. They were in two different hotels in Montreal and Duran had a spy who watched Leonard’s then-wife, Juanita, each time she left the hotel. Duran would get a call and hurry to a car that was waiting. He would have the car drive up next to Juanita and say things like, ‘I f— you after I beat your husband.’ That drove Leonard crazy. Leonard knew to beat Duran was to out box him. That fight became a slugfest, and you don’t really want to do that with a Roberto Duran.
“That caused Leonard to lose that fight. That just drove Ray crazy. It’s why he fought Duran the way he did during their first fight.”
Roberto Duran KO 8 Davey Moore
Date/Venue: June 16, 1983/Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Titles: WBA junior middleweight
“We had not sold out the Garden since the second Ali-Frazier fight. Duran was seen then as a disgrace, because of the ‘No Mas’ fight. He was supposed to be shot. The energy in that place that night was tremendous. It led to Marvin Hagler approaching me about fighting Duran. Duran and his fans packed the Garden. He couldn’t go back to Panama. No one was interested in Duran after the No Mas fight. Duran put a beating on Davey Moore. It’s a night that I’ll never forget. It’s what made Hagler-Duran, which led to Hagler-Tommy Hearns.”
Marvin Hagler KO 3 Tommy Hearns “The Fight”
Date/Venue: April 15, 1985/Caesars Palace, Outdoor Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
Titles: WBC, WBA, IBF middleweight
“This is one of the greatest fights of all-time. These two built a terrible dislike for each other based on the two-week, cross-country promotion tour we did. They weren’t going to box. They f—— hated each other. When Tommy hit Marvin with his best Sunday punch that was knocking everybody out, it stunned Marvin for a minute. He came back, that’s when I knew Marvin was going to win the fight.
“Marvin would always take a dislike to his opponent, because that’s how he psyched himself up. No one thought anything of it. It didn’t mean that much. But for the first time in boxing, we had a 26-city tour. We took two planes going West and then we came back East. We hit 26 cities in 14 days. Tommy was a good-matured, fun-loving guy, and every time Tommy got up to speak, Marvin would get more and more agitated.
“We were in Stan Musial’s restaurant in St. Louis and Tommy got up to speak, and out of nowhere Hagler got up and jumped over the table and wanted to attack Hearns. They looked like they were going to punch each other out. I remember screaming, ‘If you throw a punch, you’re not going to get paid.’
“They backed off, but there was hate and the animosity started with that. They didn’t acknowledge each other. They didn’t talk to each other the rest of the tour. They restrained themselves. There was a hate there that I didn’t understand, because these guys weren’t jerks. They’re really good guys.
“Marvin was an introvert. He would keep things within himself. We thought he was so angry, because we just thought it was Marvin being Marvin.
“But you knew, there wasn’t going to be any boxing. They just threw punches at each other from the opening bell. I remember sitting next to Joan Rivers of that fight, and I remember her asking me after the first round, ‘Are these fights all like this?’”
Ray Leonard W 12 Marvin Hagler “The Super Fight”
Date/Venue: April 6, 1987/Caesars Palace, Outdoor Arena, Las Vegas
Titles: WBC middleweight
“Marvin wanted to retire after the Hearns fight. Somehow, we talked him into fighting John Mugabi. Leonard was there and he thought Marvin was slipping. Mugabi gave Marvin a really tough fight. Marvin didn’t want to fight Leonard. We really had to convince him. One of Leonard’s people had a beef with me, so I wound up buying Ray out for $11 million, and Marvin fought off of a percentage, and made $19 million. Marvin’s heart wasn’t really into that fight. He really had enough; he had been fighting since he was a kid.
“I still thought Marvin won the fight. The funny thing is even if Ray didn’t show up for the fight, he still would have gotten $11 million. After the first press conference, Marvin refused to do any more media. So, it was Ray and myself doing the rest of the press conferences without Marvin. Ray would say to me, ‘I must be crazy doing all of these press conferences with you, because all I’m doing is putting more and more money in Marvin’s pocket.’
“I call this the greatest promotion I ever had, because I came up with the theme that sold that fight. Marvin resented Ray, because Marvin came up from nowhere, never getting a break. Marvin felt he worked for everything he had in boxing, and he looked at Ray as someone who was handed everything; that he didn’t have to work as hard as Marvin did. I seized on that and that sold the fight.
“I take a lot of credit for the success of that promotion.”
George Foreman KO 10 Michael Moorer
Date/Venue: November 5, 1994/MGM Grand, Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Titles: WBA, IBF heavyweight
“Everyone was blocking George from getting his shot at Moorer. We went to court over it and won on age discrimination. That was a really tough fight, because Don King and the sanctioning bodies were against it. We finally got it on, only to see George lose every round. What we didn’t realize was that George was slowly maneuvering Moorer for his right hand. To me, I got so emotional after the knockout, seeing George go down on his knees in his corner. I remember telling Roy Foreman, George’s brother, during the fight, ‘What the f— is happening?’ Then out of the blue, George knocked him out.”
Manny Pacquiao KO 8 Oscar De La Hoya “The Dream Match”
Date/Venue: December 6, 2008/MGM Grand, Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Titles: Non-title bout
“When I look back on fights, I have to include the Pacquiao-De La Hoya fight. The Philippine congress passed a resolution that Manny shouldn’t be allowed to leave the country to do that fight because they thought he was going to get hurt. Oscar was so much bigger that everybody thought it was going to be a mismatch. It was a mismatch all right. Manny won every second of every round.
“I remember saying at the press conference after the fight, ‘The press is always right, they said it was going to be a mismatch and it was a mismatch!’ No one gave Manny a chance. People were saying I should be arrested for making that fight. Here was this iconic Filipino superstar who I was leading to his death. My matchmakers told me that Oscar was really slipping. I remember telling Richard Schaefer that Oscar shouldn’t have any more tough fights, and Pacquiao was easy. Oscar wasn’t used to fighting someone like Pacquiao. The bigger the opponent the more they were like dead meat. It was like me landing a big fish, throwing out a line and landing a 25-pound tuna.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.