LAS VEGAS – Don King frequently refers derisively to Bob Arum, his rival of almost four decades, as "Lonesome Bob." He once called Arum a rat fink for testifying for the government in a bribery trial.
"He's going to try to make himself a hero for being a rat fink," King said in 2000 after Arum admitted during a federal trial that he paid the IBF president a bribe in order to gain a more favorable rating for one of his fighters. "You can't be no hero being a rat fink. You know how you be the hero? Don't participate in rat fink-ism."
The enmity between the Hall of Fame boxing promoters was very real.
But on Friday during a seminar at the National Association of Black Journalists conference, Arum was no "Lonesome Bob" when he came under attack from Floyd Mayweather Jr.
King, of all people, came roaring to his defense.
After the raucous 90-minute seminar in a conference room at Bally's in which the topic ostensibly was whether boxing is dead, King didn't find it odd that it was he, of all people, who stood up and spoke out on behalf of Arum.
"You know me," King said, doing six things at once as his throng of assistants slowly ushered him toward an elevator. "Truth, justice and the American way. It ain't right what the kid said. I knew that and I had to say something."
Mayweather essentially accused Arum, who promoted him from the beginning of his career in 1996 until 2006, of underpaying him, exploiting his talents and manipulating officials.
Mayweather became recognized as the best fighter in the sport during their frequently rocky 10-year association, but was never satisfied with the way Arum marketed him. "You wouldn't let me be me," Mayweather said to Arum.
He began his attack slowly and said he felt fighters should be paid more than promoters. Fighters, he pointed out, are the ones taking the risk, though he overlooked the fact that a box office bomb can cost a promoter millions.
But Mayweather was just getting warmed up. He threw Arum's ethics up for debate when he wondered how Erik Morales, an Arum-promoted fighter, was able to compete for the WBC lightweight title in Chicago last week despite the fact he was 1-4 in his previous five bouts.
"That's when you think the (sanctioning) organizations are getting paid under the table when things like that happen," Mayweather said. "Somebody's getting some money under the table when certain things like that happen."
Mayweather said his recently formed promotional company, Mayweather Promotions, would do things correctly.
Arum said he had no problem with fighters becoming promoters, but said they shouldn't be able to promote their own fights. He said it sends a wrong message because the fighter's company is then paying the opponent and the judges.
Mayweather noted that his company is paying Ricky Hatton more money than he's ever made when they meet on Dec. 8 in Las Vegas. Arum said he didn't care and said it is still wrong.
"You're basically saying that you should be a middle man and you shouldn't be cut out," Mayweather said. "Instead of a bank investing the money, you want to move the bank out of the way and invest (our) money yourself. That's what it is."
Mayweather then said he made more money in two fights without Arum as his promoter than he did in his previous 30 fights working for Arum.
"That's the middle man," he said. "Cut the middle man out and see what you can get. You were talking about paying me $2 or $3 million when it really should have been $6 million. And once I cut the middle man out, it became $15 or $30 million."
Moderator Chuck Johnson, the boxing writer at USA Today, was trying desperately to keep the event from turning into a free-for-all when he turned to King.
And that's when King stunned anyone who has watched the sport and seen his battles with Arum over the years. They've been opponents in the courtroom more frequently than they have during fights, but King put past hostilities aside.
He recognized that Mayweather was attacking his profession, as well, and he wasn't backing down, even to the best boxer in the world.
King followed with an impassioned defense of Arum, even though he said Mayweather was the best boxer he'd seen since Muhammad Ali.
"I am not a defender of Bob Arum though I am a defender of the sport," King said.
Nodding toward Arum, King said, "Oscar De La Hoya would never be where he is today without this man right here. This man has been a foe to me all these years.
"But that's what makes me so good. I wouldn't know how good I am if I didn't have a Bob Arum. I think Floyd is great, but he doesn't understand. You have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run."
King said Mayweather's words showed his "innocence and naivete, because they were damning things he was saying about paying off officials and doing things of that sort."
He said that though Mayweather was correct about how much money he'd made in his last two fights, Mayweather conveniently ignored the work that Arum did in building his career and guiding him to the pinnacle.
"Floyd Mayweather would not be getting the money he's getting from Oscar De La Hoya without Bob Arum," King said, as Mayweather tried to speak over him. "You're going to make a lot of money in your career. I just want you to understand the principles involved. "Someone has to make a person big. You're not born big. I understand what you're saying, Floyd. But you also have to understand how you got to where you are so you could go and make all this money. Remember him."
It was stunning theater. This is the man who once crowed, "The lights are out in Arumville!" when the King-promoted Felix Trinidad defeated the Arum-promoted De La Hoya in a 1999 battle of unbeatens.
It wouldn't have been any more shocking to see Derek Jeter in a Red Sox uniform, but King just shrugged.
"Hey man, I have a ton of respect for Floyd Mayweather," King said. "He's just young and excitable. He thinks he understands, but he doesn't. Just because he's all of a sudden making all of this money it doesn't mean he would have made it all the time, every fight. "It was his talents as a fighter and Arum's talents as a promoter, combined, that did it. It was just right that I try to educate him about the error of his ways."
- Bob Arum
- Don King
- Floyd Mayweather