Bob Arum is not only arguably the greatest boxing promoter ever, he's also one of the smartest men I know. It's not a stretch to say Arum is a genius.
He's also one of the most compassionate men I've ever met.
In 2004, longtime boxing writer Jack Welsh was in his late 70s and struggling desperately to survive. He had no retirement savings and next to no income, so he had to scrape up whatever writing jobs he could, which were becoming increasingly few. Money was always exceptionally tight.
At a news conference that year prior to the Vitali Klitschko-Danny Williams fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, I was sitting at a table with Arum when Welsh approached and whispered to me that he was broke. Again. I'd just given him money a few days earlier, as had another mutual friend.
Welsh was looking skinnier than I'd ever seen him and it was clear he wasn't eating well. The man with the most voracious appetite I met couldn't afford to eat every day.
When he whispered about his financial troubles, I became visibly frustrated, because I'd been giving him money about every 10 days. Arum noticed my frustration and asked what was going on. After I told him that Welsh was worried about being evicted, Arum suggested holding a fundraiser.
I told him a group of Welsh's friends had done that a year or so earlier and few were in a mood to do it again. At that point, Arum called Lee Samuels, his public relations director, over and proceeded to amaze both of us. He gave Samuels the money to pay Welsh's rent for several months going forward, as well as several thousand dollars in spending money.
Welsh died in his sleep a few months later and it was Arum who picked up the majority of the funeral costs.
It's a side of Arum few people know, but one I've seen regularly in the 20 years I've known him.
Knowing that side of Arum makes it harder to reconcile the thought that he's willingly putting people's lives in danger for the sake for a few extra dollars in ticket sales.
Arum's Top Rank Inc. is promoting a boxing card in Tijuana, Mexico, on Saturday that, by all accounts, should produce some marvelous action.
It's a must see.
It is, at least, on pay-per-view.
That's because it's not worth the risk of going to Tijuana, no matter how Arum tries to spin it.
On a March 9 conference call that included the mayor of Tijuana and a Mexican tourism official, Arum tried to insist the danger to fans who might consider traveling to Tijuana for the fight was minimal. A publicist working for Arum issued a news release with the headline, "Mayor Proclaims Tijuana Safe for U.S. Boxing Fans."
During the call, Arum said, "I know there have been some problems in Tijuana with the drug trafficking, but they have it under control."
Uh, no they don't.
There were 843 murders in Tijuana in 2008, about two-and-a-half times the amount there were in 2007. On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced an extensive plan to decrease the violence. The White House said in statement released Tuesday, "The president is concerned by the increased level of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, and the impact that it is having on the communities on both sides of the border."
The situation is so unsafe that, according to USA Today, U.S. Marines are prohibited from going to Tijuana.
Yet, Arum wants boxing fans to feel it's safe.
He said he frequently travels to Mexico and called a State Department alert warning Americans about the danger of traveling to Tijuana "wrong." When he was pressed about the murder rate, Arum compared it to his hometown of Las Vegas, which, like Tijuana, is built on the tourist trade.
"How many people get murdered in Las Vegas?" Arum said. "Does that mean people should stay away from Las Vegas because there was a drug killing the other night? The person who is coming to Tijuana to watch boxing has nothing to worry about."
That's an absurd comment on so many levels, but it ignores the simple fact that there were about 851 murders in Las Vegas from Jan. 1, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2008, or about the same number (843) there were in 2008 alone in Tijuana. Tijuana had 80 more murders in November alone (212) than there were in Las Vegas in all of 2008 (132).
If the number of murders in the city alone isn't staggering enough, consider this: 843 murders amounts to one murder about every 10 hours every day of the year in Tijuana.
What's puzzling is that Arum doesn't need to urge Americans to travel to the fight. The city of Tijuana is underwriting the card and tickets are free for Tijuana citizens. Already, more than 15,000 of the 21,500 available seats have been claimed.
The venue will be filled regardless of whether or not one person crosses the border to buy a ticket for the fight. Given the violence in the city, it was a dubious decision, at best, by co-promoter Fernando Beltran to put the fight in Tijuana, but there's no reason to exacerbate the problem by acting as if this is an excursion to Grandma's house on a sunny spring Sunday afternoon.
Most likely, there will be no incidents at or around the fight. But crowds of 20,000 frequently bring out the undesirables and who knows what calamity may follow?
Arum and Beltran have put together an intriguing card featuring Fernando Montiel, one of the top fighters in the world, and the ever-popular Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
If you like rock 'em, sock 'em boxing, this will be the card for you.
Just don't travel to Tijuana to see the fight.
If it's not safe enough for a U.S. Marine, it's not safe enough for anyone.
And so, in what may be a first in boxing journalism, I leave you with this thought:
Stay at home and buy the fights on pay-per-view.
It's a great fight card, but it's not worth the risk to your life to go see it.
- Bob Arum