Bob Arum: How Donald Trump 'swindled' $2.5 million from me

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist

Boxing promoter Bob Arum is one of the world's great storytellers, and he was eager to tell a visitor to his Las Vegas office last week a story about the time that Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, "swindled" him, in Arum's words, and fellow promoter Dan Duva out of $2.5 million.

Duva died in 1996, but his wife, Kathy, was intimately involved in the deal. A reporter described Arum's version of events as "a great story," but Duva said, "Sadly, it's no story. It's true."

Bob Arum promoted George Foreman in Foreman's April 18, 1991, fight against Evander Holyfield. (Getty Images)
Bob Arum promoted George Foreman in Foreman's April 18, 1991, fight against Evander Holyfield. (Getty Images)

The story revolves around the April 18, 1991, heavyweight title fight between champion Evander Holyfield and challenger George Foreman.

The Duvas and their company, Main Events, promoted Holyfield. Arum and his company, Top Rank, promoted Foreman. They agreed to put the fight at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., but wanted to get a casino in town to sponsor it. They decided to accept bids from Caesars Atlantic City and from Trump.

The fight was to be distributed on TVKO, HBO's pay-per-view arm, and it was the first fight on what is pay-per-view as we know it now. Caesars bid $11 million for the bout. Trump's bid came in at $11.5 million.

"I told Dan we should go with Caesars because they were more responsible," Arum said. "But Dan said, 'No, a deal is a deal. We have to go with Trump because he outbid Caesars by $500,000.' "

Thus, Trump earned the right to host the fight. The previous summer, the Persian Gulf War had begun after Iraq had invaded Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush sent American troops to force Saddam Hussein's troops out of Kuwait.

Trump had started to become a player in the Atlantic City casino market in the mid-1980s. The Trump Plaza, which was located next door to Boardwalk Hall, would be the host hotel for Holyfield-Foreman.

The Trump Taj Mahal opened amid much fanfare in Atlantic City on April 6, 1990. The economy, though, was struggling badly, and the casino industry in Atlantic City was feeling the effects.

According to a Feb. 10, 2016, story in the Press of Atlantic City which examined Trump's history in the city, the Taj Mahal was financed with what the paper called "$675 million in patently unsustainable junk bonds."

The good times at the Taj Mahal didn't last long. On July 16, 1991, 15 months after it opened and just three months after Holyfield-Foreman, the casino declared bankruptcy.

The promotion for the fight was in full swing when Trump sent a fax to Arum at Top Rank and the Duvas at Main Events. Both Arum and Kathy Duva recall it was roughly 10 days to two weeks before the fight.

"Dan got one and I got one from Trump's office saying, 'The deal is off [because of an] act of war,' " Arum said. "We thought it was a joke, and I went to the press and said, 'There's no act of war unless and until Sadam Hussein lands troops on the beaches of Atlantic City. That's the only way it would be an act of war.' But Trump insisted it was an act of war."

Kathy Duva said "the bottom was falling out of the real estate market" at the time and Trump's casinos were struggling badly.

Eventually, Arum and the two Duvas wound up in Trump's office and Trump basically said he wasn't going to live up to the contract.

Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. (AP)
Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. (AP)

"He was very calm and very relaxed and he said to us, 'I know we had a deal and I know this was what I was supposed to give you, but I'm not going to be able to give you that,' " she said. "He said that he just couldn't give us what we were supposed to get. Dan said, 'Well, we have a contract,' and Trump looked at him and very calmly said, 'Well, you can sue me if you want.' "

It was too late to postpone the fight, and it was impossible to find someone else to sponsor it.

Trump, Arum and the Duvas eventually reached a deal, Arum said. The promoters had a strong belief that the pay-per-view would do exceptionally well, so they felt they weren't going to get financially ruined if they would work out other arrangements with Trump.

"So he tells us that we could keep the gate, he'd give us $1 million and he'd give us a bunch of hotel rooms," Arum said. "At the end of the day, we took in, with the sale of the tickets and with the million dollars [from Trump], $9 million.

"So to this day, I am angry at Donald Trump because he swindled us, and that's the only way to say it, he swindled Dan and myself out of $2½ million."

Arum made it clear he wasn't accusing Trump of stealing. But he said with so little time left in the promotion, they had little choice but to accept what essentially was a settlement offer by Trump.

Trump's campaign did not respond to repeated attempts by Yahoo Sports to seek comment about Arum's version of events.

Kathy Duva had a lifelong friend who worked for Citibank. Duva said the woman told her that she was in a bankruptcy meeting in which Trump essentially said the same thing to the bankers that he'd said to her, her husband and Arum.

Duva's friend was named Liz. Liz and her husband, Mark, were staying at the Trump Plaza, and Trump himself used to patrol the hotel.

Duva had introduced her friends to Trump once. Trump subsequently saw them in the hotel several times after without Duva being present and every time, he would greet them by name.

"It was incredible," Kathy Duva said. "They'd be in the buffet and he'd come by and would say 'Hello Liz. Hello Mark. Are you having a nice time?' They'd see him by the elevator or somewhere else, two or three other times, and he remembered their names and made such a fuss over them. It was incredible.

"After he robbed us of all this money, I'm feeling so happy because he made me feel like this very important person because he was paying all this attention to my friends. He had this amazing ability to steal from you and make you feel like he did you a favor." The fight wound up being a huge success. Holyfield won by decision, and the fight sold 1.4 million on pay-per-view.

That is the eighth-largest boxing pay-per-view in history, trailing only Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao (4.6 million in 20150; Oscar De La Hoya-Mayweather (2.48 million in 2007); Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez (2.25 million in 2013); Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson (1.98 million in 2002); Holyfield-Tyson II (1.98 million in 1997); Holyfield-Tyson I (1.59 million in 1996); and Mayweather-Miguel Cotto (1.525 million in 2012).

But Holyfield-Foreman was held at a time when the universe of addressable homes was only about 15 million.

"We did 10 percent, which is an incredibly large percentage," Arum said.

None of the other pay-per-views that sold more came close to it in terms of percentage of buys versus addressable homes.

Everyone made a profit, though Holyfield and Main Events came out less than they would have without Trump changing the deal. Arum guaranteed Foreman an amount but Main Events did everything with Holyfield on a percentage.

"That was a tough conversation when Dan had to tell Evander he was going to make less," Kathy Duva said.

Trump has boasted frequently of his wealth on the campaign trail and says his net worth is far greater than analysts said. In any event, it's in the billions.

Measured against that, $2.5 million is a drop in the bucket to Trump. But that money is gone forever as far as Arum and Duva are concerned.

"Every time I saw Donald after that, he'd tell me how badly he felt about it," she said. "And I'd tell him, 'Well, you could still give it to me.' Whenever his name would come up, I'd joke about it with people and tell them, 'Yeah, he felt badly, but not badly enough to make it up and pay us.' "

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