Bob Arum, who turns 87 on Saturday, reflects on his 52 years as a boxing promoter

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum has promoted 2,047 fight cards in 216 American cities in his 52 years in boxing. (Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images)
Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum has promoted 2,047 fight cards in 216 American cities in his 52 years in boxing. (Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images)

Bob Arum will celebrate his 87th birthday Saturday in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, watching his three latest sensations do their thing in the ring.

Vasiliy Lomachenko, arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter in boxing, will face Jose Pedraza in the main event in a WBA-WBO lightweight title unification bout in the ESPN-televised card. Isaac Dogboe and Teófimo López, two of the up-and-coming stars in the Top Rank stable, will compete in separate bouts.

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Arum is a man who doesn’t scare easily or bend to public pressure. He’s under enormous pressure to put WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford in the ring with one of the stars of the Premier Boxing Champions stable, notably IBF champion Errol Spence Jr.

Arum may yet pit Crawford with one of PBC’s stars. But it’s unlikely that he’ll hear from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) or Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) demanding that he put Crawford in the ring with Spence, a Dallas resident.

He didn’t have such a luxury more than three decades ago when he was promoting a series of middleweight fights, none of which included Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Hagler would team with Arum and Top Rank and go on to become not only one of the best middleweights of all time, but one of the iconic figures in boxing history. Hagler, from Brockton, Massachusetts, was clearly talented but was perceived as difficult to work with and not the most promotable guy.

“He was a guy who had the reputation of being surly and not having the greatest personality,” Arum said. “He wasn’t a guy people were begging to work with.”

But after Arum received a pair of letters, he was suddenly motivated to push Hagler into the middleweight mix. He received letters from Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) urging him to give Hagler a shot.

“It scared the s— out of me,” Arum said, cackling. “I was like, ‘OK, OK, we’ll get him in there.’”

Boxing promoters Bob Arum (L) and Oscar De La Hoya pose for photos at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas in 2007. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Boxing promoters Bob Arum (L) and Oscar De La Hoya pose for photos at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas in 2007. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Arum started promoting Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather from the amateurs, and he played significant roles in the career development of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Manny Pacquiao, Roberto Duran and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., among many others. But building Hagler into a star — forced, though it may have been by Kennedy and O’Neill — is the work Arum is most proud of in his 52 years as a promoter.

“Without any question, it was Hagler,” Arum said. “We took him from this guy who was tough to work with and we made him a guy everyone wanted to see and everyone knew about and no doubt about it, I think that was the best we’ve ever done.”

Boxing has become more of a worldwide sport during the half-century-plus Arum has promoted. Many of the Eastern European fighters who once never turned pro and instead remained in the amateurs are now becoming pros and starring.

Arum pointed to Saturday’s card, which features a Ukrainian (Lomachenko), a Puerto Rican (Pedraza), a Ghanian (Dogboe) and an Italian (Guido Vianella, a 6-foot-6 heavyweight trained by Abel Sanchez and making his pro debut).

He said that growth has enhanced the game.

“It’s almost like a tennis tournament now,” Arum said. “If you look at tennis and you check the bracket, there are players from all over the world. That’s how it is in boxing now. It makes it a lot more interesting. You see these styles coming together and in some cases they mesh when one guy picks up from another, but we’re seeing the best guys there are now instead of wondering how this guy would do or how that guy would do if he was ever able to get out [to turn pro].”

Cuban heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson won Olympic gold medals in 1972 in Munich, in 1976 in Montreal and in 1980 in Moscow, but never turned pro. There was always speculation how he’d have done with the great heavyweights of the 1970s like Ali, Foreman, Larry Holmes, Ken Norton and Joe Frazier.

Today, Stevenson would probably be a pro and that question would be answered.

“You know, the other thing that has helped boxing is the internet,” Arum said. “Back in the old days, say if a guy was from Australia or New Zealand and he fought there, you might hear about him, but you may never see him fight and so you wouldn’t know if he could fight.

“But now with the internet, there is nobody fighting anywhere in the world we can’t see right away. And so you find guys who can really fight that you may not have found before.”

Bob Arum by the numbers

2,047 – Fight cards promoted by Top Rank
793 – Boxing shows TR promoted on ESPN
628 – World title fights promoted by TR
216 – American cities in which TR has promoted
129 – Boxing shows TR promoted on HBO
98 – Boxing shows promoted by TR on CBS
92 – Foreign or international cities in which TR has promoted
73 – Boxing shows TR promoted on ABC
41 – Miguel Cotto fights promoted by TR
37 – Oscar De La Hoya fights promoted by TR
35 – Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights promoted by TR
30 – Boxing shows promoted by TR on Showtime
27 – Muhammad Ali fights promoted or co-promoted by TR
26 – Foreign countries in which TR has promoted, plus Puerto Rico
25 – Freddie Roach fights promoted by TR
25 – Roger Mayweather fights promoted by TR
22 – World heavyweight title fights promoted by TR
20 – Terence Crawford fights promoted by TR
20 – Marvelous Marvin Hagler fights promoted by TR
20 – Manny Pacquiao fights promoted by TR
14 – George Foreman fights promoted by TR
14 – Boxing shows promoted by TR in China
13 – Thomas Hearns fights promoted by TR
10 – Alexis Arguello fights promoted by TR
8 – Roberto Duran fights promoted by TR
7 – Sugar Ray Leonard fights promoted by TR
4 – Mike Tyson fights promoted by TR
1 – Snake River Canyon jump by Evel Knievel promoted by Bob Arum
0 – Boxing shows promoted by TR in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming

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