LAS VEGAS — It was sometime in the middle of 1996, not long after Bob Arum turned 65 years old, when the question arose: Are you planning to retire?
Arum is known for a volcanic temper, and given that he had no plans at the time to retire, he erupted.
“What? What the hell would I retire for,” Arum said, with a few choice expletives dropped in for emphasis.
A quarter of a century later, Arum turned 90 on Wednesday, and is without question the greatest promoter in the history of boxing. He’s the guy who brought you Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury and so, so, so many others.
Arum’s Top Rank not only has a deep roster of talented fighters, it might have the best list of prospects in the game. He just signed Keyshawn Davis, a 2020 silver medalist for the U.S., a guy many believe can be the No. 1 fighter in the sport.
But Arum believes that will be 22-year-old prospect Jared “Big Baby” Anderson, a heavyweight who fights on a Top Rank card Saturday in New York.
“He is the goods,” Arum said. “He’s a good-sized heavyweight and I’ve seen how he spars with Tyson Fury. He’s had 10 fights now and they’re all knockouts and he’s just the goods. It’s all well and good to point to a smaller fighter like Shakur [Stevenson] and say he’s going to be a superstar. And to be honest, I think Shakur will be a superstar.
“But if you get a guy who is a heavyweight who starts young and wins the heavyweight championship, then you have not only a superstar, but a hugely bankable athlete. He’s a fun kid, he’s got a nice smile, he’s intelligent and he’s not full of himself. I’ve seen every one of his fights and I’ve watched him spar with Tyson and he just has a limitless future. I’m really high on that kid.”
Arum’s seen all of Anderson’s fights because he arrives early. Despite his advancing age, he still loves the fights. He’s there before the first fight starts and sits to the end. The only concession to age he’s made is cutting short the post-fight news conferences so he can get to dinner.
Particularly in big fights, the stars can take a while to get cleaned up. At 90, he’s earned the right not to have to wait if he doesn’t want to do so.
“Remember after an Oscar fight or a Floyd fight, they were taking forever to get themselves dolled up and I’m sitting there killing all this time bulls***ting and what not,” Arum said. “I just said the hell with it. I’m hungry. I want to go eat.”
And so, Arum isn’t apt to hang around as long but it has a good side. He’s less likely to say something that will get him in trouble.
Arum has always been as blunt as a right-hand to the face, and usually if he thinks it, it comes out of his mouth.
“You can talk about NYU and Harvard Law and the Kennedys and all that, but really, Arum’s like a street guy from Brooklyn,” his legendary matchmaker, Hall of Famer Bruce Trampler, said. “He loves the fights and he loves the fighters and he really relates to them.”
Arum worked in President Kennedy's administration under then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy before he got into boxing.
He’s always had a brilliant, quick mind and whatever the years have robbed him of, it’s not his brain.
“I can’t run and I can’t walk as far as I used to, but one thing that is important is I think my mind is as sharp as ever, and that’s the most important muscle in the body,” Arum said. “As you get older, as old as I am, there is a pull, a tug, to say, aw f*** it, I can’t do this. I can’t do that. Or maybe it’s ‘I don’t want to do this interview,’ or ‘I don’t want to go to this press conference.’ But you can’t let yourself be captured by that or you’ll be overwhelmed.”
So, it comes as no surprise that Arum fully plans to be promoting fights on Dec. 8, 2031, when he turns 100.
“If God gives me the ability to live that long and stay around for 10 more years, as long as I am able, I will continue to promote fights,” Arum said. “If I’m disabled, of course, that’s different. But I’ll never voluntarily retire or walk away. I love this too much.”