“Boxing done right is the most exciting sport there is.”
- Bob Arum 1
According to boxing lore, Bob Arum promoted his first fight (Muhammad Ali vs. George Chuvalo in 1966) without ever having previously seen a boxing match live. Since then, he’s come a long way. Currently, he is CEO of Top Rank Promotions, a boxing promotion company he founded. Top Rank is currently among the top two such enterprises in the world. (Most would say that it’s a very close second to Golden Boy Promotions, the boxing promotion company founded by Oscar De La Hoya and run by rival Richard Schaefer.)
Arum had previously worked for Attorney General Robert Kennedy during the JFK administration after graduating from New York University and Harvard Law School. He was eventually assigned a litigation assignment concerning the Floyd Patterson vs. Sonny Liston heavyweight title bout. This first introduction to the boxing world and its colorful characters fascinated him. A few years after leaving the Justice Department, he met football great Jim Brown. In 1965, Brown introduced Arum to Muhammad Ali and the rest, as they say, is history. He hasn’t looked back since his first boxing promotion with Ali and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.
Noted boxing writer Thomas Hauser says that Bob Arum “knows how to build fighters and has given HBO as much, if not more, good product over the decades than any other promoter.” 1 One of the criticisms that Arum has against his top rivals at Golden Boy is that Top Rank actually develops fighters starting from their early professional careers (or even late amateur careers) while Golden Boy steals fighters from other promotional companies (which have already built them into marketable fighters) and just matches them up. Arum says, “Any moron can take two superstars that someone else has developed and put them together… Boxing needs promoters who develop fighters.” 2
Hauser says of Arum: “Like all successful boxing promoters, he’s obsessed with his trade.” 2 Even now, in the later stages of his life, Arum still exudes a level of energy not commonly associated with others his age while promoting fights. I believe that it is this passion that has helped keep Arum at the top of the sport for so many years, while old rivals such as Don King have fallen by the way-side as the business of boxing has evolved along with technology shifts and demographic trends. Like all the big players in boxing, Arum’s career has had its share of controversy and scandal. However, I am inclined to believe that anyone who is still so passionate about boxing after such a long career can only have the sport’s best interest at heart.
To stress Arum’s importance to boxing, I’d like to close with some more words from Hauser:
Arum is a fascinating figure. Former Time Warner Sports president Seth Abraham (the architect of HBO’s boxing program) says that fighters and strategies provided by the promoter contributed significantly to the network’s early success. Later, Arum was instrumental in building Showtime Boxing as a counterbalance to HBO. For years, he was ESPN’s sole supplier of fights. More recently, he put Versus in the boxing business. Arum is now seventy-six years old, and has enough money to retire the national debt of a small country. But he still plays the boxing gaming successfully and hard. 1
1. Hauser, Thomas. An Unforgiving Sport. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2009.
2. Hauser, Thomas. The Boxing Scene. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009.