1966 is a special year in sport for a plethora of reasons.
It was the year the England football team won their first and only World Cup, the year Ford and Ferrari truly went head-to-head at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and when Arkle won the third of three consecutive Gold Cups at Cheltenham.
On March 29, Muhammed Ali faced and defeated George Chuvalo, the first of five fights Ali would have in ‘66. All of them he would win.
Promoting the fight was one Bob Arum, the first of 27 occasions of him being in Ali’s corner, and his first foray into the world of boxing promotion in a career that is still prevailing after half a century.
Whereas his contemporary and long-time nemesis Don King has virtually retired and stays lurking into the shadows, as of March 2020, the 88-year-old Arum is still going strong.
A former Justice Department lawyer who assisted on the Warren Comission investigating the assassination of John F Kennedy, Arum is the CEO & founder of Las Vegas-based Top Rank, Inc., what the Brooklyn-born businessman himself describes as ‘the premier promotions company in the sport of boxing’.
In his 54 years of involvement within the sport, he’s had his arm around the shoulders of Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Manny Pacquiao, Vasyl Lomachenko and Tyson Fury.
There's a 71 years difference between the promoter and his latest protégé hoping to follow in the footsteps of Ali et al, Xander Zayas from Puerto Rico. Arum’s advancing years however are bringing out his pragmatism.
"I'm in great health but I realize at some time in the future the clock will run out and I don't know if that happens before or after [Zayas] becomes a champion,” Arum said (Business Insider).
"I would hate to be gone when that happens, but we don't know. As I sign younger kids and I get older, the idea that I'll be there jumping in the ring when he wins a world title becomes less realistic."
He launched Top Rank when first promoting Ali in the sixties, his first live boxing broadcast to HBO coming in 1972 and a boxing series on ESPN in 1980. According to Top Rank’s own official numbers, there have been around 1500 fight cards in 22 different countries across the globes, with approximately 9000 bouts.
Aside from King, the octogenarian has been involved in feuds with Mayweather’s adviser Al Haymon, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White (he’s not a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, “As far as I'm concerned, it's trash," Arum told a podcast earlier this month. "I don't like it. I don't like to watch it."), and even de la Hoya, whom he was with from the 1992 Olympics up to 2004.
He is however, ultimately, one of the most respected and formative figures in boxing history. The hatchet is purportedly now well and truly buried with de la Hoya. Mayweather, who broke away acrimoniously in 2006 to form his own Mayweather Promotions and make more money than anyone else in the sport, has also spoken of his admiration for Arum.
Arum has personally more than 400 world championship fights under his belt, and became an inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame just before the turn of the millennium. He is undoubtedly more recognisable than the vast majority of pugilists who decide to enter the ring, but it is his rivalry with King that is the stuff of legend.
Vying for fighters and pay-per-view numbers in the eighties, the era of the great Four Kings of boxing, that fuelled the fires of antagonism, as boxers were snatched from under each other’s noses.
The roots however come even earlier. In 1978, Leon Spinks and Muhammad Ali faced each other for a second time, with Arum promoting. After Ali’s victory, in which he won by unanimous points decision King entered the ring and hugged the new WBA heavyweight champion.
King had merely been a ringside spectator.
“To this day people think King promoted that fight,” Arum stated (LA Times)
One incident that saw the two promoters square up, following the super-fight between Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard in April 1987, reportedly saw a pistol being pulled, and in an interview with ESPN in 2018 Arum stated that he had been alerted by the FBI that King may have hired a hitman to take him out.
The fact that King was sitting opposite him in Jack Dempsey’s Bar and Restaurant as the anecdote was recalled however demonstrated that this war has long entered peace-time.
"We're like old warriors, old fighters who are reliving our old battles," Arum said. "My feelings for him are like two fighters who have been through wars against each other and now that the wars are over, they have shared memories of the wars. It doesn't necessarily make us friends or enemies, but it makes us people who have had shared experiences."
King has concurred that his fighting days with Arum are well and truly over. “It is idiotic to keep beating one another over the head,” he once said. “Think of the energy we have wasted. We are Siamese twins. If we keep beating each other, one will die and then the other will die."
Where the two still oppose each other however is when it comes to politics. Arum remains a staunch democrat, very anti-Trump, somewhat of a progressive, and has praised the positive effects of marijuana.
In a 2017 interview with CBS Sports, Arum advocated the use of the chronic. "I started [using marijuana] in 1966," Arum said. "Kids, young kids shouldn't do it because your brain is being formulated. But in 1966, I was in my 30s and I started. I don't do it at work, I do it for recreation. It's good for you, it's good for you. Cannabis is good for you!"
He has unsurprisingly supported the movement to remove marijuana as a banned substance, particularly after his fighter Julio Cesar Chavez tested positive in 2012 and was fined nearly one million dollars. There’s also the case of the legendary, almost lost film called The Marijuana Affair that proudly ‘introduces’ Arum in a starring role playing a drug dealer called ‘Stokes’ who at one point has to plead for his life.
"I had a friend, [ a bookie, a horseracing mogul, but also a boxing promoter] Lucien Shen who got money [to make the film] from the Jamaican government,” Arum explained, “He asked me to fly down for a cameo role as a DEA officer. I played the officer who cracked down on marijuana because he was smuggling cocaine back into the USA. I was the only white guy in the movie and I was the villain. I had a scam going for cocaine," said Arum (Vice).
"It was the worst fu*king movie ever made. If you haven't seen it, you're not missing anything."
Unfortunately, however, it only ever had a limited release in Jamaica, only ever seen by a select, ‘lucky’ few: numbers that are of course completely obliterated in comparison to the billions who have revelled in and enjoyed the fights he has orchestrated over the past 50 years, and continues to do so to this day.
The world and his wife watched this year as Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder slogged it out for the second time on Top Rank’s home turf in Las Vegas for the WBC heavyweight title. The Gypsy King can partly thank Arum, the co-promoter of the bout, not just for his belt, not just for the brobdingnagian wage packet - with the rematch reportedly earning Fury around $40million - but ultimately for the elevation of his profile Stateside.
You don’t get higher praise than Bob Arum comparing you to Muhammad Ali. And you don't often get the legend that is Bob Arum singing in the ring, but Tyson made it happen.
The story of Fury is hopefully a third-act chapter rather than an epilogue to the career of promoter Bob Arum.
He personally may not think he’s got long left for this mortal coil, but hopefully he’s not going to hit the canvas any time soon.