Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Boxing: Promoter Bob Arum's passion for a scrap still strong

Boxing promoter Bob Arum stands in front of a 1971 photograph of himself with Muhammad Ali in Arum's office in Las Vegas. Photo / Patrick McKendry
Boxing promoter Bob Arum stands in front of a 1971 photograph of himself with Muhammad Ali in Arum's office in Las Vegas. Photo / Patrick McKendry

A limited edition Louis Vuitton punching bag and sports locker stand in one corner of Top Rank founder Bob Arum's Las Vegas office.

Gloves complete the set - all up the luxury ensemble cost more than $150,000 - a present from his second wife, Lovee.

But the priceless items in his spacious room on the second floor of his headquarters, situated conveniently near the airport (for easy access to his second home in Beverley Hills), are two photographs.

One is on a wall, a portrait of a youthful Arum standing next to an equally young looking Muhammad Ali. It was taken in Pennsylvania 45 years ago, and has been signed by both men. Arum, who was with Ali for 26 fights, has written: "To Muhammad, the man who made it all possible." Ali has written: "To Bob, love Muhammad Ali."

It is a striking image, one made all the more precious for the fact Ali died in June this year; The Greatest counted out for the last time.

The other is a framed photograph in a glass cabinet featuring an older-looking Arum on his knees hugging a similarly prone George Foreman. The pair are in a boxing ring - heavyweight Foreman had just won a bout of some significance and was giving thanks; Arum couldn't help but leap in to the ring and celebrate with him.

It is apt because Arum's enthusiasm for boxing and for life itself is infectious. Spend any time with the 84-year-old - he will turn 85 two days before Joseph Parker's December 10 world heavyweight title fight at Auckland's Vector Arena against Andy Ruiz Jr, the fighter Arum promotes, and you are welcomed into a world of the greatest names of the sport, of former United States senator Bobby Kennedy, of "scumbag" lawyers and promoters.

He has promoted some of the biggest fights in the world over the last 50 years - Marvin Hagler v Sugar Ray Leonard, the Leonard v Tommy Hearns re-match, Evander Holyfield v Foreman - and many others. A vault behind a window next to his headquarters' gleaming white reception area contains hundreds of video tapes of fights stacked neatly according to the decade.

Televisions show fight highlights on a loop; Hagler, Foreman, Hearns, Roberto Duran, they're all there.

Arum, the former tax lawyer who got in to boxing by chance and whose first promotion was the Ali v George Chuvalo fight in Toronto in 1966, truly is one of a kind.

One of the reasons why he was so enthusiastic about sealing the Parker v Ruiz Jr fight following a cold call from Parker's promoter, Dean Lonergan, was that he had never been to New Zealand. For him, there will always be new horizons.

He will have two birthdays this year - one at home with family and friends, who include Judge Judy, Bette Midler and other celebrities, and one in Auckland on December 8.

The last great heavyweight he promoted was Foreman; ever since he has had lighter fighters on his books - Oscar de la Hoya and Shane Mosley, more recently Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford. He has more than 30 fighters now, including six current world champions.

But now, he says, the heavyweight division is about to explode and Parker is poised to take advantage.

"The winner of this fight has a real big future," he says. "If Parker wins, he's such a charming kid with a big punch, he's going to be a major, major star in the world picture. If Andy wins, he'll be the first Mexican to win a world heavyweight title.

"There's so many good young fighters, so many competitive matches that could be made.

"I started in boxing with Ali, and the word always was that it was the glamour division in boxing."

Arum, a member of the international Boxing Hall of Fame, has courted glamour and controversy during his time. He has had a long feud with rival promoter Don King, and is outspoken about his contempt for UFC despite its rising popularity. He looks like a wise grandfather but has clearly retained his hard negotiating edge. He doesn't suffer fools, and he counts United States president-elect Donald Trump as one of those.

His stepson Todd Duboef, Top Rank's president, does a lot of the heavy lifting these days, but Arum has no intention of leaving the ring, not with a trip Downunder to prepare for.
Told the 12-hour flight from Los Angeles was a relatively easy one, he says: "For years, I was making four trips a year to the Philippines. Now that's a long haul."

- NZ Herald

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