This weekend, Bob Arum and Top Rank go back to their roots as they stage the bout between WBA junior middleweight titlist Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto at the new Yankee Stadium in New York. This was once the stomping ground of Arum, who decided to pick up and move his operations out west in 1986.
"I was doing a lot of fights in Las Vegas and I really loved Las Vegas and I preferred the life in Las Vegas," Arum explained to Maxboxing last Friday. "New York was getting waaaay too hectic for me and I wanted to move out to the west coast."
But at his core, Arum, still ♥’s New York.
"Of course," he says, "I was born in New York; I went to school in New York; my parents are from New York; my children and grandchildren live in New York- or at least most of ’em. So yeah, and I root for all the New York teams. I’m still a New Yorker."
While he’s staging this fight at the home of the “Bronx Bombers,” growing up, he actually was a fan of “Da Bums.”
"I was born and raised in Brooklyn and my team was the Dodgers," said Arum, who has fond memories of Ebbets Field growing up. "We used to bring our paper bags with sandwiches and they played doubleheaders continuously and you would stay there for about eight hours, watching two games. And you’d buy a soda for five cents, or something like that, and you’d have the sandwiches you brought from home. None of this nonsense about not bringing food in."
Like any other Brooklynite, Arum was crushed by their departure late in the 1957 season to Los Angeles (in fact, he was featured on HBO’s documentary “Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush” that dealt with the whole sordid affair), which followed the year he graduated from Harvard Law School. Moving up the ranks, he went on to work as an Assistant Attorney General under Robert Kennedy in the JFK administration.
But eventually, he’d find his way into the red-light district of sports- boxing, where his first major client was a certain heavyweight from Louisville, who was more than just a tad polarizing. Needless to say, his old-school Jewish parents did not approve.
"They weren’t very pleased," Arum admitted. "particularly when all hell broke loose when Ali said, ’I got nothing against the Viet Cong,’ and the Vietnam War, people forget, was not unpopular at that point. Everybody was for it, you wouldn’t think [to] question [patriotism]."
Yet, through it all, Arum endured- despite his parents’ initial disapproval- and this weekend’s promotion has a special symmetry for him. "It’s terrific for me," he explains, "having done the last fight in Yankee Stadium in ’76. To do the first one in the new Yankee Stadium is a great thing for me."
But that’s not to imply that the promotion surrounding the rubbermatch between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton was particularly successful. To the contrary, it was a disaster as the NYPD went on strike that very day of the fight. Arum still recalls the general public being terrified of going out as the city was overrun by hoodlums. That type of stuff tends to hurt your walk-up sales.
"That was the case; I mean, New York was a different city then. It wasn’t run like the way it’s been run, first under [Rudy] Giuliani and then under [Michael] Bloomberg, and now it’s one of the safest, great cities in the world. And the unions are acting more responsibly and so what happened then, was a commentary on the turbulent ’70s," said Arum of Gotham City, which was also terrorized in that era by “The Son of Sam” and the blackout of 1977. "New York was a very out-of-control city," conceded the veteran promoter.
Arum comes to New York for one or two major promotions a year. In the past, they have centered on Cotto and his large constituency in Madison Square Garden during the weekend of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. There was no other destination for this fight; according to him, it was the perfect fit at the perfect time.
"Cotto and Foreman in Las Vegas is no big deal. The story about Cotto and Foreman is a Puerto Rican and an orthodox Jewish kid, who’s going to be a rabbi, fighting in New York, which has huge numbers of those ethnic groups. So it’s a fight that belongs in New York," he says. "It doesn’t belong in Las Vegas; it doesn’t belong in Los Angeles. It belongs in New York. Either New York or San Juan."
New York, at one time was the boxing capital of the world, but in the era of the resort casino, it has been relegated to doing a few significant shows a year. And there are other issues that make promoting here difficult. Arum explains, "The buildings are very, very expensive and, secondly, the hotel rooms, the rates are out of sight. I mean, we’re not using the greatest hotel; most of the people, in this Yankee Stadium fight, the Affinia. But it’s probably more expensive at that hotel than top hotels in other cities."
But with that said, Arum will always find a date on his Top Rank dossier for this city.
"Absolutely, I mean, for me, it’s like coming home. I know New York and I’m comfortable in New York and I get around New York and I know a lot of people. It’s like going home," said Arum.
This will be the initial foray into the world of boxing for Yankee Stadium- but will it be the last?
"I think they can do one or two shows a year," said Arum. "Particularly doing the show in the middle of the baseball season, using the right-center field. If this works- and it looks like it will- hopefully there won’t be THAT much damage to the field; it’s covered and they’re not using the infield. So if it works, yeah, I think the Yankees are probably good for two shows a year."
And it’s not the only new yard in this area that will soon be hosting big-time boxing with Arum.
"I made a deal with Steve Tisch of the Giants and Woody Johnson of the Jets; I’m going to bring them a big, major boxing event next spring," said Arum, of the new football palace that just landed a Super Bowl bid recently. "It’s going to be a blockbuster event and everybody is now interested. I’m getting calls from all over. Last week, the Dodgers called me."
(Will Arum stage McCourt vs. McCourt?)
But seriously, what’s changed?
"Jerry Jones showed the way," said Arum, referencing the March bout between Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, that brought in over 50,000 patrons. "Everybody wants a fight, now, which is great."