In his Hall of Fame career, Bob Arum has promoted most of the biggest attractions in boxing. The range of champions who have fought under his Top Rank banner include Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler and Oscar de la Hoya. On Wednesday, Arum turns 90 years old and remains as active as he was during Ali’s heyday.
Among boxing's current champions and/or pound-for-pound bests, Tyson Fury, Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko all have been promoted by Arum.
Arum returns to Madison Square Garden on Saturday with former lightweight champ Lomachenko meeting Richard Commey in a 12-round bout. Also on the card is middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of Muhammad Ali, in a four-round bout.
"Any time we do a show at Madison Square Garden, it’s really very exciting for me," the Brooklyn-born Arum said. "As a kid, my father would take me to the old Garden to watch college basketball. Madison Square Garden has always been special. It’s an iconic place and Lomachenko is an iconic fighter."
With 56 years in boxing, Arum has a long history of promoting shows in New York City. Here are a handful of his favorite New York cards, with his thoughts about the event and the fighters.
Dec. 7, 1970: Muhammad Ali vs. Oscar Bonavena at Madison Square Garden
This was Ali’s second fight back after his exile from boxing. At the weigh in, Bonavena called Ali a "chicken" for not serving in the U.S. Army. Ali dropped Bonavena three times in the 15th round to force the end of the fight. At the time it was stopped, Ali led on the scorecards, 12-2, 10-3-1, 8-5. A crowd of 19,417 generated a gate of $615,401.
"I thought it was a very competitive fight," Arum said in an interview with Newsday. "Bonavena almost knocked Ali out in the eighth round. What I thought about Ali after the exile was that the inactivity had taken its toll. He couldn’t do it. He didn’t move well. The great Ali, who floated like a butterfly, was no longer there. The knock against the first Ali was that he couldn’t take a punch. He showed the world what kind of punch he could take."
Jan. 28, 1974: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden
In their epic first fight, "The Fight of the Century," Frazier dropped Ali and won a 15-round decision. They would rematch three years later, with Ali exacting a measure of revenge in a unanimous decision victory, 8-4, 7-3-1 and 6-5-1. Ali staggered Frazier badly late in the round. Referee Tony Perez thought he heard the bell and jumped between the fighters, giving Frazier time to recover. When the fighting resumed, there were 10 seconds left in the round. The bout was seen in over 70 countries. In the United States and Canada, it was shown on closed circuit television at 392 locations.
"Frazier had clearly beaten Ali in the first fight," Arum said. "But then he lost his title to George Foreman and we made the Ali rematch at the Garden. I didn’t think the second Ali-Frazier fight was close. I had Ali winning 8 rounds. The one thing about Ali fighting in New York, was that the place was packed with celebrities. Ali brought the excitement. Ali and Frazier were interviewed by Howard Cosell and they had a fight in the studio. Ali grabbed Frazier and they ended up on the ground. After that, the fight took off as an attraction. It did better closed circuit numbers than the first fight."
Sept. 28, 1976: Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton at Yankee Stadium
It was the rubber match in the Ali-Norton trilogy, and Ali won the 15-rounder by the scores of 8-6-1, 8-7 and 8-7. Each fight in the series was extremely close. This was the seventh successful title defense by Ali. It was the first fight at Yankee Stadium since 1959. Yankee Stadium would not host another fight until the new stadium was built.
"The police were on strike in New York City. We only sold eight walk-up tickets," Arum said. "People were taking the subway to the fight, they’d look down from the elevated platform and see a mob of people and they turned around and went home. The police strike caused chaos."
June 16, 1983: Roberto Duran vs. Davey Moore at Madison Square Garden
The fight took place on Duran's 32nd birthday. A crowd of 20,061 generated a gate of $964,305. Duran dominated the fight from the start and stopped Moore in the 8th. Moore’s right eye was nearly swollen shut. It was Duran’s 80th pro fight and Moore’s 13th. Duran won his first world title - at lightweight - at Madison Square Garden 11 years earlier.
"The fight was originally scheduled to be held in South Africa. It was going to be part of a doubleheader; Duran would fight Moore and Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini was going to fight Kenny Bogner," Arum said. "We had Frank Sinatra agree to do a concert after the fight. We called it 'The Chairman and the Champs.' Two weeks before the fight, Mancini broke his collar bone in training. So, we had to figure out where to put the Duran fight. Duran was always a big draw at the Garden, so that’s where we went. The fans sang 'Happy Birthday' to him. The fight resurrected Duran’s career. It was the first time the Garden was sold out for boxing in 11 years. The previous time was 1974 for the second Ali-Frazier fight."
Oct. 19, 1984: Marvin Hagler vs. Mustafa Hamsho at Madison Square Garden
These two middleweights first met in 1981, with Hagler stopping Hamsho on cuts in the 11th round. The rematch didn’t last as long. In a foul-plagued fight, Hagler retained the middleweight title with a third-round knockout. Hamsho was knocked down for the first time in his nine-year pro career. Hamsho struggled to his feet and after Hagler dropped him again, Hamsho’s trainer Al Certo stopped the fight.
"Marvin really wanted to fight at Madison Square Garden," Arum said. "It was the only time in his career he fought there. It was a very exciting card. The New York State Athletic Commission announced before the fight that three female judges would be assigned to Hagler-Hamsho. It was the first time any boxing commission did that."
(Note: After conversations with both camps, only one female judge, Eva Shain, would work the fight.)
Dec. 15, 1995: Oscar de la Hoya vs. Jesse James Leija at Madison Square Garden
In his MSG debut, de la Hoya retained the WBO junior lightweight title by stopping Leija, a former super featherweight champion, in the second round. Arturo Gatti captured his first world title on the undercard.
"Oscar wanted to fight at the Garden," Arum said. "I wanted him to fight at the Garden. It was the same as Hagler. Oscar came to me asking to fight at Madison Square Garden. It was a very special night. That night he used the same dressing room as Muhammad Ali. That means a lot to fighters."
June 5, 2010: Miguel Cotto vs. Yuri Foreman at Yankee Stadium
Boxing returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time since Ali-Norton in 1976. It also was the first fight at the new stadium. Cotto led throughout the bout and captured Foreman’s WBA junior middleweight title. In the seventh round, Foreman injured his knee, which severely hampered his ability to defend himself. A left hook to the body felled Foreman in the ninth. The attendance for the bout was 20,272.
"It was a glorious night. We had the honor of being the last fight at the old Yankee Stadium and the first fight at the new Yankee Stadium," Arum said. "We put the ring in right field. The season was still going on and the Yankees didn’t want to chop up the infield. The ring for Ali-Norton was behind the pitching mound. Foreman is an Israeli and it was the first time the Israeli national anthem was played in Yankee Stadium. He is a Sabbath observer. We had to wait until the sun went down to get him to the fight. We put him in a hotel in upper Manhattan and we drove him in a limo to the fight. Boxing has always been an ethnic sport. Cotto connected with the Puerto Rican community in New York. They always came out to support him."