He’s The Bobfather, 91 years old, still heavily invested in the fight game, still with the potential to be irascible but now a bit less likely to thunder. NYFIGHTS chatted with Bob Arum, the Brooklyn born Las Vegas based deal-maker, and got his thoughts on multiple subjects, including that Jake Paul bout which will run on the ESPN platform Sunday.
“It’s a legitimate fight, a boxing match against a relatively novice fighter, and Jake is almost a novice himself,” Arum told me when I inquired about the Jake Paul v Tommy Fury tango. “It’s great for boxing, it brings a different demographic, a demo we’ve been missing, the younger people, who have drifted away. This helps bring them back.”
And how did that come together, anyway? Jake had been working with the people at Showtime, it looked like he was their Plan A, maybe, to deal with the realities of being a boxing programmer in a world which hungers for the possibility of drawing oodles of eyeballs, a higher ceiling than a boxing event might bring. “The Paul people contacted us after they made a deal in Saudi, we said we’d help, help with TV,” Arum said, “we have our whole social team working on it, hopefully it’s a success.”
Over the years with me, Arum has been sanguine about “YouTube boxing,” he hasn’t been one to wave the purist flag and shout about the deterioration of the sport as a whole. “Jake isn’t fighting somebody who has only done other sports, football or MMA, or whatever. Tommy’s not bad, it’s an appropriate test for Jake Paul. You put him in with Tyson Fury, no, it’s ludicrous, but in with Tommy Fury, it could be a contest.”
Top Rank has other events on the books, including the Saturday, March 25 card topped by a Jose Ramirez clash against Richard Commey, in Fresno, CA. “That’s a good test for Ramirez, Commey is a trial horse. Ramirez took time off, got married, has businesses in Central Valley, we’ll see if he’s ready to go back against a top guy at 140. WBA minimumweight world champion Seniesa “Super Bad” Estrada meets WBC world champion Tina Rupprecht underneath.
Next, Top Rank brings the big tent to Tulsa, for a show topped by two-time Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramírez, who will fight Isaac Dogboe in a 12-round showdown for the vacant interim WBO featherweight world title. Puerto Rican possible future star Xander Zayas battles Ronald Cruz in support.
“The Ramirez versus Dogboe fight, I think it’ll be a really good fight, Robeisy is one of those guys who was a top, top amateur, think he beat Shakur for the gold. Shakur told me he’s a different level fighter, urged us to sign him. He lost his first fight, because he was trying to escape the Cuban government, we didn’t give enough time to get ready. He’s dramatically improved every fight. Dogboe is a top fighter in that division, the winner will be featherweight champ.”
Another Saturday show—on April 8, Shakur Stevenson goes in against “a big murderous puncher,” according to Arum, one Shuichiro Yoshino, in a 12-round WBC lightweight title eliminator in Newark, New Jersey. Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson fights in support. “Yoshino, Mr Honda is very, very high on him, it’s a 130 championship, I think it will be really interesting fight. And Jared Anderson, if he wins that fight, we promised him June or July in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. Jared Anderson, he could be a huge draw, could be a breakout star who pulls the business with him.”
OK, and what about what isn’t set. What else of Arum working on? “We’re working on Oleksandr Usyk v Tyson Fury, a big fight, it has lots of odds and ends to pull together, hopefully we bring it to fruition in the next week. Same thing for Devin Haney, against Vasiliy Lomachenko, for May 20, we’re very close on that, hopefully in the next week it’s done.”
The Usyk-Fury battle will knock on wood be slotted for the last Saturday in April.
Teofimo Lopez, another Top Rank pillar, he’s the mandatory against Josh Taylor, and Arum says Taylor is on board. “We have to get the appropriate site, we hope to do June 10, we hope to do it in NY, at the Garden. These arenas have to hold dates for the playoffs. So we don’t have big Garden, maybe we take the little Garden, and if the big becomes available, switch to that. It would be a Ranger playoff game in the finals, who knows if they go that far. Everyone’s telling me the Rangers are good this year.”
More works in progress—what about Artur Beterbiev, might we see him in with Dmitriy Bivol, maybe the second half of the year? “He’s a very orthodox observant Muslim, you have Ramadan, typically during Ramadan he won’t train, he fasts. He won’t be ready to summer. From the Bivol standpoint, he has a massive payday if they can bring Canelo back to the ring, now I don’t know where Canelo stands, don’t know if can do massive paydays, the bloom is a little off the rose. But Bivol-Canelo 2, that trumps any other plans. Beterbiev is more than anxious to fight Bivol, though.”
And big picture, 2023, how is Arum seeing Top Rank? “Top Rank is in a good position because ESPN is very supportive, is very appreciative so to say, with the quality of fights we’ve been giving them, everything is good for us. Other promoters, there are warning signals up there. DAZN I don’t think is as interested in US market as they once were, apparently they lost lot of money, and feel there’s a better opportunity to develop markets in UK, Asia, etc. I don’t see a lot of activity with DAZN. You gotta be concerned with Showtime with the consolidation at Paramount at CBS, I read the release that Stephen Espinoza has to report to the president of CBS sports. That to me is a warning sign they’re not going to have much if any budget to go ahead this year, because CBS probably has everything it needs to handle on network. (Writer Note: I will see what I can discern about that Arum hunch from the Sho crew.) Unlike ESPN, which is all sports, CBS has certain windows for sports. Paramount Plus not as robust as ESPN+ and is probably looking to become big factor in streaming, but they have to do it in entertainment, not sports.”
And PBC? “It’s not good for the sport that one promoter is forced in effect to put anything halfway attractive on PPV. He’s not doing for any other reason but that he has to. But you have to look at the good side, boxing has never been as robust, as popular in the UK as it is now. They’re doing gates over there we only dream about..and those people aren’t that much different than Americans. We have to do what we can to win back the audience, we start with younger people, that’s why we’re able to get behind Jake Paul, that’s a possibility for boxing not to be overlooked.
“We’ve never had as many top prospects like we have now, we’re just loaded, other promoters didn’t have a window to grab top prospects, they just fighting to survive, I guess. So we’re going to develop guys that can be stars like Zander Xayas, Keyshawn Johnson, Jared Anderson, Richard Torrez, the whole host of them. Tiger Johnson has been really impressive, Troy Isley and Shu Shu have been impressive.”
“But like with race horses, when they’re really young they develop at different paces, but we’re purposefully developing them in the dark, because they’re not ready (for primetime). Abdullah Mason, he’s a tremendous natural talent, but it’s gonna take time, Fernando Vargas’ son Emiliano Vargas, it will take time, the one thing you don’t wanna do is rush.” Arum offered one element that can gum up the works: “You got managers who know everything, trying to push you to move fighter along quickly, so the purses go up, but as responsible promoters, you gotta hold back til they’re ready. No sense taking a shot with a kid not being confident you’re gonna win. Like with Edgar Berlanga… Nice people, I like Berlanga, lovely kid, good attraction, but manager Keith Connolly wanted us to advance him quicker than we thought he was able. What was the hurry, he hasn’t fought in a long time, he was suspended for biting, we wanna put him in semi main event, they didn’t want to hear it. So we arranged for an amicable parting, there was no animosity, it was different views. There are so many good fights that can be made if these fighters don’t rush themselves, and also understand what’s available for them to get.”
Yes, the game has changed, we as fans are feeling it because cash reserves got used up, hence why there are so many PPVs being trotted out. “Because of the state of the business,” Arum continued, “the robust purses of the last few years are somewhat a thing of the past. It’s hard for us these kids, they look at other sports, everything goes up up up, athletes making money they never dreamed of. Boxing is in a position where you have to lower the purses, have to husband the money to go around, pay as many as you can. Luckily many of these kids realize what’s up.”