By Bill Dwyre
Wednesday brought another boxing news conference and another masterpiece of salesmanship and jaw-dropping from the master of that, Bob Arum.
Arum is the chief executive of Top Rank Promotions. He is 84 years old, going on 52. He seems to have the energy of a ten-year-old with attention deficit disorder. Think of him as ADD Bob.
In late March, he will have been in the boxing promotion business for 50 years. He is basically a New York lawyer who lost his way early in life and is proud of it. He has promoted the likes of Muhamad Ali, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Any similarity among those three has yet to be found. Ali was the greatest, Mayweather the loudest and Pacquiao the nicest.
Arum navigates all that like a motorcycle rider on the 405 freeway at rush hour. He zips in, zips out and makes lots of loud noises along the way.
Wednesday was no different. In some ways, it was a mild performance from the man who is about as soft spoken as Donald Trump, whom we will get to in a bit.
Arum is out there these days, selling the April 9 fight between Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley. They will fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and Arum has about 17,000 seats to fill and, hopefully for Top Rank, a million pay-per-views .
Neither Pacquiao nor Bradley were there Wednesday, at the Conga Room at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles. This was about the undercard, which stimulates media excitement along the lines of a ribbon cutting. There were a few reporters, and the usual sycophants with camera cellphones, pointing and shooting for unseen and unidentified audiences certainly numbering in the dozens.
No matter. For Arum, a viable audience is four people waiting at a stop sign with their eyes open.
The fights to be promoted were Arthur Abraham versus Gilberto Ramirez for the WBO Super Middleweight championship; Óscar Valdez versus Evgeny Gradovich for the NABO Featherweight championship, and Jose Ramirez vs. Manny Perez for the WBC Continental Americas Super Lightweight championship. These three fights will make up the lead-in entertainment on the HBO Pay-Per-View telecast April 9.
For the uninformed, or the slightly interested, WBO stands for World Boxing Organization. NABO is the ever-popular North American Boxing Organization, although, if you Google NABO, you first get the more prominent North American Business Owners and the North Atlantic Bicultural Organization. And the import of the Continental Americas sanction has yet to be flushed out, in and out of the boxing world.
So yes, if you think that selling those fights might be similar to selling coal to miners in West Virginia, you have the gist.
Not for Arum. He took it on like a guy offering candy to babies.
Abraham wasn’t there, apparently passing on the flight from Germany to pose for cellphone sycophants. He wouldn’t have been the star, anyway. That was Jose Ramírez, as well as the general topic of Mexicans.
Ramírez deserves the limelight. He is a young and unbeaten rising star. He is from Avenal, in California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley, and has become the leader of a movement battling for improved water rights to keep the likes of his family employed and the area continually productive. When Ramírez fights now, his backers from the Central Valley flock.
His last several fights have been sellouts. He fights, they come. He fought recently at the Save Mart Center at Fresno State, capacity 16,182, and they had to turn people away.
Arum has seized the cause. In real life, which is not necessarily the same as boxing life, he is a human rights liberal. So championing the cause of a fighting farmer from America’s agricultural heartland was an easy jump.
Before the news conference, several of Ramírez’s backers praised Arum for stepping in and helping them lobby in Sacramento against the environmental lobby that, they say, is unnecessarily stealing water from the farming needs of the Central Valley. Arum, soft spoken and diplomatic as ever, called the foes “cockeyed environmentalists.”
It got better.
It turns out that part of the environmentalists' stance is to keep more water flowing in the rivers and out to sea as a protection against the extinction of the Delta Smelt. Remember the 1970s and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s battle over the Snail Darter. Well, now Snail Darter meets Delta Smelt.
The Snail Darter triggered a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court. Arum cut through all that Wednesday, suggesting there will be no need for Supreme Court time on this one.
“Who in hell ever saw a Delta Smelt?” he bellowed, rhetorically. “Nobody. That’s who.”
And that was before he even took the podium to run the news conference, where it got even more delightful.
Manuel Cunha, Jr., president of a water rights group called the NISEA Farmers League, labeled Arum “Farmer of the Year.”
Arum started by referring to “Fat Cat” politicians, meaning Republicans, and soon was championing the Mexican cause, which fit nicely with the fact that four of the six undercard boxers he was promoting were either from Mexico or were Mexican-American. And a fifth, Gradovich, for some reason, carries the nickname “the Mexican Russian.”
Halfway through the proceedings, Arum, the pro-Mexican liberal New York lawyer and California Farmer of the Year swung for the fences. He was introducing the Mexican Russian’s opponent, the two-time Mexican Olympian Valdez.
Arum looked at the crowd, then at Valdez, and said, “I’m not going to let Donald Trump get a hold of your check so he can build a wall.”
At this writing, Arum is in Mexico City, doing another news conference with the same group of undercard fighters.
Do not rule out an international incident.
Bill Dwyre will be writing a series of weekly columns on the Pacquiao vs. Bradley world championship event. Bill was sports editor of The Los Angeles Times for 25 years, ending in 2006. He was a sports columnist for 9 1/2 years at The Times, ending Nov. 25 with his retirement. Boxing was among his most frequent column topics. Bill can be contacted at [email protected] or via Twitter at @BillDwyre.
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