LAS VEGAS — From behind his desk at the offices of Top Rank Boxing, near the Louis Vuitton heavy bag and the framed pictures with the late Muhammad Ali hanging from the walls, Bob Arum holds a scrap of notebook paper in his right hand. It represents his latest treasure map.
Arum is the chairman and founder of Top Rank, and he recently celebrated his 50th year in boxing promotion. Not bad for a Harvard-trained lawyer who peddled his first fight, Ali against George Chuvalo in Toronto, in 1966. In the decades since, a new era of boxers has always replaced the previous one, from the Ali-dominated heavyweight generation of the 1960s and ’70s to the welterweight/middleweights (Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran) who dominated the ’80s to Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield (minus part of an earlobe) and Lennox Lewis. All the way to Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, boxers who worked with Arum (all three), feuded with Arum (Mayweather and De La Hoya) and came to work with Arum again (De La Hoya, in a promotional role).
About that scrap of paper. On it, Arum has scribbled perhaps a dozen names. In the 14 months since the circus known as Mayweather-Pacquiao concluded with swollen bank accounts and public scorn, both boxers announced their respective retirements. Pacquiao has already decided to fight again this fall, and the bet here is that Mayweather is not done, either. But Arum is already, once again, looking forward. That scrap of paper is his plan for what’s next. Even at 84 years young, there’s always a next boxer, a next fight.
Near the top of Arum’s list is Terence Crawford, an undefeated fighter (28 wins, 20 knockouts) who meets another undefeated fighter, Viktor Postol (also 28–0, 12 KOs), in a super lightweight title fight this Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In a sport in which records mean very little, where boxers are propped up for years against lesser competition, this bout is the opposite of normal. It’s a fight that either man could win. And if Crawford prevails, it could launch him into a star orbit.
Crawford reminds Arum of Alexis Arguello, the champion from Nicaragua who died in 2009, in that Crawford boxes with a flourish, switching styles mid-bout, or even mid-round. Crawford also possesses all the elements for stardom: a rags-to-riches backstory from growing up poor in Omaha, a harrowing experience (he was shot behind the right ear after a dice game and drove himself to the hospital), a high knockout ratio and a celebrity friend (Warren Buffett). (Yes, that Warren Buffett, an Omaha native.)
“We used to have Crawford on our cards, off television, and I would watch him and say this kid can f------ fight,” Arum says. “And then he beat Yuriorkis Gamboa, and we realized we really had something. Not just a good fighter. But something special.”
Crawford has won four of his last five bouts by stoppage, capturing two titles along the way. He knocked out Gamboa and Thomas Dulorme and Dierry Jean and Henry Lundy, climbing the pound-for-pound lists, earning his first Pay-Per-View fight on Saturday. The Boxing Writers Association named him its 2014 fighter of the year. The next step, Arum knows—he hopes for it—is stardom.
“He has absolutely exceeded our expectations,” Arum says of the boxer everyone calls Bud.
Bud is on the list. As boxing moves away from Mayweather and Pacquiao and toward more newer stars like Gennady (GGG) Golovkin, Saul (Canelo) Alvarez, Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev—and, soon, toward Roman (Chocolatito) Gonzalez, the flyweight champion who sits atop many pound-for-pound lists—Arum hopes his list lays out the next transition.
Arum’s eyes dance as he describes this list in detail. There’s Vasyl Lomachenko, the featherweight and junior lightweight champion from the Ukraine. The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who finished his amateur career with a record of 396–1, asked Arum for a title fight in his first professional bout, got one in his second contest (he lost, to Orlando Salido, by split decision) and won a world title in his third (over Gary Russell Jr.). “I am in love with him,” Arum says. “He’s the greatest fighter I’ve seen in 50 years. I really believe that. Since Ali.”
Better than Pacquiao, he’s asked? “Yeah,” Arums says. “Mayweather, too. Oscar.”
Arum continues down the list, prone to hyperbole the way fighters are prone to pain tolerance. He’s high on Gilberto Ramirez (“great looking kid, just turned 25!”), Oscar Valdez (“completely bilingual!”), Felix Verdejo (“terrific talent”) and Jose Ramirez (the crowds love him!”).
He’s particularly interested in Eastern Europe as a market, after Golovkin emerged from Kazakhstan and Kovalev from Russia. “The Eastern European guys are the best fighters now, because they get great training as amateurs, they’re very, very disciplined kids, and they’re very, very tough,” Arum says, heavy on the verys. “And they have great skills but yet they fight like Mexicans. Come forward. They’re very crowd-pleasing guys.”
Arum can go on like this forever, and does. If Crawford wins, perhaps he fights Pacquiao next spring. “Everyone knows that most 140-pound champions have avoided Terence,” his co-manager, Brian McIntyre, told reporters. “Fighters are like buses. If one speeds off as you approach, you don’t run after it. You wait a few minute for the next one to come by.”
Boxing as a sport moves on, from one era into the next one. The one constant is Arum. He’s there, always, driving one bus, or another.