Bob Arum may be older than every other major promoter in boxing, but he remains ahead of the curve in many ways.
This Saturday, the 85-year-old Arum and his promotional outfit Top Rank are presenting an independently-produced pay-per-view event—that is, without the production or distribution from a premium cable network—and marketing is almost exclusively using social media. The event features Oscar Valdez defending his WBO featherweight title against Miguel Marriaga, as well as the professional debut of Olympic star Shakur Stevenson.
Instead of paying HBO to help get the word out about the event, Arum has opted to do it in-house, and as the only major promoter using Major League Baseball's lauded streaming technology, can actually offer an online broadcast of a quality worth paying for. In a time in which more and more younger people do not splurge for cable—and when bars spring for pay-per-view licensing fees with less frequency as well—Top Rank appeals to those cord-cutters.
"We uploaded a video feature of Gilberto Ramirez two days ago, and it already has 880,000 views. That's four times the number that would watch the event if it were on HBO pay-per-view," reasoned Arum, who has promoted everyone from Muhammad Ali to Manny Pacquiao over a 51-year career.
Photo by Mike Nelson/EPA
But his company's digital savvy isn't the only reason Arum might appeal to the younger generation. He has also been a vocal critic of draconian drug test policies in sports, specifically those surrounding cannabis usage.
"There is no stronger advocate for marijuana than me. I have used it recreationally since the 1960s. So you don't have to preach to me about marijuana," Arum told Fightland on the eve of 420.
Most famously, Arum's then-fighter Julio Cesar Chavez tested positive for marijuana following a 2012 loss to middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, and was fined nearly one million dollars. Arum publicly backed him then, slamming the Nevada State Athletic Commission's stance on weed, just as he continues to today.
"I think that's absurd. Athletic commissions should follow the Olympic WADA rules, which means marijuana is banned in competition. In other words, you can't smoke a joint and go into a boxing match. But you can measure the strength of marijuana," said Arum. "There's certainly nothing wrong with using marijuana a week out as WADA says, because in a lot of ways, marijuana is better for the athlete as pain medication than the drugs."
"I think the NFL is gonna revise its policy on marijuana and I think everybody should. It was the Nixon administration that demonized marijuana, to the real harm of a lot of people, particularly people who have terminal cancer. Marijuana can be a very therapeutic thing," said Arum.
The connection between the legendary boxing promoter and cannabis doesn't end there. You won't find it on his IMDB page, where you'll find his appearances in various boxing documentaries and fight-related flicks, but Arum starred in the 1975 film The Marijuana Affair.
"I had a friend, Lucien Shen who got money [to make the film] from the Jamaican government. He asked me to fly down for a cameo role as a DEA officer. I played the officer who cracked down on marijuana because he was smuggling cocaine back into the USA. I was the only white guy in the movie and I was the villain. I had a scam going for cocaine," said Arum, who played a character named "Stokes."
Shen was a filmmaker, a bookie, a horseracing mogul, but also a boxing promoter, who two years earlier had promoted "The Sunshine Showdown" between George Foreman and Joe Frazier in Jamaica.
The film had a very limited release in Jamaica, but in recent years, a DVD release of it has been teased. It's had some select viewings in Jamaica and in the United States. In 1987, Newsday reporter Wallace Matthews got his hands on a press kit for the movie, more than a decade after its release, and wrote of his findings:
"The press kit, which includes a hilarious still of Arum apparently trying to bargain for his life against a pair of gun-wielding thugs, provides this description of the future promoter of Hagler-Leonard: 'Whip-leather tough and as clever as the smallest of night animals has to be, Arum is a fringe presence grating on the old soldiers.'"
As recently as 2012, employees at Top Rank had replied to blog posts on the movie, hoping someone could help them get their hands on a copy of the film so they could see their boss in action.
"It was the worst fucking movie ever made," said Arum. "If you haven't seen it, you're not missing anything."