At 88 years old Bob Arum is not just one of boxing's most powerful men, he's also one of the oldest — and he knows it.
Arum still has a thirst for deal-making, promoting championship events around the world, and signing young athletes. But he recently told Business Insider that those fighters — some more than 60 years younger than he is — may not win a world title, become a superstar, and bank millions of dollars until after he has died.
His voice almost breaks as he says this. Signing talent still excites him, he said. “But it fills me with a lot of regret because I'm a realist about longevity.”
Crowning champions is what Arum does best, you see. He's promoted many, if not all, of the historically great fighters you can think of right now, from Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Evander Holyfield, to Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquiao.
I realize [my] clock will run out and I don't know if that happens before or after the kid becomes a champion.
He still has a hulking stable and late last year added a baby-faced assassin to his Top Rank fight firm, the 17-year-old Puerto Rican phenom Xander Zayas.
The Zayas family met Arum when the athlete was 16, and Arum told us it was not long before he realized the star potential which had walked into his Las Vegas office.
Puerto Rico is a boxing-crazed country, has been a conveyor belt of talent in recent decades, and New York City — with its latino communities — has proven to be a winning city to host fights featuring Puerto Ricans.
A decorated amateur boxer, Zayas wanted to turn professional before the Olympic cycle. Top Rank did not want to miss out on signing a fighter who would be its youngest prospect ever — not after Arum saw for himself the future that may lie ahead — and so Top Rank wanted Zayas to turn pro with them.
“He was 16 years old and he came to the office with his mother, step father, and his sister, and they were really tall people. Mother and sister were each at least 6-foot tall.
“I looked at the kid … they showed me clips of amateur fights. And I realized I had a kid in front of me who was a welterweight who would probably end up at light heavyweight or heavyweight.
“He has a lot of talent, a lovely kid who you sort of fall in love with.
“We signed him to a contract and got it approved in a court in Nevada because he was a minor, still is. Most places you can't fight until 18, but there are certain places in the United States to fight professionally at 17 — Nevada luckily, Texas, and New Jersey are three places.”
When asked about having to relate to men much younger than him, Arum said: “I'm in great health but I realize at some time in the future the clock will run out and I don't know if that happens before or after the kid becomes a champion.
“I would hate to be gone when that happens, but we don't know. As I sign younger kids and I get older, the idea that I'll be there jumping in the ring when he wins a world title becomes less realistic.”
How Arum and Top Rank develops talent
Arum and Top Rank have a tested method when it comes to scouting, nurturing talent, and turning potential into experience — and experience into champion status.
The process, in brief, is this:
- Identify talent in the amateur scene
- Put them in the right professional fights at the right times
- Once their skill and experience has developed, book them in bouts which punctuate their greatness
“We have three tremendously able matchmakers who have been around and have great eyes,” Arum said. “They spot talent in the amateur ranks, particularly in the Olympics.
“Other kids are hidden under a barrel and emerge after their amateur careers, and they [Top Rank scouts] spot them then.
“We've been very successful in acquiring talent and then directing that talent in the right direction so that most of them become superstars. That was what we did with Floyd Mayweather, with Oscar de la Hoya, and with Manny Pacquiao to a great extent.”
“Without talent, we're not alchemists and can't turn lead into gold,” Arum told us. “But, again, we have a great track record of taking these talented kids, making the right fights for them, and moving them along.”
Arum used the example of the WBC and WBO super lightweight world title holder Jose Carlos Ramirez, a 27-year-old American who blossomed late to enjoy a thumping 2018, a year which saw him crowned champion.
“This kid from Fresno, Jose Ramirez, a member of the US Olympic team … when he came out there was serious debate whether he'd be a star.
“Initially, though he won his early fights, he didn't look like a world beater but finally you could see the improvement in every fight. He won a championship against a very good fighter at Madison Square Garden [vs. Amir Imam in New York, 2018].
“He then won a championship with another organization [by beating Maurice Hooker in Arlington, Texas, 2019], so he now holds two titles.”
Arum is sending Ramirez to China, where he will defend both of those championships against Viktor Postol at the Mission Hills in Haikou in a bout which takes place on February 2 and will be broadcast back to fight fans in America.
But while Ramirez blossomed late, it is yet unclear the path Arum and Top Rank will take the teenage Zayas down — whether he will win a world title early in his career, late, or even at all.
Currently, he is two fights into his professional career with two wins, both of which were knockouts. His third will take place this weekend, as he takes on Corey Champion in a four-round bout at the Hard Rock Live in Atlantic City, New Jersey — one of the few places which allows 17-year-olds to fight.
If Zayas goes on to become a champion at the same age as Ramirez, it will be in 2028, and Arum would be in his late 90s.
But if Zayas wins a world title at the same age as Pacquiao did in 1998, when the Filipino was 19, it will happen far sooner — 2022.
In that scenario, few would be happier than Arum.