Cartel might be the proper description, yet it is not that exactly. International unity is what it is, says Arum. More like an invisible belt of power around boxing, a less subtle man might say. The lineup is this: George Parnassus (the Far East and any place he chooses to alight); Tito Lectore ( South America); Rudolfo Sabbatini ( Italy and France); Jarvis Astaire ( Great Britain); Bob Arum (the U.S.). If there is major action to be cut up anywhere, it is a solid bet that each of these men, controlling the closed-circuit machinery as well as all else in their regions, will have a knife in his hand.
Their common bond, then, is that they all make money for each other. There is nothing thuggish about it, or even piratical, Arum says. "I like to get something done cleverly, but not by stealing. I like to outwit an opponent. Stealing makes me very uncomfortable." Arum balks also at any implication of "family" here, of something dark yet undefinable. Then why are he and his nonfamily always bent over the same pie? Simply because, says Arum, "there are so many dummies in this game, who else can you work with?" Jim Wicks, the old manager of Henry Cooper, perceives something else. Speaking of Astaire—Arum's major confederate—he says:
"If you don't want to work for certain people, you have to get out of the game. If a manager says two words wrong he is barred, he don't get no more work. I don't want to name anyone, but certain people...."
Says Astaire: "I'll tell you why this situation arises. There isn't room at the top. There will always be one person, one group or faction at the top, but there is not room for two. Everyone pays lip service to there being room for everybody, but it's on the way up, not at the top. There can be only one No. 1. I'm sorry, but there it is."
Urbane and a student of money, Astaire is clearly Arum's kind of operator. So is Mike Burke, the latest high priest at Madison Square Garden. "We did no negotiating with Teddy Brenner or Ali-Frazier," Arum emphasizes. "We made the deal with Mike Burke over dinner at '21'." Why Burke instead of the old tradesman Brenner? "Because," Arum says, " Mike Burke is a very intelligent, sophisticated man. And Teddy Brenner is a good matchmaker." He pauses: "I categorize Brenner as an honest person. Extremely unimaginative. He is a boxing purist and a traditionalist. He still doesn't understand the impact and importance of the TV aspect of boxing."
For Arum, phones do not go dead at the mention of his name. But people are cautious, and even his enemies stop at total candor. The late Yank Durham—Frazier's manager—never could abide Arum's presence in the same room and, try as he might, Arum never could close a deal with Durham. The manager would not elaborate; only a grumble and scowl signified his feelings. "To this day," Arum says, "I don't know why he disliked me so." Genuine hurt, sometimes mild shock, crosses Arum's face whenever the question of his unpopularity arises; it confounds him that anyone would not like him.
For one thing, he says, every fighter should be grateful to him for his New Deal. Not only has he opened fertile foreign markets, but for the first time the fighter is getting an "honest count" in the closed-circuit business, a complex and maddening end of the game. "The fighters are getting what they deserve," says Arum, "and I can tell you that's never happened before. Poor Floyd Patterson will never know how much was denied him. Sonny Liston lost a small fortune, and Ali never got all that was coming to him at first. But now we bring them up here, show them how to go over things, and they can bring anybody along to help them." Ali, for one, does not seem all that appreciative of Arum. Is he your friend? Ali was asked. He replied icily: "No."
Friends and associates of Arum—and they are difficult to find—seem to have short tenure. One partner was Bob Kassel, who set up Ali's comeback fight in Atlanta with Jerry Quarry after considerable frustration. A contract for an Ali-Frazier bout in Detroit was signed, but Michigan backed off. Conrad was working Washington, Judge Roy Hofheinz was trying to swing Houston, but Ali would not take a three-fight agreement that the judge wanted. Cleveland fell through when Mayor Carl Stokes would not risk his political future. More negotiations collapsed, and Kassel grew impatient. He was the money behind it all, Arum was the dealer. "It cost me $50,000, and Arum came up with nothing," says Kassel. "So I made my own deal." Arum was out.
Says Arum: "I always remember what people do to me—not for me." Arum did not forget Kassel, exhausting every channel in an effort to destroy the Atlanta fight. There was litigation, about which there are differences. "Somebody got a lawyer to try and prove I took money from the company off the fight," Kassel says. "And without the suit ever being in court, the person mailed a copy to Herbert Muhammad. I don't know who it was, but Herbert somehow wound up with a copy. There are 40,000 men in New York with cleats on who want to run right over you." Kassel temporarily faded from the picture, but the two are back now on good terms. Arum denies any wrong-doing, saying it was a class action suit brought by the stockholders of the company. "When a lawyer called me for background material I told him everything I knew."
Nor is all calm between Arum and Herbert Muhammad. Dick Fulton, the lecture agent who held Ali together during his long absence from boxing, says that Arum and Herbert split up in 1971. Arum had asked Herbert to make up a $10,000 loss from the Buster Mathis fight. The two did not speak until January of 1972, when Ali was being sued for missing a lecture engagement in Jamaica. Arum handled the case for $5,000, and came out of it with a four-year contract as Ali's lawyer. Chauncey Eskridge, Ali's longtime attorney, inadvertently helped Arum's cause by getting a promise of payment for the J�rgen Blin fight in Zurich instead of an irrevocable letter of credit, an uncharacteristic error that cost Ali $100,000. Now Ali needs Arum more than Arum needs him; more than ever Ali's affairs need careful handling.