With his growing reach around the world—not to mention his ambition—there is a permanence about Arum, a tenacity that will not be quenched by the enmity that is part of the nature of those who work in boxing. (It is said that once a man gets involved in the ring he will stay forever just to get even.) Arum sees a real mother lode in the sport, and it is doubtful that he will stop until he has mined it completely. And if he has a prototype—the running, unconscionable Sammy Glick seems a favorite of his critics—it is Roy Cohn from the Patterson-Liston days. Arum says he is not fond of Cohn, disapproves of his methods, but not many can forget the night Cohn walked into a restaurant and shook Arum's hand. Cohn then left and Arum said unjokingly: "I've finally made it."
A fight Cohn was involved in first made Arum curious about the financial end of boxing. Arum was working in the U.S. Attorney's office when the IRS called on it to prevent money from the first Patterson-Liston bout from finding its way to Switzerland. "That's where I learned about the business," says Arum. Later, at the Chuvalo-Terrell fight in Toronto, the first bout Arum had ever seen, he met Jim Brown, who had a direct line to the Muslims. "Why can't we do what Cohn did, only better?" Arum asked the ex- Cleveland fullback. Brown was impressed by Arum's desire to give the fighters what was coming to them and eventually a meeting was arranged between Arum and the Muslim leaders. What soon followed was Ali's declaration of the Muslim faith, the disintegration of the Louisville Syndicate that had launched and supported Cassius Clay and the formation of a new company to guide and promote Ali. It was called Main Bout, and it was run by Arum.
Things went awry only when Ali adopted his controversial stance concerning his religion and the draft. Where was Arum then, a lot of people have wanted to know? Arum denies now that he deserted Ali. "I tried desperately," he says, "to get him back in the ring. I even loaned him money." Lecture Agent Fulton agrees: "Yeah, all of about the immense sum of $500. Can you imagine?" While Ali was inactive, Arum was not. He had set up a new group called Sports Action, and it ran the lucrative World Elimination Tournament to find a successor to Ali. None of the profits of this promotion—not a dime—was channeled to sustain Ali, to blunt his draining legal fees; he was alone.
It is true that Arum was not bound by contract to assist Ali financially, but it was his failure to do more as a friend that offends the people who know Arum. The Mark Fine case is also given as an example. Fine had been convicted of murdering his bookmaker over a World Series bet and Arum took over the case when the conviction was appealed. "Arum won a reputation out of the case," says a former associate, "but he didn't know Fine had ever been alive after the trial."
Says Arum: "He was a client. I bled my guts out working on that case. But I never professed to like the guy. What does Mark mean to me? He's a faceless guy in prison. Sure I have compassion, but I don't consider him my friend. I got aunts and uncles in the wilds of Brooklyn I should visit first."
Arum was raised in Brooklyn, a son of an accountant. He went to Harvard Law School, and since then his climb has been steady: a Wall Street firm, the U.S. Attorney's office, and then with Louis Nizer before opening his own large practice. For all of his background, another ex-associate says, "he's a very innocent sort of naive guy in a strange way. He thinks everybody likes him. He always has to believe he's doing right. It's all egocentric, more than with anybody I've ever met. Arum, understand, is his own friend, fiercely his own friend. That's his way. If you're in trouble, forget Arum. But if things are good, he can be terrific. And generous. I kinda like him, but I don't respect him. I mean how can you work with a guy who has one foot in the lifeboat all the time?"
Obviously a sense of outrage persists about Arum. Yet, no one can or wants to be specific, and it may well be true that the criticism is the result of busted egos and outwitted brains. For all of his operations and the arguments about him, Arum personally does not seem a striking figure, sinister or otherwise. He has no panache, and what is seen is a bargainer whose sense of life and of people seems to have been vivisected by money and corporate maneuvering. "Boxing," Arum says, "means nothing to me. It's a business. Two guys fighting in a ring, that has nothing to do with me. If somebody came to me and said I have the greatest match mankind has ever seen, and you can put it on for the benefit of mankind but there's no money to be made, I'd...well, I'd look at him like he was crazy."
That, of course, may be the way it has always been with those who have run the ring's back room. If so, well at least there was an air of slapstick, of humanism—however scruffy—about it. But there is no such feel here, just a droning buzz through a ganglia of telephone wires between impersonal men putting a package together, the dry air from a roomful of accountants, the scent of lawyers.
Sonny Liston was noted for his bluster, but only two things ever truly agitated him: he would become infuriated at anyone who asked his age, and he despised lawyers. A long time ago he made an observation that summed up his view. "I'll tell ya, man," he said at the end of a long string of epithets, "give me the oldtime dealers. Somebody's gotta git these lawyers outta boxing."