Pacquiao 'always talked about fighting in Dubai' says Arum
Dubai is being viewed as the latest destination for championship boxing by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum who encouraged integration in South Africa long before apartheid ended and took the sport to China where it was banned.
Arum confirmed that Akbar Productions, LLC, has been tasked with bringing big time boxing to the UAE, including a match between Filipino ring icon Manny Pacquiao and British boxer Amir Khan.
"I've been intrigued since the only time I came to Dubai was when Sol Kerzner when the Atlantis Hotel was opened. I'm not unfamiliar with the city. I was blown away with the hotels, restaurants, the amenities in Dubai and I really look forward to interesting the people in big time boxing," said Arum who is renowned for opening new frontiers for the sport of boxing.
"Right now we are planning November event. Hopefully Manny will come to it as a guest. We will have three of four title fights on the same night. It will be a spectacular event. If it is successful we will look forward to doing a Pacquiao fight in Dubai next year," said Arum in an exclusive interview with Emirates 24|7.
Arum was inspired by 'The Greatest' Muhammad Ali to take boxing around the world.
"Boxing is not like American Football which is hard for people who are not Americans to understand. Boxing is not like cricket or other sports where some people like it or some people know nothing about it. Boxing is a sport which everybody can understand. It is one man against one man. It makes for a great spectacle," he said.
"Boxing is a sport which can move around and be shown in front of different populations. When I started with Muhammad Ali he had that whole idea of taking boxing, taking himself and going from place to place. Ali fought in addition to the United States, in England, Germany, Malaysia, Philippines, Zaire, Japan and Indonesia. He taught me that boxing lent itself by putting on shows in different places. That has stayed with me throughout my 50 year boxing career," said Top Rank founder and CEO Arum.
"I look always to see where I can take boxing to new places, new venues, to different people. For example, last few years I've been very active in promoting in China. I've done eight fight shows in China including two with Manny Pacquiao. I'm doing another one in Macau on July 18. I've done fight shows with my clients, partners in Shanghai and Beijing. We have a weekly magazine boxing show for one hour on Chinese television which has very good rating," he said.
"I've been able in last three years or so to take boxing to China where it had been banned for decades under Mao Tse Tung and make it a very popular sport in China. That is something to me a greater accomplishment than going back to the same old places in Las Vegas and putting a lot of people. That's great too but you just don't want to limit yourself to that," said Arum who want to reach out to the people of Middle East.
"What my company (Top Rank) has done is a testament to how boxing can be popularised in the largest country in the world. And I think with this event in Dubai, boxing will reach new levels of popularity in Dubai. The indigenous population in Dubai will take to the spectacle. And then I know thousands and thousands of Filipinos who are among the greatest boxing fans in the world. I have done lot of fights in the Philippines. I know the Philippines market overseas because of my years promoting Pacquiao," said Arum who manages Pacquiao.
"Manny is also an adventurer. I proposed to him to fight in Macau. He was very taken with it. Both (fights) were very successful. He has always talked to me about fighting in Dubai. He always talked to me about it. He had visited Dubai. You got to understand so many Filipinos work in that area, so he feels at home being over there," he added.
The Hall of Famer was confident that the future of boxing was healthy despite challenges from other sports like MMA.
"I was one of the promoters of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. That fight had tremendous interest all over the world. The revenue from that fight was well over half a billion US dollars. It just shows the popularity of boxing is still there. I think once the people in the Middle East get a taste of big time championship boxing, it will be just be the start. There will be events in the future if this one is successful which I'm sure it will be. Not only in Dubai but Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Yeah, I think this is a great start," said Arum who also squashed any suggestions that Pacquiao's retirement was near after undergoing shoulder surgery.
"When you have an operation where you can't move your shoulder for a while, until it heals the last thing you think about is continuing in athletics. But in a month or two when he is able to start rehabilitation of the shoulder, he will be talking about next fight I'm sure," said Arum who also revealed that Pacquiao aggravated an old injury during his fight with Mayweather.
"People don't understand the nature of his injury. He injured his shoulder in 2008. After the (Oscar) de la Hoya fight he tore his rotator cuff. People said then how can he fight all these years. If you tear rotator cuff it may not bother you or when it does if you stop for a week or so, it goes away. This time he injured the rotator cuff in training. He rested it and they gave him legal medicine. Everything went away. Unfortunately during the fight he reinjured it again. Doctors said this time we are going to repair it so that what happened against Mayweather doesn't happen again. The point is rotator cuff was an old injury not a new injury," he said.
Among Arum's many achievements, he takes pride in breaking down the barriers of segregation in apartheid South Africa in 1979.
"I was promoting the fights of Muhammad Ali and in February 1978, I put him with Leon Spinks who had won the gold medal at the Olympics. Everybody was shocked that Spinks beat Ali. Ali said to me 'please you have to get me the rematch'. I said to Ali who I knew was near the end of his career, 'if I get you the rematch would you agree to retire win or lose'. And he did (retire). He fought in September 1978, beat Leon Spinks and retired," recalled the octogenarian.
He said: "The WBA at that time had four contenders when Ali retired. Two South Africans - Kallie Knoetze and Gerrie Coetzee - and two Americans - John Tate and Leon Spinks. I was contacted by Southern Sun Hotel chain to see if I would be interested in doing a tournament with the four guys. As a result of that I met with the president of Southern Sun Sol Kerzman, the same guy who later on built Atlantis in Dubai.
"First fight we did Tate vs Knoetze in the capital of one of homeland in South Africa called Papu Diswana. Kanutze was very popular among white people in South Africa but not among the blacks because he had apparently been charged with killing black citizens while doing his police work. Tate knocked out Kanutze while in Monte Carlo Coetzee beat Spinks knocking him down three times in the first round.
"It was then decided that we would do the final between Tate and Coetzee in South Africa. Sol told me he wanted to do it in the big rugby stadium outside of Pretoria called Loftus Versfield. I said I'm not going to South Africa to do a fight because they have segregation or apartheid. Sol took that message to the minister of sports in South Africa and they agreed that for that it would be totally integrated.
"I said no... they are just doing it for that one fight. I got the government to agree before we would sign on that from then on all stadiums in South Africa would be integrated. Anyway Tate came over to South Africa. He was hugely popular with the black population who constituted the majority in South Africa and I remember scenes outside his hotel in Johannesburg of thousands of black people outside, cheering waiting to catch a glimpse. There was 82000 people in Loftus. It rained the whole day but it stopped before the fight in the afternoon and Tate won a decision.
"Years later Nelson Mandela told Sol Kerzman, that was a tremendous step forward to the ultimate integration and feeling of apartheid ending in South Africa. It conditioned the people to realise that apartheid or segregation was a thing of the past and the future was towards integration.
"You know who worked for me, helped get the fighters out of the dressing room and was a coordinator for me. Akbar Muhammad."
M Akbar Muhammad, president of New Jersey-based Akbar Productions, LLC, has been associated with Arum from the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Zaire, 'Thrilla in Manila' in the Philippines and now Dubai where a major tribute to Ali is also being planned during the November show.
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