How Arum is Hustling ESPN

By Paul Magno on March 1, 2019
How Arum is Hustling ESPN
My words come with a certain degree of authority. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

The ESPN product will turn into a series of showcase squashes and a dumping ground for low-money-potential second tier fights…

There were a lot of people who thought ESPN’s multi-year deal with Top Rank Promotions was a good thing. Who better to bring boxing back to the mainstream sports world than the “worldwide leader” in mainstream sports coverage?

I wasn’t one of those wide-eyed optimists, though. Bob Arum was at the head of this arrangement and, as I wrote previously, Arum “is not someone to turn to if the goal is to grow and mainstream a niche sport.”

And, so far, my suspicions and concerns seem to be valid.

Here’s the ESPN deal in a nutshell, as seen through my eyes looking through Arum’s:

Arum hooks up with ESPN and uses the gigantic name as a way to re-sign on-the-fence Top Rank talent and sign up new talent. He delivers to ESPN a handful of names the network can crow about in press releases and use to lure subscribers to their new streaming service. The network can also immediately “plug and play” when it comes to establishing a boxing presence via Arum, who already has everything in place to generate shows and the all-important “content.”

Sounds good so far. But, wait, this is where the hustle comes in.

Arum will keep being Arum, trying to leverage his “names” into money scores beyond what’s currently on the plate. In doing so, the ESPN product will turn into a series of showcase squashes and a dumping ground for low-money-potential second tier fights.

Then, when the ESPN boxing program falls to pieces and is disassembled, Arum takes the fighters signed/re-signed by using the ESPN name as leverage and walks off in search of another big deal with a stable of fighters given a slightly higher profile by mainstream ESPN coverage.

This theory could be more easily disregarded if it hadn’t played out this way before, like every single time Arum got his hand on anything resembling access to the mainstream sports world.

Looking at how this particular deal is shaping up so far, it sure doesn’t look like an actual boxing program is being assembled. It looks more like Arum is dazzling boxing-naïve network executives with bullshit and using this huge opportunity to fortify his own promotional company. As of right now, none of the network’s marquee boxing stars actually have anything worthwhile to do with themselves—not Terence Crawford, not Vasiliy Lomachenko, not even Jose Ramirez, Oscar Valdez, or Gilberto Ramirez and especially not new signee Tyson Fury, who may have pocketed a huge chunk of change in his Top Rank/ESPN deal, but, competitively, did the equivalent of locking himself in Arum’s Beverly Hills basement and bricking off the only exit.

Recent revelations from Deontay Wilder co-manager Shelly Finkel, that Arum has attempted to leverage a Fury rematch into a multi-fight promotional deal with Wilder, play right into the Arum hustle.

If you’ve read my ongoing “Boxing in the Mexican Badlands” series right here on this site, then you know that when it comes to working with (and around) hustlers, pimps, crooks, and creeps, I have a wealth of experience. Actually, my first job after retiring from lady-wrangling for sex tourists was a “Presidente de Vigilencia” gig for a couple of charitable organizations down here in Mexico, sniffing out scams and cons and money lost to those trying to steal from the organizations.

So, when I call Bob Arum a hustler, my words come with a certain degree of authority. Of course, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that Mr. Arum is a hustler, right?

No matter what you want to call Arum, though—maybe con man is more appropriate…maybe huckster…maybe cynical opportunist if one is being kind—the one thing he ISN’T is a promoter.

If anything, he does the OPPOSITE of promote the sport. Maybe we can coin a new term and call him a “demoter”—someone who pushes the sport into the ground and shovels dirt on the shallow grave before moving on.

Arum is more about accumulating short-term personal gain and acting out on whatever vendettas he may be harboring at the time than he is about boxing. He’s definitely a genius when it comes to knowing the best ways to play to the worst instincts in fight fans and in how to manipulate an all-around faulty system, but he’s certainly no promoter.

Arum talks down to fans, dismisses their desires as paying customers, and has, literally, told them to go fuck themselves when what they want clashes with the lesser product he wants to give them. If the 80-something Top Rank bossman promoted a restaurant like he promotes boxing, he’d shove dumpster chow to the loyal patrons and crash plates over their heads when they balked at the rancid food, then he’d empty out the register while hurling insults at all the other restaurants in town.

And please spare me the nonsense about the grassroots work he does by doing local shows and how he built so-and-so from contender to champ. Arum, at his promoting best, is only about selling to the already sold and passing off press releases and bogus press conferences as actual promotion. The man, like most other boxing promoters these days, does nothing to grow the sport beyond targeting those who are already predisposed to buy into it.

When the current ESPN deal falls to pieces under the guidance of Arum the hustler and his carny outfit moves on to another group of dupes willing to buy into the same hustle, it’ll be a truly sad day for the sport. A mutually beneficial goodwill alliance with ESPN could’ve done wonders for the sport’s long-term health.

Instead, boxing will have burned another bridge.

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  1. Your Name 08:03am, 03/06/2019


  2. don from prov 04:59am, 03/02/2019

    “Boxing was more honest when the mob ran it.”

    “BC has most of the welterweight elite and they’re all busy with squash matches rather than fighting each other.”

    Ha and Ha. Some of us watch all of this and continue or speed up our move on away from the sport.  Falling out of love is a slow process, until it isn’t.

  3. Clinton Simmonds 03:39pm, 03/01/2019

    Very simple.The fighters themselves own their own temporary satellite. This can be done using New Zealand ONLY. (GODZONE) You will receive.

  4. Harvey 11:54am, 03/01/2019

    Where is Frankie Carbo and Tommy Luchess and Blinky Palermo when you need them?  Boxing was more honest when the mob ran it.

  5. snowflake 08:27am, 03/01/2019

    I agree about Arum but I do wonder why Mr. Magno consistently singles him and the ESPN deal out as “bad for the sport” when Haymon/FOX and Hearn/DAZN are doing the exact same thing. PBC has most of the welterweight elite and they’re all busy with squash matches rather than fighting each other. It’s a shit model, but it’s not unique to one guy

  6. Thrashem 07:26am, 03/01/2019

    So, Bob is Jewish. We all know that!
    When boxing fans see the real fights happening they will tune into PPV, until then ESPN will take a shit-kicking. Then our Saviour Bob will shine from on high of Mount Money. He beats the hell out of Don King.

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