Los Angeles - There are many in the boxing world who are
appalled by the prospect of Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor climbing into a
ring next month.
Bob Arum is, emphatically, not one of them.
After more than half a century in the fight game, the
legendary 85-year-old promoter often gives the impression of a man who has seen
it all before.
And when it comes to cross-code duels in the vein of
Mayweather-McGregor, he has.
Forty-one years ago, Arum promoted the infamous Tokyo bout
between Muhammad Ali and Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki.
That shambolic night at the Nippon Budokan arena on June 26
1976 saw Inoki spend most of the bout on his back, attempting to kick out at
Ali's legs. Ali meanwhile threw only six punches in 15 rounds of farce.
The spectacle is widely seen as a tawdry low point in Ali's
glittering career, a cynical, no-holds-barred grab for a multi-million-dollar
Or as Arum remembers it: "It was the most atrocious
crap that I've ever put on."
The contest had been born a year earlier when Ali met Ichiro
Hatta, the president of the Japanese Amateur Wrestling Association, and
mischievously lamented about the fact that he had never faced an Asian
The remark caught Inoki's attention and soon Ali was being
offered $6 million to fight the Japanese wrestler.
Arum recalled a fruitless attempt to hash out the ground
rules for the fight between himself, Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee, manager
Herbert Muhammad and Inoki's handlers.
"I spent two weeks in a conference room in Tokyo, with
the Japanese, trying to get rules for that fight. And in the end we went into
that fight without any rules at all," Arum told reporters at a recent
lunch in Los Angeles.
"Inoki spent most of the fight on his back kicking out
at Ali. There was one round where he stood up and Ali threw a punch and he
missed him by two feet. By two feet! Because Ali was frustrated. But Inoki
staggered back into the ropes like he'd been hit. It was ridiculous."
According to Arum, the plan had initially been to concoct a
stage-managed conclusion to the fight that would have kept all sides happy. US
wrestling promoter Vince McMahon came up with a narrative that would have seen
Inoki declared the winner while Ali could claim a moral victory.
"Vince figured out a scenario, which I didn't take that
seriously, where Ali would get Inoki on the ropes," Arum said. "And
Inoki as a professional wrestler, would have a razor in his mouth, and he would
cut his own eyebrow, so he'd be bleeding and everything. And Ali would have him
on the ropes and ask the referee to stop the fight, and the referee would
"And eventually Ali would turn his back on Inoki and
plead with the referee to stop the fight. At which point Inoki would jump on
Ali and get him to the canvas and the referee would count '1-2-3 out' and
declare Inoki the winner.
"And then Ali was supposed to yell 'It's another Pearl Harbour!'.
But Ali got spooked when he got there and he wouldn't go through with it.
"So after that we spent two weeks trying to figure out
what the rules would be. And we couldn't come up with anything."
Memories of Tokyo perhaps explain why Arum is unwilling to
join the legions of critics who have disparaged Mayweather and McGregor August
26 fight as being "bad for boxing."
"Mayweather-McGregor will make a lot of money for the
people involved," Arum said. "The idea of whether its good for boxing
is sort of irrelevant. I don't even know what 'Good or bad for boxing' means.
It really has nothing to do with boxing as it carries on.
"It's a spectacle. And people will either watch it or
they won't. And that's why those kind of questions bother me because nobody is
putting a gun to anybody's head.
"If you want to buy the fight and pay the $100 to watch
it on pay-per-view then you do, if you don't, you don't. It's the free market.
And the free market should be able to exist without people telling them that
it's good for boxing or not good for boxing. Let them do it.
"But at the same time, do I think it's going to be a
real fight? No I don't."
Arum also had a warning for anyone expecting to see
Mayweather risk trading blows with McGregor, predicting that the 40-year-old
former welterweight king would opt for the sort of cagey style which marked his
fight with Manny Pacquiao in 2015.
"With Floyd it's always take the money and run,"
Arum said. "And there's nothing wrong with that."