‘Thrilla in Manila’, Pacquiao-De La Hoya among Arum’s most memorable fights
MANILA, Philippines—Top Rank CEO Bob Arum is undoubtedly one of the greatest boxing promoters in history handling the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya, and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Arum was also heavily involved in the mythic Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy that culminated in the legendary Thrilla in Manila, which Sports Illustrated considers as the greatest heavyweight boxing match of all time.
With countless names under his wing and even more fights that he was involved in, Arum can’t pinpoint who his favorite fighter is and which one fight resonated with him the most but he did list the top ones in both categories.
“These are my babies,” said Arum in a report from The Ring Magazine. “It’s so tough to single out any group, they’re so many. It’s so tough to exclude any.”
Having been in the business for six decades, Arum has been in the forefront of the business for so long that he’s picked eight fights that were his most memorable and two of those were the Thrilla in Manila and Pacquiao’s annihilation of De La Hoya.
Ali and Frazier bludgeoned each other for 14 rounds, back when fights still reached 15 three-minute intervals, on Oct. 1, 1975 at Araneta Coliseum for the WBC, WBA and The Ring heavyweight titles in a bout that Arum said left both fighters shells of their former selves.
With the Philippines ahead by 15 hours than the United States, 12 if it’s in the east coast, Thrilla in Manila had to be scheduled at 11 in the morning so that it would be aired for prime time in America and timing wasn’t the only problem since Araneta before, Arum said, didn’t have air conditioning and with thousands packing the stands the temperature inside the facility reached fever pitch.
“I’ve never seen a fight like that. Ali dominated the early rounds, and Frazier came on in the middle rounds. It looked like Frazier would knock Ali out. Ali then rallied and came back to close Frazier’s eyes, so Frazier couldn’t come out for the 15th round because he couldn’t see,” said Arum.
Ali eventually became the victor in that bout and was Malacañang’s guest of honor the night after with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda hosting the sporting icon in the Philippines’ seat of power.
“I remember how dark and dingy that place was. There was no air conditioning. I’ll never forget coming out of the Araneta Coliseum, under the high-noon Manila sun that was so bright you couldn’t see. It was like we were on a different planet. Neither guy was the same after that fight. They weren’t the same as fighters, and physically, they weren’t the same as people. That fight was like watching death.”
As for the Pacquiao-De La Hoya bout, Arum once again had a foray with Philippine politics and this time it was with the House of Representatives.
Congress wanted to stop the fight in fears of Pacquiao’s safety with De La Hoya, who is listed at 5’10 ½”, being the biggest opponent the Filipino has had in that time of his career.
Pacquiao had to jump from lightweight to welterweight despite the fact that Pacman was at super featherweight at the start of 2008, for the Dec. 6, 2008 fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and the fears of the bout being one-sided was indeed correct—De La Hoya was decimated in eight rounds and was forced to retire shortly after.
“When I look back on fights, I have to include the Pacquiao-De La Hoya fight. The Philippine congress passed a resolution that Manny shouldn’t be allowed to leave the country to do that fight because they thought he was going to get hurt. Oscar was so much bigger that everybody thought it was going to be a mismatch. It was a mismatch all right. Manny won every second of every round,” said Arum.
“I remember saying at the press conference after the fight, ‘The press is always right, they said it was going to be a mismatch and it was a mismatch!’ No one gave Manny a chance. People were saying I should be arrested for making that fight. Here was this iconic Filipino superstar who I was leading to his death. My matchmakers told me that Oscar was really slipping. I remember telling Richard Schaefer that Oscar shouldn’t have any more tough fights, and Pacquiao was easy. Oscar wasn’t used to fighting someone like Pacquiao. The bigger the opponent the more they were like dead meat. It was like me landing a big fish, throwing out a line and landing a 25-pound tuna.”
The other six fights that were Arum’s favorites were Leon Spinks vs. Ali in 1978, Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard I in 1980, Duran vs. Davey Moore in 1983, Hagler vs Tommy Hearns in 1985, Leonard vs. Hagler in 1987, and George Foreman vs. Michael Moore in 1994.
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