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March 19, 2019

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To fighter’s former promoter Bob Arum, Muhammad Ali ‘transcends sports’

Joe Frazier v. Muhammad Ali

AP Photo/File

In this Oct. 1, 1975, file photo, heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier grimaces after Muhammad Ali, left, landed a blow to Frazier’s head during their boxing bout in Manila, the Philippines. Ali won the fight after Frazier’s manager stopped the fight in the 14th round. Frazier, the former heavyweight champion who handed Ali his first defeat yet had to live forever in his shadow, has died after a brief final fight with liver cancer. He was 67. The family issued a release confirming the boxer’s death on Monday night, Nov. 7, 2011.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali and his trainer, Angelo Dundee, to his immediate right, are pictured in this photo from the Las Vegas Sun archives. Dundee died in February 2012 at 90. Launch slideshow »

Bob Arum’s most fond memory of Muhammad Ali might come as a surprise to boxing enthusiasts.

Arum, now the CEO of Top Rank Boxing, was Ali’s promoter for 12 years, beginning in 1966. But the Ali moment that stands out to Arum took place 30 years after he and the legendary boxer forged their business relationship.

“To me, the great shining moment was in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 when he lit the torch and President (Bill) Clinton was in the box with him,” Arum said. “That showed the icon he became, which is something none of us would have ever dreamed.”

It was a scene, to Arum, that illustrated Ali’s image coming full circle. For much of the time Arum spent with Ali, the fighter was reviled.

Many people considered Ali un-American for his refusal to serve in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and disliked him because of a perceived arrogance. Arum will never forget the boos Ali endured in 1971 at Madison Square Garden before the first of his three epic bouts with Joe Frazier.

Despite the lore surrounding the third fight with Frazier, 1975’s “Thrilla in Manilla,” Arum said the general public still had a somewhat negative attitude toward Ali.

“It was changing, but ambiguous,” Arum said. “There were still so many people who completely despised him.”

Ali defeated Frazier with a 14th-round TKO in the bout. Like most fans, Arum considers the fight Ali’s greatest.

“It was legendary and dramatic,” Arum said. “It’s one of the best fights anyone has ever seen.”

But Arum goes beyond boxing when he thinks of Ali today. To Arum, Ali’s legacy transcends sports.

“I think of his tremendous impact on the culture of the United States and the world,” Arum said. “He’s one of the most recognizable figures in the world, and a lot of what he stood for wound up being adopted by the general population. I think that, in a lot of ways, without Muhammad Ali we wouldn’t have had a Barack Obama.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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