Boxing icon defends Arum amid racist claims

There are a lot of people involved in boxing who will eagerly say a lot of unflattering things about Bob Arum, the founder and chairman of Top Rank, the sport’s most prominent promotional company.

Terence Crawford, the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and the world’s best welterweight, is among them. Crawford filed a lawsuit seeking nearly $10 million against Arum and Top Rank on Tuesday in Nevada District Court.

The gist of Crawford’s suit against Arum, though, is that Arum and his company are racist and treat Black fighters poorly.

George Foreman, one of the many legendary Black fighters Arum has promoted to great heights and staggering riches, was shocked at Crawford’s allegation. The former heavyweight champion was promoted by Arum in his second act, following his comeback after a 10-year retirement. Foreman regained the title by knocking out Michael Moorer at 45 years old in a fight promoted by Arum.

Foreman was indignant when apprised of Crawford’s charges.

“He’s not a saint, but Bob Arum is one of the finest men I know,” said Foreman, who celebrated his 73rd birthday on Monday. “You could call me about 25 other guys, 30 other guys, and ask me that question and I wouldn’t return the call. But not this one. Nuh-uh. He’s got a passion for his fellow man.”

In his suit, Crawford alleges that Top Rank “breached its contracts with [him], and in fact defrauded him into entering agreements in the first place.” He said in the suit that Top Rank got Crawford to agree to fight Egidijus Kavaliauskas in order to fulfill an obligation to ESPN, its TV partner, and not because it was best for his career.

As an inducement to take the Kavaliauskas fight, Crawford’s suit says:

“Top Rank fraudulently promised to arrange for Crawford to fight Errol Spence Jr. despite knowing that Top Rank could never deliver the promised match. Top Rank also failed to deliver a promised second bout under the parties’ promotional rights agreement.

“Top Rank apparently had no qualms about lying to a Black fighter or failing to respect its contractual obligations to him, though it would never treat one of its white fighters with such blatant disrespect.”

That’s a ridiculous statement because Arum has battled over the years with people of all races, colors and religions. He’s aggressive, often irascible, and rarely bites his lip and often puts his foot in his mouth.

But few have ever accused Arum of being racist over the years.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 09:  Terence Crawford celebrates his victory after a TKO in the 9th round with Top Rank boxing promoter Bob Arum after the WBO welterweight title between Jeff Horn and Terence Crawford at MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 9, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Top Rank founder Bob Arum signed Terence Crawford in 2011 and again in 2018. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

In 2020, Arum was asked if he thought Crawford would re-sign with Top Rank when his contract expired in 2021. Arum responded angrily by flippantly saying, “I could build a house in Beverly Hills on the money I’ve lost on him in the last three fights.”

That might not have been the best way to build a quality working relationship, but Top Rank reportedly lost $20 million in all promoting Crawford fights and $3 million on his last fight against Shawn Porter.

Arum’s anger at Crawford wasn’t because he’s Black, it’s because Crawford hasn’t done much to try to help his own cause and his fights are poor sellers.

Arum released a statement to Yahoo Sports in which he denied any allegations of racism.

“Bud Crawford’s lawsuit against Top Rank is frivolous,” Arum wrote. “Its vile accusations of racism are reckless and indefensible. He knows it and his lawyer [Bryan J. Freedman] knows it. I have spent my entire working life as a champion of black boxers, Latino boxers and other boxers of color. I have no doubt the court will see Crawford’s case for the malicious extortion attempt that it is.”

Antonio Leonard is a Black promoter who currently has 14 fighters under contract with Top Rank, 12 of whom are Black. Leonard said not only hasn’t he ever experienced racism from Top Rank, he’s never experienced racism from anyone he’s worked with in boxing.

Leonard told Yahoo Sports, “I ain’t experienced nothing like that,” when told Crawford accused Top Rank of racism. He went on to defend Arum and question why Crawford would make that kind of allegation.

“Bob, he’s my man and I don’t have no problem with Bob,” Leonard said. “I never have. And let me tell you, I wouldn’t do business with someone I didn’t like, no matter how much money I could make. I got nothing bad to say about Bob.”

Foreman said “it breaks my heart” to hear Crawford accuse Arum of racism. Arum has promoted many of the top Black stars of the last 60 years, including Foreman, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and others.

He’s been close with many of them, but none more so than with Hagler, the former middleweight champion who died last year. Arum and Hagler were so close that there was never a promotional contract between them and they operated on a handshake.

Arum has three pictures on the wall in his office, and all are of Black fighters: Ali, Foreman and Hagler.

Foreman said after he knocked out Moorer to win the title, he wanted to go kneel in the corner and pray. He told his brother to make sure no one bothered him and allowed him to complete his prayer.

While he was still praying, he was bear-hugged by an exuberant Arum.

“He gave me the most passionate hug and said, ‘George, praise the Lord!’” Foreman said. “For someone to accuse a guy like that of racism, it’s wrong. But you know what they say: All is fair in love and war.”