Pacquiao-Mayweather next for King-Arum?

Once fierce rivals, promoters Don King and Bob Arum have softened their rhetoric. Courtesy David Martin Warr

LAS VEGAS -- On Sept. 15, 1978, after Muhammad Ali had defeated Leon Spinks at the New Orleans Superdome, Don King clambered into the ring to embrace the man who had just won the heavyweight championship for a record third time.

There was only one problem: King hadn't promoted that fight. He hadn't, in fact, had anything to do with it. But the cameras recorded King in the ring, and the world assumed that Captain Only in America was behind the record-breaking event.

The actual promoter, Bob Arum, saw what had happened and seethed. So when, nine years later, King tried the same trick at another Arum spectacle, Sugar Ray Leonard's shocking victory over Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Arum pounced. He grabbed King's jacket as his rival bounded up the stairs into the ring, heaving him back to the floor -- ripping one of the jacket's pockets in the process -- until security guards intervened.

King, in turn, has gone to elaborate lengths of his own to keep Arum out of the spotlight. In 1974, during the buildup to the "Rumble in the Jungle" between Ali and George Foreman, he even persuaded Zairian president Mobutu Sese Seko to ban Arum from entering the country.

For a good portion of the past 40 years, the rivalry between Arum and King has been the dominant one in professional boxing. But time has a way of healing all wounds; to judge from the kind words and compliments they have been throwing in each other's direction during the buildup to Saturday's Showtime pay-per-view clash between Miguel Cotto (promoted by Arum) and Ricardo Mayorga (a member of King's stable), one could be forgiven for thinking they had always been friends.

"When you reach a certain age, you've got to be an idiot to continue the fights you had when you were much younger," said Arum by way of explanation to a room of reporters Thursday evening.

Had there not been times, though, when each man had gotten under the other's skin to such an extent that it drove them to despair?

"Our whole lives!" exclaimed Arum as King chortled next to him. "Our whole lives! Are you crazy?"

Perhaps at no point, Arum reflected, had that been more so than in the immediate aftermath of the controversial 1999 win by King's fighter Felix Trinidad over Oscar De La Hoya, then the jewel in Arum's promotional crown.

"King of course is at the post-fight press conference yelling and gloating," he recalled. "'The lights are out in the Arum building.' I had one of our people pull the plug [on King's microphone]. And even Don King, with the way he talks, the crowd was so noisy and full of people, they couldn't hear a word he said. Don gets angry, slams down the microphone, and went out and held his own press conference."

"Yes, but you've got to understand," King retorted, "He violated everything he swore [as a lawyer] to uphold: Freedom of speech, no censorship, protection of the First Amendment."

"The First Amendment," Arum interrupted, "guarantees freedom of speech -- except when some promoter is acting obnoxious."

Whereas once the barbs would have been tipped with venom, they are delivered now only in good humor. The casting aside of personal enmity allows for acknowledgment of professional respect.

"Don showed by example what it means to be a promoter," Arum said. "One of the greatest promotions he ever did, he had a fight in New York that was dying. It was Roy Jones-Felix Trinidad. Madison Square Garden gave him a huge sum of money. But it was dying. Most of the other so-called promoters would have said 'Too bad,' and pocketed the money. Don, at his age, put on a Santa Claus suit like he was collecting money for charity. For two weeks he went around New York in a Santa Claus suit and the television cameras were following him, and he sold the fight."

They had worked with each other on more than one occasion before -- when Ali defeated Frazier in Manila, when Duran beat Leonard in Montreal, most recently when Mayweather bested Judah in Las Vegas. Could they envisage working together again? Specifically, could this promotional team of rivals find success where so far there has been only disappointment, and make the bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao for which the sport has been clamoring?

Optimism focuses on the fact that King and Mayweather have spoken before, and, King reveals, will be doing so again the next day.

"Floyd is the best fighter in the world. But Floyd needs advice. He is not getting the proper kind of advice and coaching," King asserted. "Common sense has to be the prevailing act. I'm going to be talking to Floyd probably tomorrow. I want him to be sitting at ringside with me."

"I firmly wish it would happen," Arum insisted. "If Don and I were promoting that fight, it would be something that would be remembered 100 years from now. We would make this entire planet stop. All the wars and all the conflicts in the world -- there would at least be a truce."

At that, the two 79-year-olds nodded sagely, as if already plotting the event in their minds, relishing the prospect that their greatest prize may yet lie ahead of them, so close and yet so tantalizingly out of reach.