GAME CHANGER I was trained as a lawyer. I went to Harvard (University) and, when Jack (John F.) Kennedy was elected president (of the United States), I joined the Justice Department and was a prosecutor, head of the tax division in the New York area. Bobby (Robert F.) Kennedy, who was my boss, had me seize all the funds from the Floyd Patterson-Sonny Liston heavyweight fight (in 1962). It was a little over US$5 million. In those days, people just hadn't seen money like that. So that was when I first made contact with boxing - and when I first thought I might be in the wrong game.

LIKE A BUTTERFLY I became (Muhammad) Ali's promoter having never seen a fight - any fight. The first was Ali against George Chuvalo in Toronto, in 1966. I promoted it on a credit card and we made a little money. I could pay off my credit card. I knew I just had to stay on. And Ali had become great friend, too. I knew I was involved in something really special; there was something unique about him that transcended athletics. You saw him, you saw how proficient he was as a fighter, but you also saw that this man was some-thing special.

LIKE A BEE When Ali made his stand (against the Vietnam war) I knew he wouldn't back down, no matter how poorly he was treated. It was a brave thing to do. You think times change? If someone did the same thing today - become a Muslim, go against the government - he'd be thrown in jail. They didn't do that to Ali but he was treated badly. And I knew I had to stand beside him.

We had unbelievable times. We went all over the world and (people) "all over the world" just flocked to this man - they were drawn to him. And Ali loved the attention. Once, in London, a man told us he was one of the richest men in the world and asked would we be his guests for Sunday lunch. Ali made me go. We got in a taxi and drove and drove and it soon became clear the guy wasn't anything at all. He lived in this little house in the middle of nowhere and there weren't even enough chairs for us to all sit around the table. But we stay and Ali ends up doing all these magic tricks for the guy's family. It was like he was in front of the king and queen of England. I'll never forget it. He just loved having an audience. Anywhere.

MAD MEN Everyone wanted to be around Ali. Everybody. (Writer) Hunter S. Thompson was one of them. They'd do anything to be part of it. Crazy Hunter Thompson wrote a story about the Ali-Spinks fight and said how (Leon) Spinks was in a steam room and I walked in and Spinks said something I didn't like and we fought and I broke his ribs. He wrote that Spinks fought Ali with broken ribs. It never happened; none of it was ever remotely true. Everyone wanted to be around Ali and everyone wanted to have their own little story involving Ali.

ONE ON ONE There's nothing like boxing because it pits one man against another. There might be trainers and all sorts of people in the ring, but when that bell rings, it's one man against the other. In team sports there's always somebody to blame, but in boxing it is just you. It is pure combat. You have to be very brave to get in the ring.

Boxing always had the heavyweights and the whole world wants to watch heavyweights. But sports like American football have developed over the years and these kids can make so much money out of them. So the sport, in America particularly, is just not getting the stars. When I started in boxing, football players were getting US$4,000 to US$6,000 a year; now they get tens of millions. I say that if I had got (NBA basketball player) LeBron James when he was 16, he could not have been touched. The sport in the US is just not as popular as it was.

BOXING CLEVER The worst thing in business is ageing; you can't keep up with technology. Simple as that. But in realising that, I hired more and more smart young people. They're on the cutting edge. They're sitting around to all hours sending this crap out to everybody. But that's what you have to do. You have to find a way to keep up, even when you can't.

HALL OF FAME I've been blessed in many ways, working with everyone from Ali to guys like Marvin Hagler and George Foreman and Manny Pacquiao. Talk about a superstar - go to the Philippines and you'll see how popular a sportsman can become. They just love Manny there. The thing about this sport is you never know what might happen. Look at how it has grown in Europe and look at how it is developing in other places. There's always something to look forward to.

I feel a bit like an old China hand now, I am coming out here so often, especially to Macau. Boxing needs China and boxing needs to develop in China. It's exciting to explore what, in many ways, is such a new market for the sport, to find new fans and new fighters, like (China's Zou) Shiming and your Rex Tso (Sing-yu), from here in Hong Kong. I wouldn't want to live any other life. I'm 82 and this game still keeps me on my toes.

 

"Featherweight Fury", featuring Rex Tso and promoted by Top Rank, of which Bob Arum is founder and chief executive, will take place on Saturday, at the Cotai Arena, Venetian Macao. Tickets starts from HK$80. For more information, visit www.cotaiticketing.com.