LAS VEGAS — Who is Jerry Perenchio?
Who is this man who swooped in after a quarter-century hiatus from the boxing business and snatched Oscar De La Hoya, the sport's prize cash cow among nonheavyweight fighters, right out from under promoter Bob Arum, a man who prides himself on being one of boxing's shrewdest operators?
If you don't know Perenchio, you're obviously not one of L.A.'s movers and shakers, obviously not a big-name athlete or star entertainer, obviously not among Southern California's business elite, obviously don't party much in Malibu or Bel-Air.
Those are the circles and areas Perenchio has moved in for more than three decades, a period in which the head of the Univision Spanish-language network and a former talent agent/TV executive/movie mogul/boxing promoter has amassed a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1.5 billion.
Along the way, Perenchio promoted what was arguably the fight of the last century, Ali-Frazier I, put together the memorable Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, formed a star-studded talent agency, produced some of television's biggest hits and ran a movie company.
But for Perenchio, say those who have seen him in action, the sizzle is in the wheeling and dealing. Forget the glamour and the glitter. Put him in a room with a phone, parties on the line interested in making a deal and Perenchio is in heaven.
Nobody could have as much success as he has and have made as much money without crushing a few competitors, and egos, yet nobody seems to have a harsh word for Perenchio, not even Arum, who--in what has to be a first--declined comment.
Perenchio stunned the boxing world last year by luring De La Hoya, the former Olympic gold-medal winner and a former champion in four weight divisions, away from Arum.
On Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, De La Hoya will face Arturo Gatti in De La Hoya's first fight under Perenchio.
Why has Perenchio, now 70 and with more than enough money to enjoy retirement in regal fashion, decided instead to plunge back into the cutthroat business of boxing?
The answer won't be forthcoming from Perenchio, who rarely speaks to the media and declined to talk for this story.
This is a man who loves being in the middle of the action, but abhors center stage.
"I really don't want my name in the damn paper," he told The Times in a 1981 interview. "You should respect my privacy. I really don't mean to be rude. I just don't want to give out any interviews. I just hate them. Inevitably, I end up hurting some people, or leaving some names out, or being quoted out of context."
Others are not so reticent.
"Jerry Perenchio is a tremendously accomplished businessman," said former HBO executive Lou DiBella, who moonlights as Perenchio's matchmaker. "He has no plans or desire to take over boxing. He simply has a great relationship with Oscar."
Those words are echoed by De La Hoya.
"The relationship I have with Jerry Perenchio is really a special one," De La Hoya said. "He is not doing it for the money because he doesn't need the money. . . . There's a great connection between us because, every time I visit him in his office or go to his home, we talk about a lot of things beyond the business of boxing. I'm looking forward to extending our relationship over the years. . . . This man, from what I feel, really cares. Jerry and I are going to show the world how boxing should be promoted."
Like De La Hoya, Perenchio boxed as a young man, during his undergraduate days at UCLA. And like De La Hoya, Perenchio showed, even in those formative years, that he could be a Golden Boy.
But in a much less violent way.
It seemed as if Perenchio always had money. His family was in the wine industry. When his father went broke, Perenchio started a catering business while still at UCLA. By the time he graduated, that business was grossing $500,000 a year.
Perenchio eventually put his money into a talent agency, Chartwell Artists, and landed such stars as Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Jane Fonda and singer Andy Williams.
In 1969, Perenchio talked his way into the pantheon of deal-makers by serving as the middleman for the $60-million sale of Las Vegas' Caesars Palace.
For one afternoon of introductions, Perenchio earned a finders' fee of $800,000.
Now that's a deal.
In 1971, Perenchio convinced Jack Kent Cooke to join him in arranging the first meeting between Ali and Frazier. They put up $1.5 million themselves and came up with enough money to pay each fighter $2.5 million for a fight that grossed $20 million.
Perenchio walked away with $5 million for himself.
Enamored with boxing, he promoted the 1976 rematch between Frazier and George Foreman. But when rival promoter Don King stepped in and secured the rights to Foreman's 1977 fight against Jimmy Young, a disgusted Perenchio declared, "I will never promote boxing again."
It was a vow he would keep until the turn of the century.