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Hype With No Limits

May 01, 2003|STEVE SPRINGER | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — In all honesty, Saturday night's title fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Yory Boy Campas is nothing more than a glorified sparring session, a tuneup for De La Hoya, a classic mismatch pitting a superstar against a journeyman.

In boxing, of course, honesty is not required. And, in this case, it could prove the death knell for this pay-per-view event at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

So instead of honesty, we get chicanery.

And swami Bob Arum.

Arum, of course, didn't invent the boxing scam. He is merely carrying on a tradition that stretches as far back as the sport itself.

At a bizarre Wednesday news conference at Mandalay Bay, Arum tried to conjure up the spirits of Mexican fighters from the 19th century to breathe life into this promotion.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Boxing scams -- The last name of vaudevillian Jimmy Savo was misspelled Salvo in a Sports article about boxing scams Thursday.

Rather than a turban and a crystal ball, Arum's prop was a long, thin-necked, pink-and-blue bottle, elaborately placed on an elevated stage in a glass bowl, which, in turn, rested in the arching branches of a metallic holder.

Arum breathlessly related the story of how 300 Zacapoaxtla Indians, after taking a magic potion supplied by a shaman, repelled a force of 2,000 French troops in 1862 in the battle of Puebla, Mexico. The Mexican army's victory is commemorated to this day with Cinco de Mayo.

Managing to keep a straight face, Arum claimed that a new batch of this magic potion has been whipped up by a modern-day shaman for Campas, who says it has given him new strength, turning the mismatch into a mysterious match.

"It made Yory Boy feel like an eagle with the courage of a lion," insisted Arum.

Lo and behold, that potion was in that very bottle on that very stage.

Doubters? Arum says he sampled the potion himself and felt tingly in his arms and legs.

Presumably not merely at the thought of ratcheting up the pay-per-view buys.

Still some doubters?

Arum employed Kevin Iole of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Ramiro Gonzalez of La Opinion to sample the brew. But before they did so, they were required to publicly sign a release, absolving all parties connected with the fight from any harmful effects that might result from the drinking of the potion.

Comedian Paul Rodriguez, who also doubles as an HBO fight commentator, says he knows what's in the bottle.

"It's tequila," Rodriguez said. "If you drink some of it, you will think Yory Boy has a chance to beat Oscar. If you drink all of it, you will think Yory Boy did beat Oscar."

De La Hoya's handlers are playing the charade to the hilt. They have asked Marc Ratner, chief executive of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, to have the potion analyzed.

"Like I really need this," said Ratner.

Arum can't lose. If somehow, Campas lands a one-in-a-million punch and knocks De La Hoya out, Arum could make a fortune marketing his magic potion.

"Of course," he said. "I've already got a company to do just that. We could sell this thing all over the world."

From promoter to swami to snake-oil salesman.

At 71, Arum is still creative, energetic and enjoying the challenge of turning a stiff into a star and a skeptic into a supporter.

Following is a top 10 list of boxing scams:

No. 10: The Presidential Scam -- It is 1971 and Muhammad Ali is to meet Joe Frazier in the Fight of the Century at New York's Madison Square Garden. But publicist John F.X. Condon isn't satisfied with this meeting of two undefeated champions, a fight that also found itself as a flash point for the Vietnam War controversy and the racial unrest in the country.

Condon wanted more. So he decided to announce that Ali would be running for president after the fight. Unfortunately for Condon, he couldn't convince Herbert Muhammad, Ali's manager, to go along with it.

No. 9: The Witch Doctor Scam -- In 1981, Sugar Ray Leonard was fighting Ayub Kalule for the World Boxing Association junior-middleweight title in Houston.

Kalule was given a witch doctor, who publicly put a hex on Leonard. Whose idea was that? Promoter Bob Arum, of course.

The witch doctor was about as effective as the potion figures to be. Leonard knocked Kalule out in the ninth round.

No. 8: The Diet Scam -- This one was designed to knock down the opponents, not boost up the crowd. It was employed by Archie Moore in a career that spanned 229 bouts. Moore, who fought until he was 49, claimed he had a secret diet taught to him by an Australian aborigine in exchange for a red turtleneck sweater.

"Did you ever see a fat aborigine?" said Moore.

Toward the end of his career, Moore finally revealed the secret of the diet: hot sauerkraut juice for breakfast. And sure enough, as soon as he revealed the diet, Moore came in overweight for a fight.

No. 7: The Weight Scam -- In 1989, Roberto Duran, then 37, was about to face World Boxing Council champion Iran Barkley in snow-bound Atlantic City.

The weigh-in was scheduled for the morning of the fight. Barkley came down around 6 to test the scale and weighed in at 160.

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