Controversy has been one of Bob Arum's constant companions during his half-century as one of boxing's greatest promoters.
But one line he uttered during a drinking binge in Syracuse, N.Y., while he was promoting Sugar Ray Leonard's welterweight title defense against Larry Bonds, has stuck with him forever:
Yesterday, I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth.
Business competitors have used it against him. Attorneys during court cases have inquired about it. Media have excoriated him. And fans have adopted it as his life's mantra.
Few, though, know the context in which it was said.
"it was snowing like mad and we were locked in the hotel," Arum said. "It was so bad, you couldn't go out. So a bunch of us were sitting there drinking and talking about about sports. We were all [expletive]-faced drunk out of our minds and it was just a fun thing about who was better."
Arum doesn't even remember who the fighters were, but the group was arguing about who was the best between them. On the first night, Arum championed the cause of one fighter. The next night, under the same circumstances with everyone drinking heavily again, Arum reignited the argument.
This time, though, instead of arguing for the fighter he had the night before, he was arguing for the other fighter. Bob Waters, a sports writer at Newsday in New York, called him on it.
"Bob said, 'Hey, last night you said A was better and now you're saying it's B,' " Arum said. "And so I smiled and I said, 'Well, yesterday I was lying. Today I'm telling the truth.' We all laughed about it and that was it. We were all friends and we were drinking and [talking] and having a good time and that was it. A little while later, he did a little story on it in Newsday and it was funny and it was just exactly the way it happened."
That probably would have been the end of it were it not for one of Arum's long-time antagonists, legendary boxing writer Michael Katz. A member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Katz was an extraordinary writer who worked primarily for the New York Times and the New York Daily News.
He delighted in poking and prodding Arum. Katz later mentioned the line, but Arum says he didn't put it in context. And for the three decades since, Arum has been hounded by that line.
"It was totally unfair and people think it's my mantra or something," Arum said. "When I've had to testify in trials, the lawyers have even asked me about it and I've had to explain the situation."
In typical Arum fashion, though, he manages to put a funny twist on the ending.
"I'll tell them the story of how it happened and I'll mention that I definitely learned a lesson from it," he said. "And they'll say, 'What's that?' And I always tell them, "Never drink with the press.' "