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Bob Arum, Don King go head to head -- once again

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King, Arum put history aside for upcoming fight (3:22)

Boxing legends Don King and Bob Arum sit down with Mark Kriegel to discuss their lives and the upcoming Ramirez-Imam fight on ESPN. (3:22)

NEW YORK -- They are both 86 but still as feisty as ever with the energy of men half their age, invigorated even more when they compete with each other.

Bob Arum and Don King, larger-than-life figures and the most prominent promoters in boxing history, have butted heads for decades as they battled for fighters, television network money and dates, attention for their events and sometimes when their fighters would go head to head.

They've cursed each other out, sued each other, bickered like children and even gotten physical. Though they've each made nine-figure fortunes, they come from polar opposite backgrounds, have divergent political views -- Arum is a staunch Democrat; King is one of Donald Trump's biggest supporters -- and they could bring out the best and worst in each other.

But their battles have waned in recent years as King, who calls himself semi-retired, has stepped back from the business, only occasionally putting on a fight, while Arum's Top Rank remains one of the most active and significant promotional companies in the sport.

These giants of the sport are back together again, perhaps for the last time, as they promote the vacant junior welterweight world title fight between Top Rank fighter Jose Ramirez (21-0, 16 KOs) and Amir Imam (21-1, 18 KOs), who is with King, in the main event of a tripleheader on Saturday night (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Ramirez-Imam is the first fight that the International Boxing Hall of Famers have worked on together in seven years to the month, since the Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga junior middleweight world title fight in March 2011.

Arum and King are more friendly rivals these days than the bitter enemies they were for so long, having earned each other's respect over the years. It's clear they've enjoyed talking over old times and telling their war stories this week.

"We're like old warriors, old fighters who are reliving our old battles," Arum said. "My feelings for him are like two fighters who have been through wars against each other and now that the wars are over, they have shared memories of the wars. It doesn't necessarily make us friends or enemies, but it makes us people who have had shared experiences."

But they give it up to each other now.

"Don was a great promoter. People said he promoted himself more than he did the fighters and that to some extent is correct, because that is the way he promoted, but you can't say it wasn't effective," Arum said. "He did great gates, brought great attention to his events. You got to give him props. I can't endorse what is alleged against him, that he shorted fighters [of money], which is true, but as a promoter, as someone whose job is to bring attention to his events he is presenting, he was terrific."

King, who still likes to get in a few digs at Arum, including calling him "lonesome Bob," nonetheless had kind words for his rival.

"If you're an athlete and you roll over an inferior opponent, it doesn't enhance you. Don was a worthy opponent. There's never been a better salesman in boxing than Don King. He was my measuring stick. He was a guy who made me work so hard. I think he made me a better promoter just like I made him a better one."

Bob Arum

"You wouldn't know how good I am if I didn't have Bob Arum to compare myself to. Bob Arum made me work triple hard to stay ahead of him," King said. "It's a respect for a guy who has great talent, who has great ingenuity. He made me try to outwork him. I have nothing but admiration and respect for Bob. I love Bob."

Arum also believes that King made him a better promoter by giving him somebody to which to compare himself.

"If you're an athlete and you roll over an inferior opponent, it doesn't enhance you. Don was a worthy opponent," Arum said. "There's never been a better salesman in boxing than Don King. He was my measuring stick. He was a guy who made me work so hard. I think he made me a better promoter just like I made him a better one."

Arum, a Harvard graduate who worked for Robert Kennedy's Department of Justice, began promoting fights in 1966 when he put on Muhammad Ali's heavyweight title defense against George Chuvalo in Toronto. Arum had been introduced to Ali by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown.

King came on the scene a few years later. After going to prison on a manslaughter charge in 1967 (for which he was pardoned in 1983), he was released in 1971. He put on some small shows in his hometown of Cleveland in the early 1970s but was eventually introduced to Ali and promoted him in exhibition bouts before promoting his first big fight in 1974, the famed "Rumble in the Jungle," when Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round of a huge upset to regain the heavyweight title in Zaire. That fight launched King into the big time, where Arum already was.

"Arum's a white Harvard graduate, a New Yorker, a top prosecutor," King said. "Don King is black, a numbers runner from Cleveland, an ex-convict. But we both became promoters and we were both the best."

They did their first co-promotion in 1975, the legendary "Thrilla in Manila," when Ali stopped Joe Frazier in the 14th round of their third fight to retain the title in perhaps the most savage heavyweight title fight ever.

While they didn't often get together for co-promotions, when they did they were usually huge events, including the first Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran fight, Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad, Floyd Mayweather-Zab Judah and a 1990 card that featured Mike Tyson and George Foreman in separate fights that was supposed to lead to a Tyson-Foreman fight that ultimately never happened.

Arum and King have reminisced this week about some of their memorable moments together, rancor-ridden at the time but now stories that make them smile.

"We talked about me pulling him down when he was trying to get in the ring after Leonard-(Marvin) Hagler. We're recounting our war stories," Arum said. "Sometimes we see things a little differently on how and the way things happened, but we went through it and had a lot of shared experiences.

"All the fights we did together were memorable. Don always made them memorable. De La Hoya-Trinidad was memorable. Leonard-Duran. Even this fight, Ramirez-Imam, he's making it memorable."

Arum recalled when he promoted the Ali-Leon Spinks rematch in New Orleans in 1978, a fight Ali won by 15-round decision to become the three-time heavyweight champion.

"Ali wins the fight and I'm sitting there at ringside and I look up and there's King in the ring with Ali holding his arm up like he's the promoter," Arum said. "The picture went all over the world and King had nothing to do with the f---ing fight."

Arum wasn't going to let that happen again years later. He was promoting the Hagler-Leonard middleweight championship fight in 1987 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and Leonard pulled off the massive upset to win the title. King was on hand as a spectator.

"Arum's a white Harvard graduate, a New Yorker, a top prosecutor. Don King is black, a numbers runner from Cleveland, an ex-convict. But we both became promoters and we were both the best."

Don King

"Leonard wins the decision and Rich Rose, who worked for Caesars Palace, comes running over to me and says King's getting in the ring," Arum said. "I like ran over there -- and King's a big guy and I'm nowhere near his size -- and I said, 'Get the hell down' and I pulled him down, ripped his jacket. But I pulled him down from the ring. He went after me. That was very, very memorable. I wasn't going to let him in the ring to hold up Ray's hand like he did with Ali because he had nothing to do with the f---ing fight."

A security guard had to separate them and Arum later said that King pointed to his pocket that contained a gun.

"The man tore my jacket," King said, feigning that he was still angry. "He tried to rip my coat off! You didn't have to worry about me doing anything to him."

One of the most heated moments between King and Arum came after Trinidad upset De La Hoya in a controversial decision in Las Vegas in 1999 to unify welterweight world titles.

The post-fight news conference was an ugly scene with King gloating endlessly about Trinidad's victory, which caused Arum to lose his cool.

"King is bellowing, 'The lights are out in Arumville,' and I'm yelling, 'Will someone shut him up?' And [publicist] Debbie Caplan pulled the plug on his microphone," Arum said, laughing at the memory. "I was really pissed. And he was really pissed that I did that and he stormed out. Thinking back, I get a kick out of it."

Said King. "When Trinidad wins the fight, I go to speak my peace and he pulls the plug! That's censorship! It tickles me. It just makes me bigger. People saw him ranting and raving. I had to laugh. Bob is my best promoter."

Ahhh, the good old days.

"He got under my skin a lot of times, all the time, while we were competing," Arum said. "But when I think back on those events I have a smile. I'm not angry. It was fun -- but not while I was doing it. Now, I have no animosity toward him. None. Those battles are over. We're like fighters who have bitter rivalries and then they embrace each other. Today, Don and I share those moments. He made it fun." King perhaps hasn't quite given up the need to fight with Arum.

"I'm so happy I have the opportunity to work him with again this Saturday," King said. "It's going to be just fabulous. When Amir Imam wins, we want to come right back and take on Manny Pacquiao on pay-per-view and knock off another one of Bob's fighters. I'm ready to rumble, man."