John McCain’s support for boxing, including Ali Act, is remembered before championship match in Arizona

John McCain’s support for boxing, including Ali Act, is remembered before championship match in Arizona
Sen. John McCain poses with boxer Bernard Hopkins. (Tom Williams / Associated Press)

A saddened fight crowd was shaken and prepared to silently bow for a 10-count honoring their Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who died Saturday at 81 after battling brain cancer and was remembered as “the boxing senator” by veteran promoter Bob Arum.

“Great man … great boxing fan,” Arum said while sitting ringside at Gila River Casino Arena to attend a two-title-fight card.


An amateur boxer for the Naval Academy in the 1950s, McCain displayed lifelong passion and appreciation for the sport, seen both in his legislative work and his fiery ringside cheering at fights such as the classic 1997 welterweight title bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker.

“I remember him screaming at me ringside after the Whitaker-De La Hoya fight saying, ‘What a robbery! Whitaker won the fight!’” Arum said.

McCain was so aggravated by the scoring in Timothy Bradley’s 2012 upset of Manny Pacquiao, he suggested on the Senate floor the possibility of the federal government addressing lapses in boxing judging.

McCain’s finest bit of legislative support for the sport was the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which provided professional fighters with financial, health and safety safeguards that didn’t previously exist, such as mandatory financial disclosures from promoters and managers to the boxers.

“The Ali Act was terrific,” Arum said. “It was very pro boxers. One thing was boxers never knew financially what was involved in a fight and the disclosure required by the Muhammad Ali act at least levels the playing field a little bit because we were not obligated to tell a fighter what we’re getting from a network, and now we are.

“[Before], a fighter getting $50,000 from a main event might not [know] the promoter was getting $1 million from the network.”

McCain sought to attend big fights when he could. Arum provided the senator a seat in the state commission members’ chairs just behind the ring, in front of the fenced-off front row of fans. Since there were no prices for those seats, Arum said McCain would pay the promoter whatever the most expensive ticket cost.

“He insisted on paying so we took the money and added some on our own, then gave it to charity … he’d pay $1,000, $5,000,” Arum said.

Arum was upset President Trump didn’t properly credit McCain for his push for the pardon of former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson when Trump did it.

McCain “was important in everything in boxing. ... He was the boxing senator,” Arum said.

“I didn’t agree with him a lot,” Arum added. “He was too conservative for me, but you respected him because he believed in those things and he was the only guy who would go across the aisle and make deals with Democrats … really terrific guy.”