The Top Rank boss was pals with Ali for five decades until the three-time world heavyweight champion succumbed to septic shock due to a respiratory problem in Pheonix, Arizona.
Ali was 74 years old, but had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 32 years, an ailment that robbed the world of one of the best talkers of all time.
Arum, who is now in his eighties and still making fights, joined the millions of other people around the world in paying tribute to the man who transcended the sport.
“I think when you talk about Muhammad Ali, as great an athlete, as great a boxer as he was, he was the greatest boxer of all time, he means so much more to the United States and the world,” Arum told Reuters. “He was a transformative figure in our society.”
In the 1960s, a volatile time for African Americans in the United States, Ali was a figurehead in the civil rights movement, and despite receiving hatred by some for his actions, the Olympic gold medallist stood up for his own beliefs.
“While Martin Luther King was talking sense and talking about progress that could be made in his soft-spoken way, Ali, with his big mouth was thundering and demanding rights for African-American people and standing up for what was right,” explained Arum.
“At first, that didn’t sit well with the people in the United States. At fights he was booed because they felt that he was too outspoken.”
Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army for the war in Vietnam cost him his status as the top division ruler, something Arum admitted he was against him doing at the time.
“And I said ‘hell no’, I advised him just the opposite. But of course, he wouldn’t listen. He did what he thought was right. And it turned out he was right, and I was wrong,” he said.
“So when I look back at his life, and I was blessed to call him a friend and spent a lot of time with him, it’s hard for me to talk about his exploits in boxing because as great as they were they paled in comparison to the impact that he had on the world,” added Arum.
The funeral for Ali is set to take place in his birth town of Louisville, Kentucky on Friday.