This is the first of a two-part series looking at the storied history of pro boxing and Atlantic City casinos.
“Will the big fights ever return to Atlantic City?”
The periodic question returns with news of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Oct. 7-9 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. More importantly, with this news comes the potential of a network-level fight to complement it there.
This is a relevant time to reflect on Atlantic City’s relationship with the sweet science, which once made it the boxing capital of America, if not the world.
Unfortunately, the national spread of gaming and entertainment options has reduced boxing’s presence here.
The sport that once electrified the city and accompanied its casino gambling rise has not been washed into the Atlantic Ocean.
Just mention fights and Atlantic City. There is an emotional connection to fans and gamblers.
Here is the first of a two-part look at boxing’s high-profile link with Atlantic City. This comprises 12 segments for 12 rounds, the length of a championship fight.
We’ll focus first on the history element and then the modern-day adaptation.
Round 1: Atlantic City boxing nostalgia
Just as Miss America is associated with Atlantic City, so is Tyson-Spinks.
We are talking about the Mike Tyson vs, Michael Spinks blockbuster at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in 1988.
It symbolized more than future United States President Donald Trump paying an industry-record $11 million site fee to host the fight. It escorted Atlantic City from the shadows of Las Vegas regarding its presence as a gaming powerhouse.
Trump, at the time, owned the neighboring Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino. That property, once located at the center of Boardwalk, has since been demolished.
Trump later underwrote the 1991 George Foreman-Evander Holyfield heavyweight championship bout.
Round 2: Big names feature a return engagement
Boxing’s headliners make Atlantic City their destination every year for the induction.
Some of the icons who formed the glory era will be honored at these Hall of Fame ceremonies.
That includes Kathy Duva, whose Atlantic City promotional realm included Pernell Whitaker, Holyfield and Arturo Gatti.
Duva followed Trump as a mega-fight source, bringing a string of Gatti fights to Boardwalk Hall in the early 2000s.
Gatti, inducted with the first ACBHOF class in 2017, waged his last nine fights in sold-out Boardwalk Hall between ’02 and ’07.
Tyson, inducted in the Hall’s first class of 2017, was 13-0 with 13 knockouts in Atlantic City. The Spinks blockbuster was his 11th appearance.
The dias will include Lennox Lewis. The former heavyweight champion enters the Hall of Fame on the anniversary weekend of his nationally-televised 1995 victory over Tommy Morrison at the Hall.
The induction ceremonies become bigger, and more celebrated every year.
They retain the flame for Atlantic City boxing.
Round 3: ACBHOF tentative plans
The 2022 Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend is tentatively set to include a live boxing card.
It’s not official yet.
However, from what we are hearing, negotiations are looking good for Hard Rock to host a fight here with the elite boxing community already assembled.
Anything can happen in negotiations, naturally, but this synergy is logical. So a fight could wind up on a major network, which would relish the chance to interview the honorees for its telecast.
This appears to be the wave of the future.
It is already happening at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. A boxing event inside of induction weekend enables the events to cross-promote one another.
Round 4: Hard Rock arena is named for an iconic boxing figure
Hard Rock literally has a built-in advantage for major events by housing the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, with roughly 5,000 seats. Major stars have appeared there.
And the legendary Andrea Bocelli will be performing on June 25.
The arena is rooted in boxing.
It named for Mark Etess, a beloved figure in the world of boxing, entertainment and gaming.
Many people know of the tragic helicopter crash that took the lives of Etess and fellow executives Steve Hyde and Jonathan Benanav in 1989.
What they may not realize is Etess’ role in bringing Tyson-Spinks to Atlantic City.
Etess, with Trump’s checkbook in hand, cultivated relationships with Tyson’s management a number of years before the big event.
So by virtue of hosting an earlier bout between Tyson and Jose Ribalta, they forged the right of first refusal for the Tyson-Spinks blockbuster.
Call it a valued wild card.
The right of first refusal actually ensured that Trump Plaza would get the last word in landing the super event.
Etess enjoyed the hands-on-experience of dealing with boxing figures perhaps more than his corporate job.
Do you see the irony here?
Trump preferred the background, allowing his executives to occupy the media spotlight.
This was Etess’ baby.
And it was going to be his casino, as Etess was tabbed to run the former Trump Taj Mahal (that property is now Hard Rock).
Round 5: Mitchell Etess connection
One of the key administrative participants in this event was Mark’s brother Mitchell Etess. He was then an executive at Trump Plaza.
Mitchell went on to become the chief execute of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and bring major events to casino customers inside of an arena owned by Mohegan Sun. Sound like a familiar formula?
One of those clients are the WNBA Connecticut Sun, who play in an area on the Mohegan Sun property.
Etess’ departure also signaled a forthcoming trend in the casino industry.Seasoned Atlantic City executives would be recruited to spearhead the national growth of gaming.
They were in high demand.
As it did in Atlantic City, boxing fueled the growth of casinos all throughout the world.
As a side note, I have called fights in approximately 180 cities. Most occurred from the early 1990s on and occurred in a casino.
Round 6: Trump takes flight from Atlantic City boxing scene
Trump got tired of taking the risk while competitors could share in the reward by merely purchasing tickets for their players.
After Trump bankrolled Holyfield-Foreman in 1991, he told me it was time for other properties to step up.
A new age in which boxing would have to fight for its place in Atlantic City had begun.
That will be analyzed in next week’s Part 2.