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Donald Trump, Mike Tyson and Don King – In the late 1980s, Las Vegas and Atlantic City were engaged in a turf war for the procurement of mega-fights. Future presidential aspirant Donald Trump was at the center of the maelstrom.

A new era in the history of Atlantic City began on Memorial Day weekend, 1978, with the opening of the Resorts International Hotel. It housed the city’s first legal gambling casino. Later that year, on November 4, Atlantic City’s frenetic but short-lived casino era of boxing began when a ballroom at Resorts International was deployed for a boxing show. Former Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis Jr, not yet a ranked contender, opposed Luis Davila in the featured bout of a 4-bout card.

As more casinos came on line, boxing boomed. Between 1982 and 1985, there were an astounding 524 shows. But virtually all of these shows were low budget. The hotel-casinos in Atlantic City were built on smaller plots than the hotels that flowered on the Las Vegas Strip. There was no room to build an on-site arena or erect a temporary outdoor stadium.

Of course, a casino operator could lease the Atlantic City Convention Center. Home to the Miss America pageant, the convention center, which would take the name Boardwalk Hall, could seat a shade over 20,000 for an event that didn’t use up too much floor space. But leasing the property flouted the conventional wisdom. Casino operators didn’t want their best players straying off property to attend a big boxing match for fear that they would be cajoled away by agents for a rival casino.

Enter Donald Trump.

Trump Plaza, the first of Donald Trump’s three Atlantic City properties, opened in 1984. An overhead walkway connected the hotel to the convention center. With this amenity, Trump Plaza took the lead in sponsoring events that were too big for a casino showroom or ballroom.

Trump’s company built the Trump Plaza. The casino was managed by Harrah’s, a subsidiary of Holiday Inn. Shortly after the opening, Trump bought out Harrah’s. Then things really got interesting.

Trump’s first foray into boxing was the Spinks-Cooney fight, (June 15, 1987).  Later that same year, Mike Tyson made the first of his four Atlantic City title defenses, opposing Tyrell Biggs. Trump also sponsored the Foreman-Cooney fight of 1990 and the Foreman-Holyfield fight of 1991, big events that pumped big bucks into Trump’s casino coffers.

The highlight of Trump’s boxing adventures was the Tyson-Spinks fight of June 27, 1988. The fight lasted only 91 seconds, but the event was a wonderful spectacle. Press credentials were issued to 1,300 journalists and photographers from 22 countries. The live gate, $12.1 million, surpassed that of any previous sporting event in U.S. history.

Technically, the co-promoters were Don King, Tyson’s man, and Butch Lewis, the manager of Michael Spinks. Trump’s company merely ponied up the site fee and supervised the box office. But this is splitting hairs. In a TV commercial for the big fight, Tyson and Spinks faced off, exchanging malevolent glares, and then turned smiling to the camera and said “Thank you, Mr. Trump.”

Trump’s relationship with Mike Tyson ran deeper than that of the de facto promoter. Shortly after the Tyson-Spinks fight, Trump became Tyson’s unpaid business advisor, a role he took on at Tyson’s behest – or so he told reporters. Tyson was then in litigation with his estranged manager, Bill Cayton. Concurrently, there were loud rumors that Mr. Trump — how shall I say it? – had more than a nodding acquaintance with Tyson’s wife, actress Robin Givens.

Trump was ringside in Tokyo when Tyson met his Waterloo in the form of Buster Douglas. On the plane ride home, he and Don King reached a handshake agreement. Trump would promote the Tyson-Douglas rematch. That bout never came to fruition, a story for another day.

This reporter wasn’t on the scene when Trump, Don King, and Mike Tyson jazzed up Atlantic City. Having been to enough press luncheons where Don King commanded the podium, I’m guessing that the press conferences where more entertaining than many of the fights.

When Don King, in a public forum, butters up a collaborator, such as a casino owner, he seizes upon every encomium in the dictionary. One half expects a representative from the Vatican to swoop down out of the rafters and canonize the fellow right on the spot. Lord knows how many bouquets he lobbed at Donald Trump, by all appearances, his bosom buddy.

The Trump name still ornaments a few places in Atlantic City, but he has pulled out. The older hotel-casinos, those still standing, don’t pack them in anymore; the town is on the skids. “When I left,” Trump told a reporter, “the magic went out.”

Earlier this month, in a meeting with the editorial board of the New York Daily News, Rev. Al Sharpton likened Donald Trump to a white version of his longtime friend Don King. “If Don King had been born white,” said Sharpton, “he’d be Donald Trump.” And, presumably, vice versa.

I guess that makes sense, After all, they both have curious hair.

 

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