Tyson, others relive their A.C. glory

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, left, meets up with boxing promoter Don King at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City on Saturday night. Tyson talked fondly about some of his memorable Atlantic City experiences.

Press photo by Matthew Strabuk

ATLANTIC CITY - Some of Mike Tyson's most pleasant memories were created on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Of course, there were the megafights at Boardwalk Hall against Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes and especially Michael Spinks. But there were other moments surrounding those bouts that also brought a broad smile to his tattooed face during a 45-minute interview Saturday in his suite at Resorts Casino Hotel.

"Whenever I was getting ready to fight here, I would always go running on the Boardwalk," said Tyson, who was among the 80 guests at the All Star Legends Boxing Gala Saturday night at Resorts' Superstar Theater. "I would be out there by myself at about 4 in the morning and there wouldn't be anybody else around except this one woman who I saw every time.

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"We would pass each other twice. I would be running toward Margate and she'd be going in the other direction, then we'd see each other again when I was coming back toward the casinos and she was running home. We never spoke or anything, but we'd always wave and nod to each other."

Tyson's 13 fights in Atlantic City also followed the same pattern. The opening bell would ring, Tyson would charge out of his corner, and his opponent would be lying prone on the canvas a few seconds or minutes later.

His 91-second victory over Spinks on June 27, 1988 was special, however. A record crowd of 21,785, the largest to ever see a sporting event in town, crammed into Boardwalk Hall to see the fight. Every hotel within a 30-mile radius was sold out. Restaurant reservations were impossible to get.

Although most of the fans were rooting for Tyson, Spinks also had his share of supporters. The former Olympian had won world championships at light-heavyweight and heavyweight and was undefeated.

Tyson took control at the start, however, and dropped Spinks in the opening seconds. He got up but was quickly back on the canvas for good.

"I should have listened to Muhammad Ali," Spinks said Saturday. "He told me to use my jab and box and move. But once he started throwing punches, I lost my head and I wanted to battle, which was a very bad idea because Mike Tyson was kicking like a mule (throwing powerful punches) back then."

Tyson-Spinks occurred during a span in which Atlantic City rivaled Las Vegas as a boxing mecca. From the early 1980s until 1998, when Boardwalk Hall underwent a $90 million renovation that reduced its seating capacity for boxing to roughly 14,000, there were just as many major fights on the beach as in the desert.

Atlantic City still lands occasional big fights - the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson light-heavyweight title bout in April was one of the year's most-anticipated showdowns - but not with the same frequency.

Most of the fighters, trainers, referees and officials who played major roles in Atlantic City's heyday were on hand at Resorts on Saturday. They all showed up to rekindle old friendships, recall their big fights and honor the memories of deceased champions such as former heavyweight king Joe Frazier.

Former WBO heavyweight champion Ray Mercer fought 18 times in Atlantic City. Now 51, he made his pro debut at Boardwalk Hall in 1989 against Jesse McGhee just months after winning the gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

His Atlantic City career included big fights against Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Wladimir Klitschko and Tim Witherspoon. But his most memorable bout in town occurred on Oct. 18, 1991, when he took on Tommy Morrison at Boardwalk Hall.

Morrison, who was 28-0 at the time, pounded Mercer with vicious body shots and overhand rights throughout the first three rounds. Toward the end of the third, Morrison's punches began to lose steam. Mercer took over and registered a fifth-round TKO victory by landing 16 unanswered punches.

"He was throwing tremendous shots," Mercer said Saturday at Resorts. "He hit me so hard to the body that I was (breaking wind). But by the end of the third round, he was leaning on me. That's when I knew I had him."

Saturday's attendees at the gala also included former three-time champion Bobby Czyz. The 50-year-old Wanaque resident fought 18 bouts in Atlantic City while winning world titles in light-heavyweight, cruiserweight and the now-defunct super-cruiswerweight divisions.

Beyond the title fights at Boardwalk Hall, Czyz was equally thrilled about the undercard fights he had in casino showrooms such as Bally's Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and the former Playboy Casino.

"My first fight in Atlantic City was at Resorts on May 8, 1980, which was the same day as my high school prom," Czyz said Saturday. "I decided to fight instead."

Tyson's first Atlantic City fight was also at Resorts. On June 20, 1985, he scored a 39-second win over Ricardo Spain that only a few hundred fans witnessed.

That bout had almost as big an impact on Tyson as the major fights that occurred a few years later.

"To finally fight in Atlantic City was a huge deal to me," Tyson said. "I felt like I had finally made the big time."

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