Donald Trump still gets goosebumps thinking about it.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of arguably the biggest event in Atlantic City sports history. On June 27, 1988, Mike Tyson registered a spectacular, 91-second knockout over Michael Spinks before a record crowd of 21,785 at Boardwalk Hall.
Trump, who hosted the fight as the owner of Trump Plaza at the time, paid a then-record $11 million site fee to bring the showdown between undefeated heavyweight champions to town.
"It was an amazing event, probably the most amazing event Atlantic City has ever seen," Trump said last week in a phone interview. "The buzz around that fight was incredible."
Tyson-Spinks was one of the rare fights that drew both hardcore and casual boxing fans. Every hotel within a 30-mile radius was booked solid for the weekend. Ringside seats sold for $1,500, double the usual price for a heavyweight title fight. Scalpers on the Boardwalk held up fistfuls of tickets while buyers dug into their pockets for hundred-dollar bills.
Everyone wanted to be there, even if it meant sitting high enough to touch the domed ceiling.
"I had just starting helping out at the (Atlantic City PAL boxing gym) and somehow I got a ticket to the fight," Egg Harbor Township boxing trainer Arnold Robbins said in a phone interview. "It was the first time I had even been at a fight of that magnitude and when I got inside I was like, 'Oh wow.' I wouldn't say I was in shock, but I was in awe of the whole atmosphere."
Atlantic City was overflowing with celebrities during the week.
Warren Beatty, Billy Crystal, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Madonna and then-husband Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson, Oprah Winfrey and the late Richard Pryor were among the stars who were spotted in town and at the arena.
The fight reportedly produced $344 million in gambling revenues in Atlantic City that weekend. Trump Plaza registered a record casino drop of $11.5 million on the day of the fight.
"I remember the paparazzi were chasing Madonna and Sean Penn all over the place," said Revel entertainment consultant Bernie Dillon, who was working for Trump Plaza at the time. "It was a who's who of entertainment, sports and casino people. It was just a tremendous event even though it was not a fantastic fight."
Some of the fans never actually saw the fight.
Traffic was backed up for miles along the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway. What was normally about an hour's drive into town took three times as long. And parking was virtually nonexistent. Some fans were still doing laps around casino garages when the fight took place.
"The atmosphere leading up to the fight was just as unbelievable as the day of the fight," former New Jersey Athletic Control Board commissioner Larry Hazzard said in a phone interview. "I used to go to Wash's (in Pleasantville) once in a while and when I tried to go that week, traffic was miles long.
"And the day of the fight, forget about it. You could hardly move anywhere. The Boardwalk was packed, every restaurant had a two- or three-hour wait. I remember my son left the Newark area around 2 o'clock the day of the fight and he didn't get to Atlantic City until 7 o'clock."
Even some of the fans who managed to make it into Boardwalk Hall lost out.
The late Butch Lewis, who was Spinks' promoter, loved to recount a story in which Pryor missed the knockout because he was sitting behind 6-foot-8 NBA star Magic Johnson.
Others were either getting food at a concession stand or going to the bathroom when Tyson put Spinks on the canvas as the echo from the opening bell was still wafting around the arena.
"The actual fight was a letdown because it ended so early," Trump said. "I had brought in some friends from Europe for the fight and they were still being seated when (Tyson) knocked him out."
Trump was among the ringside observers who believed Spinks was afraid of Tyson. Trump, Hazzard and others used words like "petrified" and "scared" when describing Spinks' demeanor in the ring before the fight began.
Spinks, who earned $13.5 million to Tyson's $22 million for the bout, declined an interview request last week for this story, but refuted the notion that he was intimidated in an interview with The Press last year.
"I had fought in Atlantic City quite a few times (12) and had some big fights there, so I was used to big crowds and everything," Spinks said on June 2, 2012 while attending the Atlantic City Boxing Legends Gala at Resorts Casino Hotel. "I should have listened to Muhammad Ali (before the fight). He told me to use my jab and box and move. But once (Tyson) 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."
Lewis, who died two years ago, didn't help Spinks when he decided to try to frustrate Tyson before the bout.
The ring entrances were delayed by almost an hour when Lewis insisted that he felt lumps in Tyson's hand wraps and insisted that they be examined and rewrapped. Tyson could not be reached for comment for this story.
"There was a bunch of drama before the fight," Hazzard said with a laugh. "Everyone was waiting for the fighters to come out and nothing was happening. I had to go back to the dressing room and (HBO) had a camera on me. I was so mad they caught me (cursing) on my way back there."
Lewis' antics turned out to be a big mistake.
Instead of getting frustrated, Tyson got angry.
"I followed Larry back to the dressing room," Dillon said. "Kevin Rooney (Tyson's trainer) was wearing these mitts and Mike was hitting them so hard it looked like Mike was going to tear Rooney's arms off. Kevin started yelling, 'Stop! Stop!' After that, Mike started punching the walls and he hit them so hard the whole dressing room shook."
Before the fight, opinions were mixed about the outcome. Spinks was 31-0 with 21 knockouts at the time and was coming off a big win over Gerry Cooney in Atlantic City after previously winning the light-heavyweight title and a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics. Hazzard was among those who thought Spinks would be the first fighter to give Tyson a challenge. Tyson was 34-0 with 32 KOs and had steamrolled to the top of the heavyweight division.
Once the prefight introductions were made, however, everyone knew Tyson was going to win.
"When we got to the ring, I could see that Spinks was scared to death," Rooney said via email. "I knew Michael (Tyson) was going to win the fight and win in devastating fashion, but any small doubt I had completely went out the window when we got to the ring.
"I knew that (Spinks) had no chance. We walked back to the corner and I told Michael, 'Hey, look. I bet our entire purse, both yours and mine, on a first-round knockout. Go out there and get rid of this guy or we don't get paid. Ha, ha, I was kidding obviously, but Michael called me on it after the fight."
The fight was supposed to serve as a springboard for even bigger and better fights both for Tyson and Atlantic City.
Instead, it wound up being the highlight.
Tyson fought twice more at Boardwalk Hall, knocking out Carl Williams in 1989 and Alex Stewart in 1990, but was never the same fighter after losing to Buster Douglas in Japan before the Stewart fight. After serving time in prison for rape, he regained the heavyweight titles, but after knocking out Atlantic City native Bruce Seldon in Las Vegas in 1996, Tyson lost half of his next 10 fights. He retired after suffering a sixth-round TKO defeat to journeyman Kevin McBride in 2005.
Financial troubles and a growing disdain for the politics of boxing prompted Trump to drop out of the sport about 15 years ago and he no longer has ties to any casino property in Atlantic City.
Boardwalk Hall underwent a $90 million renovation in 1998 that reduced the seating capacity for boxing to about 12,500. Since the venue reopened in 2002, the largest crowd for boxing was the 12,763 fans that watched Carlos Baldomir's victory over the late Arturo Gatti on July 22, 2006.
Led by Caesars Entertainment consultant Ken Condon, Boardwalk Hall has hosted its share of major fights in recent years featuring standouts such as Gatti, current light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins, current middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and current junior-middleweight champ Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
But none of those fights produced the excitement and energy of Tyson-Spinks.
"The atmosphere was just electric," Rooney said. "When we were walking from the dressing room heading to the ring, you could just feel the entire room erupt. I had never felt something like that before, and I never have since."
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