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30 years ago, Tyson-Spinks made history in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Thirty years ago, Boardwalk Hall was the site of arguably the biggest and most exciting sports event to ever hit Atlantic City.

On June 27, 1988, a capacity crowd of 22,785 watched heavyweight slugger Mike Tyson take on undefeated Michael Spinks for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. It is still the largest crowd to see a sports event in town.

Then Trump Plaza owner Donald Trump, now president of the United States, paid a then-record $11 million site fee to bring the fight to town.

“It was an amazing event, probably the most amazing event Atlantic City has ever seen,” Trump said in a 2013 phone interview with The Press. “The buzz around that fight was incredible.”

Every hotel within a 35-mile radius was filled for a week before the fight. Ringside seats sold for $1,500, more than double the usual price. More than 1,300 media credentials were issued.

The fight reportedly produced $344 million in gambling revenue in Atlantic City that weekend.

Trump Plaza registered a record casino drop of $11.5 million on the day of the fight, which was held on a Monday.

The Press of Atlantic City covered it from every angle. It seemed like every reporter and photographer had some sort of role. Some reporters were there just to write about what the celebrities were wearing.

Below is a recount of the event from people involved in the fight.

Bernie Dillon, Trump Plaza special-events director at the time of the fight: “I was working at Trump Plaza at the time. It wasn’t unusual for a big event like that to be held on a Monday. It was a way to get people to stay in town for an extra night or two.”

Larry Hazzard, commissioner of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board: “What happened during Tyson-Spinks will never be duplicated. And it wasn’t just the night of the fight. I’m talking The whole weekend the town was just crazy. It was just amazing.”

Fight night

The Boardwalk was packed all day with scalpers trying to sell tickets and fans hoping to get a glimpse of some of the celebrities.

Warren Beatty, Billy Crystal, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Madonna and then-husband Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson, Oprah Winfrey and Richard Pryor were among the stars who attended the fight.

The raw energy inside the arena was incredible, and there was almost a sense of fear.

Jim Allen, part of the senior management group at the Trump properties at the time of the fight: “I was there. I was working for Trump Plaza at the time. I remember seeing Madonna and Sean Penn sitting in the second row instead of the ‘Corral’ with the other celebrities. When I pointed it out to Mr. Trump, he had them moved up front.”

Hazzard: “I couldn’t believe all the people. It was wall to wall in there. It sounds weird, but there was something sinister about the atmosphere. Maybe it was the music. It was like you knew something bad was about to happen.”

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The fight started over an hour late.

The late Butch Lewis, Spinks’ manager, was the reason for the delay.

In an effort to rattle Tyson, Lewis had claimed there was something wrong with his hand wraps and caused a ruckus. Finally, an inspector came out from the dressing room and told Hazzard of Lewis’ protest.

Dillon: “I followed Larry backstage. We get to the dressing rooms and Butch Lewis is yelling, ‘He’s got lumps on his hands.’ Larry calms everybody down except Tyson, who has steam coming out of his nose. I had some temporary dressing rooms built and Tyson’s so mad he starts punching the wall and he’s hitting it so hard the entire room was shaking. I figured it was time to get out of there.”

Hazzard: “Tyson was really feeling ticked off. He’s so mad he started putting his hands through the Sheetrock. Up to that point, I was leaning toward Tyson, but I really gave Spinks a chance. But when I encountered that situation, I knew Tyson was going to win. Butch was trying to take him off his game but wound up giving him extra fuel.”

Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield: “Spinks came out and you could see it in his eyes he was scared. And Tyson was mad.”

The fight

The fight itself lasted 91 seconds.

Some fans were still in the casino parking garages when Tyson knocked him out. Even some who had gotten into Boardwalk Hall missed it because they were getting a drink or using the bathroom.

Trump (2013): “The actual fight was a letdown because it ended so early. I had brought in some friends from Europe for the fight, and they were still being seated when (Tyson) knocked him out.”

Atlantic City boxing trainer Bill Johnson: “I was sitting above the ring, so I could get a good look at everything. I saw Michael’s eyes roll back in his head, and I knew there was no way he was getting up. Once someone’s eyes roll, it’s over.”

Spinks (2012 interview): “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.

Holyfield: “I just happened to be sitting in a section with everybody who had all the money. There was this young lady sitting near me, and of course the man she was sitting with was real old. When the fight was over, this guy ran by and tried to snatch her pocketbook. The lady went, ‘Wham!’ and knocked him down. And she kept on swinging until he let go of the pocketbook.”

The aftermath

Spinks retired after the fight. He now lives in Wilmington, Delaware, but visits Atlantic City occasionally. Both he and Tyson were inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.

Boardwalk Hall underwent a $90 million makeover in 1998. The seating capacity for boxing was reduced to about 14,000.

Contact: 609-272-7201 Twitter @PressACWeinberg

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