When Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City opens Thursday, visitors will have a hard time remembering Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort ever existed.

Until they get to the property's main entertainment venue.

The arena has been renovated but still honors the legacy of former Trump executive Mark G. Etess as the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena.

"The day we bought the property (on March 1, 2017), Mark's brother Mitchell called me and asked if I would consider keeping the name," Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said. "I never even thought about changing it.

"Mark and I worked together for President (Donald) Trump for years, and he was one of my mentors and friends. I was 100 percent going to keep Mark's name on it. October 10, 1989, is a day I will never forget."

That was the day Mark Etess, Stephen Hyde, Jonathan Benanav and other Trump executives traveled to New York for a news conference to formally announce a fight between Hector Camacho and Vinny Pazienza that was being sponsored by Trump Plaza at Boardwalk Hall on Feb. 3, 1990.

Afterward, Etess Hyde and Benanav were among five people killed when their helicopter crashed near the Garden State Parkway about 35 miles north of Atlantic City.

At the time, Atlantic City was in the midst of a major resurgence as a boxing town. That was largely because of Etess, who was inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame along with Trump this month. He was the one who first convinced Trump that boxing could be a major asset in drawing people to his casino properties.

Etess had become friendly with a number of fighters, trainers and managers while growing up at the family's famous resort, Grossinger's (both Mark and Mitchell's middle name), in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

"So much of what Mark did helped make Atlantic City what it was back then," said Mitchell Etess, who is now a senior advisor for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority in Connecticut. "A lot of fighters used to train at our hotel, and he got to know people like (former light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion) Michael Spinks and (manager) Butch Lewis.

The first major fight sponsored by Trump Plaza was Spinks against heavyweight Gerry Cooney at Boardwalk Hall on June 15, 1987.

That bout, as well as others such as Mike Tyson's fights against Spinks, Larry Holmes, Carl Williams and Tyrell Biggs, might never have happened if not for an informal meeting between Etess and Trump on a softball field in Absecon, according to Hard Rock Vice President of Entertainment Bernie Dillon, who worked at Trump Plaza at the time.

"Trump Plaza was playing a game against Trump Castle one day," Dillon recalled with a laugh. "Donald showed up with (former wife) Ivana, who was wearing an outfit that costs more than I made in a month. He decides to play and hits one into the gap and makes a head-first slide into second for a double.

"A few minutes later, Mark went up to him and started talking about bringing Spinks-Cooney to Atlantic City. Donald said, 'Go for it,' and the fight was made. That's the kind of effect Mark had on everyone. He was only with us for a short time, but made a giant impact."

Etess eventually helped form the short-lived Trump Sports and Entertainment Company before moving on to become president of Trump Taj Mahal. Six months after the helicopter crash, on April 28, 1990, the newly named Mark G. Etess Arena hosted its first boxing card with a fight featuring then-WBO light-heavyweight champion Michael Moorer.

Trump staged a number of big fights at the arena for the next decade or so before he bowed out of the boxing game. Caesars Entertainment consultant Ken Condon kept the sport alive in town for years, but it's been in a slump lately.

But boxing is on its way back.

On Aug. 4, light-heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev will take on unbeaten Eleider Alvarez. It will be the first major fight in Atlantic City in four years.

Fittingly, it will be at Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena.

"Keeping Mark's name on it means a ton to our family," Mitchell Etess said. "I can't thank Jim Allen enough for continuing the legacy."

David Weinberg's Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.

Can't get enough High School sports? Get the latest scores, game highlights and analysis delivered to your inbox each week

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Contact: 609-272-7201


Twitter @PressACWeinberg

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Soon we will no longer integrate with Facebook for story comments. The commenting option is not going away, however, readers will need to register for a FREE site account to continue sharing their thoughts and feedback on stories. If you already have an account (i.e. current subscribers, posting in obituary guestbooks, for submitting community events), you may use that login, otherwise, you will be prompted to create a new account.

Load comments