The exact date was June 15, 1987, when I found myself at one of that year’s biggest sporting events. The big heavyweight fight back in a time when boxing was king took place that evening.
The fight, as many did, back in that era had a catchy marketing moniker, “The War at the Shore” and matched an undefeated Michael Spinks, at the time holder of a championship belt, and Gerry Cooney, who, at 6’7” and 235 pounds, towered over Spinks and outweighed him by some 30 pounds. Cooney was an 8-5 favorite to beat his smaller opponent and wrest the International Boxing Federation belt away from him.
The fight ended early, in the fifth round on a TKO by Spinks, who knocked the big Irishman down twice before the referee, Frank Cappuccino, stopped the fight, telling the protesting Cooney he was simply taking too many clean shots to the head.
Now, if you want to see how many clean shots Gentleman Gerry, as his robe proclaimed him, took, the fight is still visible on YouTube, but I really don’t have to see it. After all, along with my brother-in-law, John Whittaker, I was there.
Now, I will say, we certainly weren’t ringside. That was reserved for the celebrities in the massive Atlantic City Convention Hall such as Don Johnson, star of the wildly popular cop show “Miami Vice”; Vinny Testaverde, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner; and three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Angel Cordero Jr.
There was also a host of former and current boxing stars ringside, one of whom was a 20-year-old Iron Mike Tyson, who also held two championship belts, and was destined a year later to knock out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds, less time than the time it took for singer Jeffrey Osborne to sing the national anthem.
No, John and I, who were both in Atlantic City on a family trip, a gift for my mom to celebrate her upcoming 70th birthday, broke away from the ladies who were attending a show at the casino in which we were staying off the famous boardwalk, Bally’s Grand, to enjoy our guys-only big fight night.
We were in the cheap seats, high above the ring on the second level, but those seats were cheap only by comparison. We had to do a lot of talking to convince ourselves that the $50 a ticket would be worth it to tell others we were among the 16,000 in attendance that night.
However, when you factor in the time spent walking around the lobby and adjoining casino, drinking in all that prefight excitement and spotting celebrities such as Tyson surrounded by an entourage and the famous sports-event painter LeRoy Neiman, with his distinctive moustache that stretched from sideburn to sideburn, and the boxing itself, including one of the preliminary bouts that featured the intriguing Rastafarian from the Virgin Islands, Livingstone Bramble, who, rumor had it, dabbled a bit in witchcraft, and fact had it, liked to enter the ring with a live snake wrapped around his shoulders, we surely got as much out of our $50 as we could have ever hoped.
I think about that trip often because it was the last quality time we all got to spend with my mom, who so enjoyed the shows and our fancy dinners and especially sitting on the Boardwalk benches engaging in her absolute favorite pastime of people watching. Sadly, within two weeks after our return, her heart gave out after she retired for the evening.
And, during the recent presidential campaign and with another inauguration about to unfold in just a couple of days, there’s another reason I’m thinking about that pugilistic panorama that John and I took in on that warm Atlantic City evening.
You see, the convention center, as I told you, was connected to a casino, but not just any casino mind you, but the Trump Plaza Casino, and the man who will be sworn in not that many hours from now, the same man who paid $3.5 million to deny Las Vegas from hosting another big-fight night that night and made manifold millions in return for his investment in hotel bookings and casino revenues, of course, was ringside as well.
But, John and I got to see Donald J. Trump a whole lot closer that evening than from our perch above the ring. Before the fight, at one point, he was on the very next escalator step up from us, looking in his tuxedo much fancier than we did.
And, I think that’s about as close to a president of the United States as we’ll ever get no matter how many more years with which John and I are blessed.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]