When Michael Spinks got notice that he was going to be inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame, the former light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of the world was stunned and in disbelief.
Spinks, highly regarded as perhaps the best light heavyweight ever, was genuinely honored and taken aback that he was even chosen to be elected in the inaugural class of 2017.
“It’s kind of unbelievable. I feel good about it. I love Atlantic City,” said Spinks, who fought a total of 13 professional bouts in the city by the sea. Spinks recalled his early trips to Atlantic City before a host of casinos began to take form in the 1970’s. Spinks would walk up and down the boardwalk eating sandwiches. “I liked the rides. I really enjoyed myself in A.C.”
The St. Louis, Missouri native fought in the heyday of Atlantic City boxing, as the city was booming with boxing business in the 1980’s. Spinks first fight in the city took place at the Resorts International, one of the first casinos to establish itself in the city.
Spinks took on opponent Ramon Ranquello on February 24, 1980 with only a four day notice from manager Butch Lewis and still registered a TKO win in his first A.C. fight. Even more remarkable than the four day notice and subsequent TKO victory was the fact that Spinks himself had just fought earlier that month, on February 1, 1980, scoring a unanimous decision win over Johnny Wilbum at the Louisville Gardens in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ranquello had knocked out Mike Rossman in September 1979 and Rossman pulled out of the scheduled rematch during fight week. “Rossman didn’t want anymore (of Ranquello).”
Spinks did, and with the win over Ranquello, the ‘Jinx’, who was 10-0 at that point in his career, would go on to fight the majority of his career bouts in A.C. Spinks fought twice more in 1980 before returning to Atlantic City on October 18, 1980, scoring a knockout over Yaqui Lopez at the Convention Center in A.C.
Spinks fought again at the Resorts International, knocking out Marvin Johnson on March 28, 1981 before becoming the WBA light heavyweight champion with a unanimous decision win over Eddie Mustafa Muhammad on July 18, 1981 in Las Vegas.
The Playboy Hotel & Casino would host Spinks first title defense on November 7, 1981, in which Vonzell Johnson was stopped at 1:13 of the seventh round. Spinks would fight his next three bouts and successfully defend his light heavyweight title at the Playboy Hotel & Casino, all three via knockout in 1982. Spinks noted that he “loved the hotel jackets and t-shirts” for his fights that were provided by the Playboy Hotel & Casino. The casino was renamed the Atlantis Hotel and Casino in 1984 and eventually closed in 1999 under the name of the Trump World’s Fair, which was the original name of the casino.
Spinks fought at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City on September 18, 1982, notching a TKO over Johnny Davis, and returned to the Convention Center for his first fight in 1983, a unanimous decision win over Dwight Muhammad Qawi in which Spinks became the unified champion by picking up the WBC light heavyweight title.
After a defense of both titles in Canada over Oscar Rivadeneyra on November 25, 1983, Spinks again returned to Atlantic City, this time to the Resorts International where a unanimous decision win over Eddie David that earned Spinks the recognition of undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world (WBC, WBA, IBF). Spinks also became the International Boxing Federations inaugural champion with the win.
On February 23, 1985, Spinks again fought at the Sands Casino Hotel against David Sears, stopping Sears at 1:02 of round three. The Sands Casino closed its doors in Atlantic City in November 2006.
By this time, Spinks would regularly walk Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk on fight week and would even run daily on the beach in preparation for his bouts. “We had a routine. We would run on the beach every morning. Some of my people would run ahead of me, and sometimes I would be able to pass them!” said Spinks, who also recalled training to the tunes of Midnight Star.
Spinks defended his undisputed status in Las Vegas on June 6, 1985 in knocking out Jim MacDonald before audaciously stepping up to the heavyweight class and taking the IBF heavyweight title from Larry Holmes on September 21, 1985 via unanimous decision. The loss was Holmes first as a professional, and in a rematch on April 19, 1986, also in Las Vegas, Spinks gave Holmes his second career loss via split decision. Spinks, who also became the sports first light heavyweight champion to win a heavyweight title, had a non-title bout win over Steffen Tangstad on September 6, 1986 to end out the year.
‘Jinx’ would fight the final two fights of his career in Atlantic City, starting with Gerry Cooney in a non-title bout on June 15, 1987. For the Cooney bout, Spinks recalled training at the Trump’s Castle, then owned by President-Elect Donald Trump. “I met him a few times, but never had a sit down,” recalled Spinks of his interactions with Trump. Spinks came in an 8-5 underdog yet knocked down Cooney twice in the fifth round and scored a stoppage in the same round at 2:51.
In the final fight of Spinks legendary career, Spinks valiantly took on a prime Mike Tyson in what would turn about to be a passing of the torch to a young lion who had by then gained possession of all three major titles was about to take over the sport.
In the lead up to the fight Spinks, “Played it cool. I stayed in my hotel room, took walks on the Boardwalk. I knew I had my hands full with Tyson.”
The bout took place on June 27, 1988 and was titled “Once and For All”. The end result was a knockout loss in round one to Tyson. It was the first time Spinks had even been knocked down in his stellar career.
The fight, in which de facto promoter Trump paid an $11 million site fee to host the fight at the Trump Plaza, did garner Spinks his highest career payday with a whopping $13.5 million purse. Tyson was given a $22 million purse in what was the record given to a fighter at that time. A sold out crowd of 21,785 attended the fight and 600,000 fans purchased the pay per view.
Prior to “Once and For All”, a typical Atlantic City weekend would produce $215 million in gambling revenues. On fight weekend for Spinks vs. Tyson, the city garnered $344 million.
Spinks has not been back to Atlantic City in several years, yet fondly recalled the infamous city in which he helped popularize. In the following years, great fights took place in Atlantic City that included fighters Arturo Gatti, Bernard Hopkins, and heavyweight bouts featuring Evander Holyfield and George Foreman. To some, despite only being one round long, the Spinks/Tyson bout is the best Atlantic City fight ever.
In terms of an event and revenue, it sure was.
Spinks is hopeful that the city can restore itself to being a boxing powerhouse one day. “I would hope that Atlantic City would get back to being a boxing city.” Spinks noted he would attend boxing functions whenever they occurred in the future.
The Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame is the next great boxing event, planned for May 2017, and Spinks is more than happy to attend.
“I can’t wait to get back there and walk around. Maybe I will throw a Frisbee!”