Extra Points: A.C. Needs Boxing Back on the Boardwalk
New Jersey Athletic Control Board Commissioner Larry Hazzard will be sitting ringside for the much-anticipated rematch between World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOS) on Feb. 22.
Instead of supervising the fight at Atlantic City's Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, however, Hazzard will be scoring the bout as an unofficial judge for ESPN and Fox Sports during the pay-per-view event at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Hazzard, 75, who is in his 29th year as the head of New Jersey's governing body for combative sports, would prefer to overseeing the bout in Atlantic City than serving as a TV judge.
"C'mon Atlantic City casinos," Hazzard wrote on Facebook Wednesday night. "Let's bring big events like this back to New Jersey!!"
The last so-called big fight at Boardwalk Hall happened six years ago, when light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalav beat legendary Bernard Hopkins via 12-round, unanimous decision on Nov. 8, 2015.
Incredibly, nearly 13 years have passed since a heavyweight championship fight took place in Atlantic City. The last one was on June 2, 2007, when Sultan Ibragimov upset World Boxing Organization champ Shannon Briggs with a 12-round, unanimous decision.
It's a far cry from when Atlantic City was the "Boxing Capital of the World" and heavyweights were the kings of the boardwalk.
There was about a 15-year span from the late-1980s until 2005 or so when the division dominated the action. Mike Tyson fought 13 times in Atlantic City, including a two-year run that saw him notch devastating, gasp-inducing knockouts over Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks and Carl Williams, respectively.
A sellout crowd of 21,785 watched Tyson's 91-second victory over Spinks on June 27, 1988 at Boardwalk Hall. Three years later, over 20,000 showed up for Evander Holyfield's 12-round win over George Foreman.
All the big hitters fought in A.C. Tyson, Holyfield and Foreman were among an impressive group that also included Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko. Other talented and popular heavyweights such as Shannon Briggs, Gerry Cooney, Andrew Golota, Ray Mercer and Tommy Morrison fought there.
Bowe will be inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame this summer, joining previous inductees Holmes, Holyfield, Spinks, Tyson and Bruce Seldon, who became Atlantic City's first world champion when he won the World Boxing Association heavyweight title in 1995.
The landscape changed a bit when Boardwalk Hall underwent a $98-million renovation that reduced its seating capacity for boxing to around 14,000. The arena reopened on June 1, 2002, when Holyfield earned a bizarre, eighth-round technical decision over Hasim Rahman after Rahman developed a hematoma on his forehead that swelled to the size of a tennis ball.
Over the years, boxing has faded in Atlantic City like a summer tan in February. Financial troubles prompted President Donald Trump to give up hosting fights. So did Caesars Entertainment, led by consultant extraordinaire Ken Condon, to shy away from hosting fights. Other properties simply chose to give up holding fights in their arenas.
Boxing seems to be slowly making a comeback, however. The two newest casinos in town, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort, have hosted boxing events at Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena and Ovation Hall, respectively. Bally's Atlantic City has one on March 7.
There was even a brief rumor late last year that Wilder-Fury II would be at Hard Rock.
It obviously turned out not to be true, but maybe it's a sign that big-time heavyweight bouts will finally find its way back to Atlantic City.
The state of boxing appears to be improving.
It would nice if that state was New Jersey.