ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Nobody paid much attention to middleweight Michael Nunn's arrival in this seaside resort.
For one thing, he pulled up in the midst of a near riot Tuesday night. Hotel and casino workers, locked in a bitter strike with management, were busily bombarding their gaudy workplaces with everything from eggs to rocks and bottles, leaving shattered glass and frightened guests in their wake.
Besides, the sight of arriving fighters is as commonplace in Atlantic City as the sight of departing losers from any of the many casinos along the beach. An average of two fight cards a week are presented here.
And while most boxing fans in the San Fernando Valley might know who Nunn is, in Atlantic City they don't know the North Hollywood fighter from the Flying Nun.
So, the fighting Nunn quietly made his way through the angry crowd Tuesday without incident. You don't have to know who he is to sense that this is not the man you want to attack with an egg or anything else.
That was three days ago. The strike has since been settled. The workers are back on the job, the broken glass has been replaced and the egg stains have been washed away.
Now center stage belongs to Nunn and Mike Tinley of Camden, N.J. It's their chance to turn violent. The two will meet in tonight's 10-round main event at the Resorts International Hotel-Casino. The fight will be televised by ESPN.
And by the time it's over, Nunn hopes he finally has the attention of this community. He would like to draw a different sort of crowd prior to his departure--a media crowd.
That's the reason he's here. Meeting Tinley (19-3-1, seven knockouts), his handlers feel, is important. Meeting the Eastern media and fight people is just as important.
Nunn, 23, is like a politician who has won some primaries and is ready to test his strength in the general election. He can look back on an amateur career that included a 168-8 record and a berth as an alternate on the 1984 U.S. Olympic squad. As a professional, he is 17-0 with 11 knockouts. He has finally cracked into the elite circle in the World Boxing Assn., rising to the No. 10 spot in the rankings.
But he's still a relative unknown on the East Coast, and that's where many of the movers and shakers in the boxing world reside. Ring Magazine, boxing's major publication, is here. So are the three major networks.
So is New York's Madison Square Garden, once the Garden of Eden for the fight game. It isn't that anymore. When they talk about The Garden these days, they are usually referring to the home of the Boston Celtics. Madison Square Garden has lost a lot of business to other fight clubs in the area.
But some of the old-timers who helped run the fight business there, like matchmaker Teddy Brenner, now an employee of promoter Bob Arum, are still around, still insisting that East may be East and West may be West, but in the fight game, one is clearly best until proven otherwise.
"For years, the East has always had the best fighters," Brenner said. "We've always had more fighters to draw on here. There's Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Last year, ESPN ran a tournament in seven divisions, East against West. The West didn't win one. There are just more guys to work with, at least from the middleweight division on up.
"With the Mexican fighters, the West may have better little fighters, going down from the middleweights."
Frank Gelb, promoter at Atlantic City's Resorts International, said flatly: "There has never been a good West Coast fighter who could beat a good East Coast fighter."
Them's fighting words, and not only for Westerners.
Frankie Polo has been a part of the Atlantic City fight scene, both as a fighter and now a trainer, for 64 years. And he said with conviction: "West Coast fighters are tougher. You hit the son-of-a-bleep and the son-of-a-bleep will hit you right back."
Said Bill Gallo, veteran writer for the New York Daily News: "It used to be that once a fighter came to the old Garden, the guy was made. Now, you have to have TV exposure. In the old days, a guy would be an instant hit if he came to New York and fought. Now, maybe nobody knows who the hell he is. It's not the way it used to be here.
"Vegas is the place now, No. 1. They get the really big fights, the heavyweight fights. Madison Square Garden is trying to come back, but it's not there yet."
Whatever the reality, the perception of East Coast supremacy is there and must be dealt with by aspiring fighters such as Nunn.