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Trump Tries Luck in Fight Game

June 26, 1988|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Politics, they say, makes strange bedfellows. So, Donald Trump might add, does boxing.

After years of rubbing elbows with New York's upper crust, Trump is now in the bizarre world of boxing--a land where the millionaire developer is instead shaking hands with hair-raising Don King and bare-chested Butch Lewis.

"I enjoy it--I've always enjoyed boxing," said Trump, whose Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City, N.J., will host Monday night's Michael Spinks-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight. "Of course, my interest is also financial, but I just enjoy boxing."

Until last June, however, the closest Trump came to the fight game was his ongoing verbal brawl with long-time nemesis Mayor Edward I. Koch. Trump kept busy running his two casinos, New York's Trump Tower, and an assortment of other holdings; in his spare time, he wrote the best-selling "Trump: The Art of the Deal."

His deals soon included matching heavyweight boxers--an idea which was not new to Atlantic City, but one which Trump moved to a much larger scale after getting involved last year.

While no-name boxers with little marquee value once fought before crowds of 2,500 people, Trump brought in the big names and began drawing more than 20,000 fans to fights like Gerry Cooney-Spinks and Tyson against Tyrell Biggs and ex-champion Larry Holmes.

The bouts brought Trump tremendous publicity and threatened Las Vegas' reign as home to the big fights. The Tyson-Holmes brawl attracted celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Don Johnson, Barbara Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Cheryl Tiegs and Kirk Douglas to Trump's casino.

More importantly, each fight attracted the high-rollers who pack the casino gaming tables. For Cooney-Spinks, the amount of money spent at the casino on fight night hit $7.2 million; an average Monday in June would see about $1.2 million spent, casino officials said.

Figuring the casino to make about 15% of the total wagered, the fight mean an extra $900,000 for the Trump Plaza that night. Tacking on the two nights before and the night after the fight, the casino made an extra $1.5 million off the bout.

Monday's fight is anticipated to do at least as well for the casino, Trump said: "I got a little lucky with this one. It's turned out much, much bigger than we anticipated."

Heavy pre-fight publicity centering on Tyson's reported marital, management and mother-in-law woes haven't hurt either, although Trump discounts the rumors.

In addition to the money, Trump appears to be enjoying the notoriety of big-time boxing promotion. Prior to the Tyson-Holmes fight, Trump was introduced at ringside. And a commercial promoting the Tyson-Spinks fight shows the boxers nose-to-nose, eye-to-eye, ready to explode. Instead the two boxers stare each other down and say . . .

"Thank you, Mr. Trump," offers Spinks.

"Yeah, thank you, Mr. Trump," agrees Tyson, expressing his gratitude as much for Trump's financial outlay as his role in setting up the fight.

Tyson, 21, will pull down $20 million minimum, while Spinks will receive $13.5 million guaranteed. Trump paid $11 million to host the fight and another $2 million in expenses.

Trump, in a telephone interview from his plane this week, proudly boasted the fight will produce the largest live gate in boxing history at an estimated $13 million; ringside seats are priced at $1500.

As far as handling fight negotiations, a lifetime of cutting deals in conference rooms is scant preparation for handling the bombastic King or the bow-tied Lewis. In trying to arrange this fight, Tyson's trainers and Lewis--who represents Spinks--engaged in shouting, exchanging threats and storming out on one another.

Yet Trump has nothing but kind words for everyone who set up this fight, although he did admit to some apprehension about getting involved initially.

"They're very good businessmen," Trump said of arch-rival Lewis and King. "I've found them both to be very honorable."

Trump said his interest in boxing began in 1971 after the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden, when Smokin' Joe outpointed Ali in one of the greatest fights of all time.

"I believe Ali-Frazier I remains unequaled," said Trump, predicting the Tyson-Spinks fight could rival it while refusing to predict a winner. He does foresee a continuing battle with Las Vegas for future bouts.

"I think they'll get some and we'll get some. They're just a little upset now that I've been getting all the good fights--or most of the big fights," said Trump. "I see them getting more agressive, and maybe I'll be getting a little less agressive."

Donald Trump? A little less agressive?

"We'll see," said Trump. "I don't believe in overpaying for anything."

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