Bunce Diary: Seven heavyweight fights took place on a forgotten night in Atlantic City 25 years ago

By Steve Bunce

THERE was a heavyweight bill in a Donald Trump property in Atlantic City the night before Lennox Lewis and Shannon Briggs met.

It was easy to grab a ticket and walk against a squall up the Boardwalk to the Trump Marina Hotel Casino. The place was already faded and that made it the perfect home for the seven heavyweight fights. It was a mixed list and that is probably being kind.

If Johnny Bos was still alive, I could probably find out just how much each of the 14 men were paid; I’m thinking one or two would have been lucky to leave with five grand in their pocket. Maybe less, to be honest. It was 1998, desperate days for the heavies. It was also a desperate time to be in Atlantic City.

There is also a good chance that some of the men were fighting for free, knowing their purse was spent and that at the end of eight rounds they would be leaving the ring without a penny. Yeah, it was that type of bill.

Greg Page was fighting for the 66th time and he won over eight rounds against Marion Wilson; there are no more Marion Wilsons left in the boxing business and there will never be. Wilson finished his career with 12 wins, 41 defeats; 25 or more were fights against top 10 boxers, including seven world heavyweight champions. He was barely six feet tall, at his best under 15 stone and he was never stopped. Never, that is some record. Anyway, the fight with Page was poor.

I have no idea if Trump was there to lead the applause at ringside. I seem to remember that he was, but he was just some property guy, who may or may not have taken a famous boxer’s wife out on a private boat. Hey, that was the story.

In the nominal main event, Lawrence Clay-Bey moved to eight and zero when he stopped Nate Tubbs in four rounds. Tubbs was done by David Tua a few months later; he then took 17 years out, came back and was done in the first by Mike Middleton. Yep, the man who was plucked from Disneyland to fight Audley Harrison in his debut. By the way, Bos made that match.

Clay-Bey had a bronze medal from the World amateurs in Berlin in 1995 and lost in the Atlanta Olympics to Wladimir Klitschko. He never quite made it, never got the shot as a pro.

Unbeaten Monte Barrett won for the 15th time when he stopped Jeff Pegues in the first round. Pegues had only previously lost twice in 17 fights; soon after the Barrett loss he went on a losing streak of nine, all by knockout. No doubt, Pegues had a story to tell – they all do, the ones that fall short of their dreams. Barrett never quite made it and in 2006 was stopped by Nikolai Valuev in his world title fight. He had some good wins, and he had some hard defeats. The bill in Atlantic City was home to a lot of decent heavyweights who fell short. There was, looking at the fight card now, not a lot of hope in the ring that night.

Lance Whitaker was also unbeaten in 14 fights and won over eight against Garing Lane. This is such a typical Nineties heavyweight fight, the type that opened Don King bills at 3pm in Las Vegas. Whitaker was about eight feet tall, once feared and considered a threat. He was the type of opponent Lennox Lewis had with his breakfast cereal.

Whitaker seemed to revel in the nickname, Mount Goofi. He was, like Barrett, in some good wins and bad defeats. He never got the world title shot but met and beat men that did. It was a roller-coaster division back in 1998; the lost generation were mostly too old, fighting for scraps and on memory, but they could all fight – this generation had something missing.  Clay-Bey, Barrett and Whitaker would never get out of the lost generation’s shadow.

Lane was another classic heavyweight from a very different dimension. He fought and lost all over the world; he lost to Trevor Berbick in Cannes, Corrie Sanders in London and Riddick Bowe in Atlantic City. The trio of world heavyweight champions all beat him on points. Lane was well under six feet and at his heaviest was close to 23 stone. It’s hard not to admire a man like Lane; he finished with 39 defeats and 22 wins. Forget the numbers.

Phil Jackson had lost a WBC heavyweight title fight to Lennox Lewis in Atlantic City in 1994, and was in an easy win against Bryant Smith, a serial loser. Smith was a rare anonymous fighter on the bill.

On the long night it was just a constant line of heavyweights in mostly uncompetitive fights. A blur of overweight, short men and just one or two with a flourish.

Fres Oquendo had that flourish. He was five and zero on the night but was made to really work for his tight decision win over Richie Brown. One judge had a draw after four rounds. Brown lost for the fourth time and never boxed again; Oquendo is still dreaming at nearly fifty and waiting for a WBA title fight that he claims he was once promised.

I think that another Johnny Bos fighter, Abdul Muhaymin, opened the show with a loss over four rounds to Jermell Barnes. They might have both been Bos fighters. I can’t remember this fight, but I can remember Muhaymin, who was once known as Tom Stevenson, losing in one round to Frank Bruno at the Royal Albert Hall in 1982. I know Bos made that match.

It was a mixed night and the endless line of heavyweight nights planned for Saudi Arabia will be the same. There will be a lot more ambition and cash in the Riyadh ring, but there were some hidden gems in that old Atlantic City fight night.

Greg Page looks on during a bout against Donovan Ruddock (Holly Stein/Allsport)

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