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When Donald Trump ruled boxing

Mike Tyson & Donald Trump
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Donald Trump was briefly regarded as the sport’s most powerful man but he lost his way

THERE is no middle ground when it comes to Donald Trump. The 45th president of the United States has been known to stir the emotions like no other. But love him or loathe him, it should be remembered that at one time Trump wielded as much power within the sport of boxing as he does in today’s political arena. That was reinforced to me when I came across a story I had written for the long since defunct Boxing Scene magazine over 30 years ago, listing the 10 most powerful people in boxing. In the number-one spot was Trump. It was a position that he did not hold for long, but nevertheless Trump’s impact has resulted in him being inducted into both the Atlantic City and New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fames.

Recently Trump held a conference call of the various commissioners, encouraging them to resume their sports schedule as soon as reasonably possible. What was revealing was that no one from boxing was represented, while the UFC and WWE had Dana White and Vince McMahon respectively on the call. Both those men are the face of their sport. Apparently Trump does not think boxing has one.

Trump understandably has put boxing in his rear-view mirror. He was never a big fan, it was simply a vehicle for his casinos to make money. Whatever the reason, Trump put on high-profile events in Atlantic City such as Gerry Cooney vs Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson vs Spinks, and George Foreman vs Evander Holyfield. That he could outbid Las Vegas for massive events spoke volumes for the clout Trump wielded in the mid-1980s to early 1990s.

Trump’s relationship with Tyson was intriguing. When Tyson had managerial issues with Bill Cayton, Trump tried to move in by gaining the confidence of the champion’s wife Robin Givens and her mother Ruth Roper. When Tyson split from Givens, Trump was left on the outside looking in, but still remained on good terms with the champion’s promoter Don King, who respected Donald’s wealth enough to leave the door open for future business dealings. In fact, Trump flew to Tokyo and sat next to King the night Tyson lost to Buster Douglas.

Trump’s conduct then as now could be bizarre, such as when Dave Tiberi lost a debatable decision to James Toney in Atlantic City in an unsuccessful bid to lift the world middleweight title. An outraged Trump stormed into Tiberi’s dressing room afterward and told the fighter the verdict would be overturned. “This is not coming from my people, it’s coming from me,” Trump said before storming out. That was the last Tiberi heard from Trump.

When Tyson was convicted of rape in 1992, Trump surmised that he should still be allowed to box. Trump proposed most of Tyson’s purses be given to victims groups, but made no mention of where the rest of the profits would go.

Trump gently went back to his roots when he ran for president in 2016. Campaigning for him separately were both King and Tyson. Before a Gennady Golovkin fight at Madison Square Garden, Trump visited him as he was warming up in his dressing room, the crowd booing as the interaction was displayed on the overhead screens. Then not long after Trump was elected president, he was paid a visit by Floyd Mayweather, who he labelled as an all-time great. And of course there was the pardon Trump gave to Jack Johnson once in office.

Boxing will be no more than a footnote to Trump’s eventual legacy, but his impact at one time was undeniable.

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