Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend
This Memorial Day Weekend in Atlantic City, legions of boxing fans and members of the boxing fraternity will arrive at the city named after its neighboring ocean in waves. What is known as the weekend that unofficially begins summer on the East Coast is annually a big weekend for many of the cities and towns in New Jersey that border the ocean. “Going down the shore” on Memorial Day Weekend is a tradition for visitors from surrounding cities like New York City and especially Philadelphia. While vacation-goers spend time on the Boardwalk and at the beach or spending some cash in the casinos, this year offers a new attraction for the city as the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame (ACBHOF) will induct its inaugural class.
For Ray McCline, the founder of the ACBHOF, this upcoming weekend is the culmination of years of hard work and organization, as well as a lifetime involved with the pugilistic art form, “I was inspired by Sugar Ray Leonard in the late-’70s. Every time I would watch him fight, it was incredible. My whole family was into boxing. We used to go to the Steel Pier and watch the fights on closed circuit.” McCline, who has made a living in real estate in and around the city, has become a sort of activist for the area.
Atlantic City has fallen on economic hard times, since casino gambling expanded into areas surrounding – and even within – Philadelphia. Northern Jersey may be next later this year, which could further damage Atlantic City, if tourists from the New York area decide to stay close to home. So McCline sees this as an opportunity for the city to return to its routes of being a tourist attraction on the East Coast outside of just the casinos.
“Before gambling became legal in the late-’70s, people from all over the East Coast would come to our city. ‘A.C.’ has always been a tourist attraction,” states McCline. This weekend, the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame is just another attraction McCline believes will drive folks from all over to experience all that Atlantic City has to offer. “Our boxing history is so rich. Remember, before A.C. put on big fights at Boardwalk Hall and other venues like the Tropicana, Vegas put on only the big fights and they were held in parking lots. They would construct a temporary stadium for the fight,” remarks McCline.
After the success Atlantic City enjoyed with putting on shows year-round in their venues, Las Vegas took notice and started to construct arenas like the MGM Grand and the Mandalay Bay, so they could host big fights as often. “They couldn’t have fights during the summer ’cause the outdoor temporary setting would get too hot for the fans. Everyone knows that, from the late-’70s throughout the ’80s, A.C. was the boxing capital,” said McCline.
Of course, during the ’80s Iron Mike Tyson was the king of Atlantic City. His fight with Michael Spinks (both will be on hand to receive their honors this weekend) was witnessed by millions and over 20,000 fans packed Boardwalk Hall on that June 1988 evening. As time moved into the ’90s, the void for an attraction was filled by Arturo Gatti, who will also be honored, along with Matthew Saad Muhammad as posthumous honorees. So, with a star-studded line up being inducted on Sunday evening, fans might ask, what else will there be for boxing fanatics to engage in during their time this weekend?
“Sunday is just the culmination of the whole event,” says McCline. “The whole weekend is full of activities for fans. Friday evening, we will be welcoming everyone with a special V.I.P. reception. Saturday afternoon, there will be a fan expo, which will give fans the opportunity to interact with all of honorees. Exhibits will be throughout the nucleus of this event, which is the Claridge Hotel on the Boardwalk. Many sponsors will be on hand with interactive exhibits for fans to experience what it means to live and walk in the life of a prizefighter.
“Saturday evening is our red carpet gala, that is selling well and should be full, come Saturday night.” McCline is passionate, not just about boxing, but the city he has called home for the majority of his life. He really starts to gush when he begins to explain just what this all means to him as a lifelong member of the Atlantic City boxing fraternity.
“This is a chance for us to honor the Mike Tysons and Gattis of the sport but also fighters like Leavander Johnson, who was the first homegrown (IBF lightweight) world champion from A.C.,” said McCline. So while legendary promoters like Don King and J Russell Peltz will be in attendance and honored, guys like Don Elbaum and Mike Hall Sr., McCline’s longtime mentor, will also be honored for what they did with the sport in the city.
McCline adds, “Look, at the end of the day, I officially started working on this project in 2014 but it was something that I have always felt should have been done to honor our past. I truly believe, with the opportunity the current economics of the city are offering, this is the type of attraction that fans can look forward to in order to help revitalize A.C.” It’s clear that this has been a well-organized event that has no lack of passion behind it by those involved. Its impact on the sport and the city have yet to be determined; however, if I were indeed a gambling man, I would place my chips on black and definitely not red.
For all things Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame, including ticket information for this weekend’s festivities please visit http://www.acbhof.com.