Boxing promoter J Russell Peltz always knew that if he ever got around to writing a book, it would be called, “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye.”
Peltz, a part-time Ventnor resident who staged shows in Philadelphia and Atlantic City during his 50-year career, got the idea for the title from junior-middleweight John “Wildcat” Saunders, a part-time hairdresser who fought on Peltz’s second-ever card in 1969 at Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon.
“I offered him $50 for a four-round fight,” Peltz said from his Ventnor home last month. “He thought it was insulting at first, but wound up agreeing to it. He fought Roland Marshall and got knocked out in the second round after getting cut. We deducted $10 for his license, $8 for medical insurance and $1.50 for city wage tax, leaving him with $30.50. He picked up the cash, shook his head, and said, ‘Thirty dollars and a cut eye.’”
Boxing is the reason why Peltz and his wife, Linda, spend most of their time in Ventnor.
He was at the shore so often as a promoter and matchmaker with Ventnor’s Frank Gelb that they bought a home on New Haven Avenue on Aug. 1, 1980.
Gelb lives across the street.
“Frank is the one who brought boxing back to Atlantic City,” Peltz, 74, said.
The duo held five cards in what is now the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in 1973, starting with a March 24 show that year that featured Bridgeton light-heavyweight Richie Kates. Five months later, 18-year-old Mike Rossman, a light-heavyweight from Turnersville, made his pro debut at the beach.
Peltz soon found himself spending more and more time in Atlantic City. In 1979, he worked as a matchmaker, ticket seller and TV analyst for PRISM’s “Tuesday Night Fight” cards at Steel Pier involving popular heavyweights Duane Bobick and Randall “Tex” Cobb, as well as future light-heavyweight world champions Matthew Saad Muhammad (Matthew Franklin) and the “Camden Buzzsaw,” Dwight Muhammad Qawi (Dwight Braxton).
“I was getting $50 per show,” Peltz said with a laugh. “By the time I got finished driving back and forth from Philadelphia and having dinner, it was a losing proposition.”
That was also the year Peltz took over as the Atlantic City promoter for Top Rank’s boxing tournament on a new network called ESPN.
Thus began a surge that turned Atlantic City into a boxing mecca. From 1982 through 1985, the resort hosted a whopping shows, including 140 in 1982 and 144 in 1985. Most of the casinos at the time — Atlantis, Bally’s, Claridge, Golden Nugget, Harrah’s, Playboy, Resorts, Sands, Tropicana and Trump Plaza — had weekly cards. Even as late as 1990, Atlantic City was averaging one boxing card a week.
It was a magical time for boxing on the Boardwalk. A record 22,780 fans watched Mike Tyson knock out Michael Spinks at Boardwalk Hall on June 27, 1988. Three years later, 20,000 showed up to seen Evander Holyfield beat George Foreman on April 19, 1991.
Former Caesars Entertainment consultant Ken Condon did his best to keep the sport alive with bouts featuring the late Arturo Gatti and Kelly Pavlik, but it has since faded. Boardwalk Hall hasn’t had a fight in its main arena since Sergey Kovalev defeated Bernard Hopkins on Nov. 8, 2014.
It’s reached its low point this year. There have been three boxing cards, all at Showboat Hotel.
Peltz worked with hundreds if not thousands of boxers through the years. Bennie Briscoe, Jeff Chandler, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Kates and Rossman are among the former champions and contenders. Local boxers like Atlantic City’s Osnel Charles, Millville’s Thomas LaManna and Wildwood’s Chuck Mussachio also fought on his cards.
He’s got a soft spot for Charles, a 37-year-old native of Haiti who moved to Atlantic City in 2001 after graduating high school in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Charles got off to a 9-2 start behind trainer/manager Arnold Robbins of Egg Harbor Township. Soon after signing with Peltz, he struggled, winning just one of his next 16 fights from 2012 to 2016.
“I wish my career would have turned out better, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” Charles said. “It’s because of boxing that I have a friend for life and that friend is Russell Peltz.”
Two weeks ago, Peltz held a book signing at Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena. Charles attended the event and got a copy of the book. Peltz signed it for him, but made him promise to read the entire book without fast-forwarding to the end.
When Charles married Catherine Reynolds in 2018, Peltz and Robbins served as his co-best men.
It remains one of Peltz’s most special memories.
“Osnel Charles won’t win a world title, but he won my heart with that honor,” Peltz wrote in the book’s epilogue. “Money can’t buy that.”
David Weinberg’s columns can also be found on his Dave Weinberg Extra Points Facebook page and blog, as well as on 973ESPN.com. His podcast, Dave Weinberg’s Tequila and Touchdowns, can be heard on Anchor, Facebook and Twitter. You can also hear him 5:10 p.m. every Monday at Newstalk 1400-AM WOND and WONDRadio.com on Off the Press with Scott Cronick. His Weinberg Wednesday segment airs at 6:15 p.m. weekly on 97.3-FM ESPN.