Sunset Thomas Writes One Helluva Boxing Column

Sunset Thomas writes on – Dazed, Frankie Gambino and I wandered into the Island Bar and Lounge (we’d gone right past Davy’s Locker, our usual local watering hole, the one boxing referee legend Davy Pearl opened in the 60’s).

We were still stunned over the outcome of the Pac Man/Marquez matchup. Though it wasn’t an unheard of result, watching Manny on his fanny in the 3rd was weird enough but to see him laid out cold—face on the floor—was downright unsettling!

‘Manny went down like a hooker in the front-seat of a car—face first!’ I said to Frankie.

“You ought to know!” is how he responded…

“It’s the end of an era kid,” Frankie continued. “Pac Man would be foolish to fight again.

And so in an ironic twist Floyd Mayweather doesn’t have to fight Manny and he really doesn’t have to fight Marquez again either, though that will be what the people want.

“Styles make fights kid,” Frankie said, as if reading my mind (which I guess Ghost’s can do). “Marquez counters and so does Floyd and that first fight wasn’t even close—I truly don’t think Juan Manuel would have a chance—even with his new bigger and better body.”

We raised our tumblers and downed our shots in silence.

On the other side of the bar, a lively character was holding court—old school in look with the shaded glasses, a sports coat, full head of jet black hair—his hands gesturing with great animation.

“Now there doll face, is an old school character,” Frankie chimed in.

“The type that hearken back to the glory days of this town. You wanna know what the suits can’t tell ya—talk to him.” And I decided that’s just what I’d do!

I sashayed into his circle and introduced myself—and of course, he rose from his stool and kissed my cheek while taking my hand gently in his…

His name was Mike Monreal but everyone called him “Milwaukee Mike,” because of his Wisconsin origins—he’d been in Vegas since 1967.

I asked what he’d thought of the Pacquiao/Marquez fight and he said he’d lost interest in the sport after Roberto Duran’s famous “No mas” debacle in New Orleans in 1980.

But far from being a conversation closer—he asked me a question.

“Do you know how boxing got started here in Vegas?”

The question was rhetorical because he was quick to fill in the blanks…

“Bill Miller started it kid, at the Silver Slipper and I was part of the action!”

Now that got me to sit down on the stool beside him.

I’d known of Bill Miller, of course, he was the man credited with bringing lounge acts to Vegas—he’d worked with everyone from Sinatra to Elvis, from Louis Prima to Zsa Zsa Gabor from Mae West to Barbra Streisand. His association with the squared circle, however, was something I hadn’t known and I was all ears—though I’m told that’s not my biggest asset…

“Believe it or not, the Casino’s weren’t to keen on the boxing business because the rough-and ready element that frequented fights. But Bill knew it could work and he started putting on weekly fights—every Wednesday at the Silver Slipper.”

I silently wondered how Mike had met Miller and he carried on the conversation like a clairvoyant.

“Bill owned the Thoroughbred Lounge on the Strip and that’s how we met. One of his bartenders was a fighter named Ferd Hernandez—Ferd was pretty good with his fists—he actually beat Sugar Ray Robinson!”

“Anyways, when Bill decided to give it a go at the Silver Slipper he asked me if I had any contacts in the fight game. It just so happened that I did.”

“See back in Wisconsin I was a licensed corner-man. I still had connections and so while Bill would get the local fighters—and the West Coast kids, I’d find opponents from the mid-west. I guess you could say I was his match-maker.”

Mike spoke of how those early Silver Slipper bouts ended up changing, forever, the landscape of Vegas. How the bosses couldn’t ignore the success of the sport and the action it brought to Sin City. Of course in 1963 Sonny Liston fought Floyd Patterson the Convention Center, but for the most part the casinos weren’t particularly hands on in the fight game—that certainly has changed —as Las Vegas is the fight capital of the world.

Did any particular fight stand out from those early Silver Slipper days I wondered? And Mike was quick to pounce.

“We brought in Mike Quarry, the kid brother of Irish Jerry Quarry. We brought him here the year before his brother’s second match against Ali at the Convention Center.”

“Anyways, we sort of paired the Quarry kid up with a journeyman—a guy by the name of Hill Chambers. Now this guy had hardly won a fight and it was pretty much understood that Quarry would breeze. But that’s not what happened.”

“Oh, Quarry got the decision alright but it wasn’t unanimous on the scorecards and frankly, it wasn’t all that close in the ring. That damn Chambers kid beat him. You’ve got to remember Quarry was undefeated at the time—he was being groomed, right along with his brother. You know if the fight hadn’t gone his way he’d have probably never got a shot at Bob Foster the following year at the Convention Center right here in Vegas.”

“We kind of sweated that one out—a split decision—the roll of dice, I guess you might say.” Milwaukee Mike laughed knowingly and we both ended that portion of the conversation by returning to our drinks…

Mike spoke of his long-time tenure in Vegas as a bartender at places like the Stardust, Mickey’s Appetizers (which was owned by Mickey Spinello) and the Inner Circle. He spoke fondly of the old Vegas, a town before the suits took it over.

I suspect Mike figured the conversation was going off-topic and he was quick to tell me how he ran into Sonny Liston (“biggest mitts on a man I’ve ever seen!”) at Chuck Nino’s barbershop at the Stardust (“where you could meet anyone and everyone.”)

With a big kiss and a hug I left Milwaukee Mike Monreal with his crew, moseyed over to Frankie who still doesn’t get that you can’t card count when you’re playing Black Jack on a video machine and off we went to Davy’s Locker for a mid-morning nightcap…

It was shift change when we rolled in—Chris “The Camera”Thompson was leaving and Boston Dave was just settling in.

Frankie and I found a spot at the bar and began to regal Dave with our earlier experience at the Island Lounge. A fella at the bar, with a full shock of whte hair piped up when we spoke of the Silver Slipper—his name was York.

York was born in Vegas and he had been a bartender at the Silver Slipper where his pop had been a pit boss—York has been bartending here in Vegas for 58-years.

He fondly remembered those early fights at the “Slipper” and the days when the mob operated this town.

“Howard Hughes destroyed Vegas,” York grumbled. “He brought in these efficiency experts. Suddenly, every department had to make a profit—the days of comps were killed.”

That’s what I love about Vegas—it’s a 24/7 town with as many neighborhood bars off the Strip as pips on dice—Central Casting accompanies every cocktail.

Somehow, the Chicken Ranch Brothel (where I work on occasion), came up and York took us back to Roxie’s—an illegal (wink/wink) Vegas brothel back in the day.
He spoke of all these young divorcees that would be essentially stranded in Vegas and work at Roxie’s until they could either get on their feet or remarry a mark!

When talk got back to the fight, Frankie raised a toast to Emanuel Steward. We’d watched Pac Man/Marquez on HBO and frankly, Steward’s insights were missed. After listening to the well meaning, but out of his element Roy Jones Jr. it was hard not to miss the trio of Lampley, Merchant and Steward.

Frankie said Jones laughs too much, “He’s always cackling that guy. Thing is, he had the funniest line of the night when he stated that Marquez wouldn’t knock down Pac Man again (after his 3rd Round drop) because of Manny’s adjustments—just a stupid thing to say under any circumstance but laughable when you consider the eventual outcome of the fight.”

“I wish they put that Harold Lederman in the mix,” Frankie groaned. “Lampley is sharp as hell. Merchant is a curmudgeon —you get the feeling he’d rather have a martini than a microphone in his hand—but he’s old school and I like the guy’s guts. But all in all it was an epic fight and HBO still has the corner on coverage.”

I agreed but I blew a silent kiss to my guy Teddy Atlas…

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