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Former Las Vegas boxing executive, sportscaster dies

Long before the Golden Knights, Raiders and an upcoming Super Bowl called Las Vegas home, the sports world set its eyes on the major championship boxing bouts negotiated and staged by Strip resorts sports executive Bob Halloran.

“A bygone era,” said Bob Arum, CEO of the boxing promotional company Top Rank. “He was an integral part of the boxing business during its golden age. He was a very, very terrific guy.”

Halloran, who ascended from a young local sportscaster in Florida to a revered boxing executive in the entertainment capital of the world, died Sunday in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

He was 87.

He was a sports executive at the Caesars Palace and the Mirage from the late 1970s to the early 2010s, staging fight nights that put boxing icons in the ring, to include: Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

“We extend our sincere condolences to the Halloran family,” MGM Resorts International said in a statement. “Bob played a significant role in establishing Las Vegas as the home of championship boxing and leaves behind an important legacy in the sports industry.”

Halloran “was an important figure in our history,” UNLV historian Michael Green said Tuesday, noting during the time Caesars hired Halloran in 1978, Las Vegas was establishing itself as the “boxing capital” of the world.

But the city was also in a transitional period, Green said, when new casinos were not being built and the resort industry was shedding its mob ties and its “polyester” look.

Halloran’s boxing events were fixtures in Las Vegas’ shift into glamorous modernity, said Green, recalling a photo of Jack Nicholson sitting ringside at one of the major fights, wearing sunglasses and gripping a martini, “of course.”

“He did a lot to make it bigger,” Green said about boxing’s legacy. “Most sports broadcasters don’t go into the management side, at least to that degree.”

Sports broadcasting, and Cassius Clay

Halloran was born on April 19, 1934, in New Bedford, Mass.

After graduating from University of Miami in 1962, he joined the Florida city’s CBS affiliate as a sportscaster, before the national broadcaster hired him as a correspondent, dispatching him to training camps.

Halloran was said to have interviewed Muhammed Ali hundreds of times, but perhaps his most famous occurred in the mid-60s when the U.S. government classified Ali — then a young fighter known as Cassius Clay — eligible for the military draft while the Vietnam War raged on.

Working on a tip, Halloran secured the exclusive talk.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong,” the fighter was quoted as saying.

Arum recalled the story on Tuesday, noting that Halloran had showed up to Ali’s house and unplugged the phone lines so he would not be scooped as the news began to spread.

Arum also remembers fight promotional tours that he embarked on with Halloran, and how Halloran resembled actor Robert Redford, then a major Hollywood star.

Women would swarm them at airports, Arum said. Halloran, who shared first names with the actor, went along with. To not “disappoint them,” he would sign autographs as “Bob.”

“I wish there were more people like Bob Halloran around boxing today, who will take it to the next level,” said retired Boxing Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez on Tuesday.

Cortez officiated several Halloran-staged mega fights.

“Bob meant so much for boxing. He was a pioneer when it came to the development of streaming boxing in the right direction here in Las Vegas, Nevada,” he said. “When the history books are written about boxing, the pioneers of boxing, Bob Halloran will definitely be on top.”

Halloran, an avid golfer who staged several big tournaments and even won a PGA event as an amateur, went on to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012.

“There never was a golf course that he didn’t love,” Arum said.

Friend and mentor

About six months ago, Bellator MMA CEO Scott Coker visited Halloran in Southern California.

Coker had digitized interviews Halloran had conducted with the likes of Joe Namath, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ali, Don Shula and other hall of fame athletes, because he wanted to show them to him.

“It was unbelievable,” Coker said Tuesday. Although Halloran’s health appeared to be deteriorated, he recognized himself on the screen when asked who it was.

Coker, who was “coming up, learning the international fight business,” organized kickboxing events at the Bellagio, where Halloran staged them from 1998 to 2007. The veteran executive quickly became a “good mentor” and a close friend, he said.

Halloran helped bridge the relationships between the fighters, promoters and the resorts, said Coker, theorizing that it must have not been easy, but “he made it happen.”

Coker said he was saddened by Halloran’s passing, and that he will miss him, but that “his legacy will go on, and I’m so lucky to call him my mentor and my friend.”

“One thing is sure, he lived a good life,” Arum said.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.

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