Interview with Steve Lott

As you can imagine from the name of our website, and the content that we create, the origins of Hall of Fames and the thought process behind it is fascinating to us, and myself in particular as the owner of this site. I think it is a safe assumption to say that we know why they are created: out of the need for us to celebrate the absolute elite in any profession. Recognizing that, each Hall of Fame has their own vision, though for the Las Vegas based Boxing Hall of Fame owned and operated by Steve Lott, it was a vision decades in the making.

 Lott 1Speaking with Steve was like sitting under the learning tree of the sweet science. A historian of the sport and disciple of Jim Jacobs, Steve spoke to me about the long struggle to use their vast Boxing film library and create a Hall of Fame that celebrated just the fighters, and not the ones behind the scenes.

Opening as part of Score, a sport themed attraction at the Luxor Hotel in the Las Vegas Strip in 2012, Steve Lott has created just that, a vibrant exhibit utilizing the historical and priceless film archive and embracing the modern social media to push his product. This differentiates this Hall of Fame from all of the other Boxing related Halls and uses every square inch they are given in Boxing’s prime real estate.

We spoke about the long path to the creation of his Boxing Hall of Fame, his personal relationship with former Heavyweight Champion, Mike Tyson, and the state of Boxing itself and how he views its past, present and future.



Steve, Obviously your passion is Boxing. Was there a moment in the past, or a boxing match you witnessed growing up that made you think that this sport was going to be part of my life in some capacity?

“No. Actually it was a weird circumstance. I was the National Handball Champion when I was a kid, and the World Handball Champion was a man named Jimmy Jacobs[i] and his company along with Bill Cayton was called Big Fights[ii], which owned and controlled most of the fight films in the world.

I turned twenty-two and figured I should earn a living instead of playing Handball and going to school and I asked Jim for a job at his company. He said yes, and my job was to edit fight films all day. Ali, Lewis, Dempsey, Marciano, Robinson. That’s when I became infatuated with Boxing, and even more so when they started managing fighters.”

When did the idea originate to create this Hall of Fame? There were already other Boxing Halls of Fame, but correct me if I’m wrong, I believe yours is going for a more interactive approach?

Well, the first ideas for this came from Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton and since they own all the fight films there is no other Boxing Hall of Fame that can use the ESPN library. The others could use film of current day fighters, but not that of Ali, Lewis Dempsey or Marciano.

          What Bill and Jim wanted to do, and they got very close a couple of time is build one in either Atlantic City or Las Vegas, but it never came to fruition. When Bill Cayton eventually sold the property to ESPN for seventy-three million dollars, he kept out of the deal the exclusive rights to use the films for a Boxing Hall of Fame.

ESPN wasn’t thrilled with that because by paying seventy-three million for the company they wanted everything, but he (Cayton) promised me that he would keep the rights for the Hall of Fame, and he made good on that promise.

It was still difficult to get it all done, as the space in any casino is extremely valuable. He (Cayton) passed away in 2004, but we continued on with the fight films which we still had the right to, along with his son, Brian Cayton. Eventually, here in Vegas we got something going.”

With Las Vegas being the Mecca of Professional Boxing for many, at least certainly for people in my generation, could you imagine having the Hall of Fame in any other place than Las Vegas? Would New York City have been a viable option based on their past Boxing history?

“Well, the key is whoever paid the money to build it would want a return on the investment. No one is writing a cheque saying ‘Good Luck and Goodbye’. Whoever put up the money, be it a casino or a private individual would want their money back through admissions or merchandise. That means you have to put in place tremendous walk by traffic if you’re going to put up something great. You want people to see something great; whether it is in 42nd Street in Manhattan, or in the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Fortunately, we met a developer in Vegas who had an incredible idea to do a multi sports Hall of Fame attraction called ‘Score’ and he got space at the Luxor Hotel and I don’t know how he did it, but he made deals with every major Hall of Fame; Football, Baseball, Hockey, NASCAR to put an exhibit from each of them, and he found out that we had the exclusive rights to the (archival boxing) and that was a huge hit for him because he couldn’t get much footage from Hockey or Football or anyone else. He wanted the Hall of Fame there, we made a deal, so at least we got on the Strip in Las Vegas at a gorgeous hotel and that’s what we wanted. It’s not a complete Boxing Hall of Fame unto itself, but being next to Baseball and Basketball and Football, it’s just a wonderful place to be.”

That sounds great, as Las Vegas seems to be the place to be for what you are doing. I imagine that the walk up traffic must be very strong. Has there been a lot of good local feedback? Specifically, how has the community of Las Vegas embraced this creation?

“There’s been very little marketing that has been done by the owners and developers. All it gets is walk by traffic. Fortunately, it’s right next to the Titanic exhibit[iii] and the Bodies Exhibit at the mezzanine at the Luxor so we do good traffic from them, but there is no outside marketing done. It would be great of there were an ad in each magazine that is in the back of each seat of the airplane’s that come to Las Vegas so that people know that there is an attraction like this here. Mostly, they don’t know until they get here and happen to be at the Titanic Exhibit next door.”

Lott 2Does that bother you, or is that something that you have accepted as part of the deal?

“I was hoping that there would be a lot more marketing. It is still something that as a business that you want to see in the mainstream. You have to focus on other facets of the Hall of Fame that would put it way up there and one thing that we knew we could do really super was Facebook. We have really promoted ourselves that way.

Physically, each Hall of Fame (at the Score) has space. We have the smallest at 350 square feet. But as the expression goes, something is better than nothing, and I like the thrill and prestige of being a part of this. It may be a small space, but it is great to be in that spot.

The one thing that separates us from the other (Boxing) Halls of Fame is that we only induct fighters. That means no Managers, no Promoters, no Spit Bucket Men, no Cut Men.[iv] This (Hall of Fame) is only about the fighters only. Perhaps in other sports there maybe trainers, managers, owners or whatever that should be inducted, but in Boxing, with the possible exception of a handful of individuals in the history of Boxing there is no promoter or matchmaker or manager or cutmen that belong in there next to the fighters. We all agreed upon that.

Another thing we got from our relationships is an incredible honorary Board. Joe Louis Jr., Ryan O’Neal[v], Ed O’Neill from Married With Children[vi], Jerry Lewis, the great comedian, Mel Dick of Southern Wine & Spirits; these are the type of people we have on the Honorary Board; it blows away the other Halls of Fame.”

That sums up another reason why I wanted to talk to you. I love how your Hall of Fame glorifies the past in a way that no other Boxing Hall of Fame can do, yet still looks towards the future. You have a great personal relationship with Mike Tyson[vii], have other great boxers been as forthcoming as “Iron” Mike in supporting the Hall?

“Well, none of them really support the Hall. They appear there, they like walking through…”

I apologize, that’s what I meant, as in do they support it via appearances.

“Let me tell you an amazing story. We had Evander Holyfield here, and our exhibit is small, it is only 350 square feet. There are monitors there on Ali, Latin Legends, KO Kings of the Ring and Mike Tyson. When he (Holyfield) got to the Mike Tyson video screen he stayed there for about ten minutes and watched the loop; it is the same fights and knockouts playing over and over. It was funny to watch.

I’m not going to get (Floyd) Mayweather here, or others of that type, they’re not going to take time out. Now when these guys game by, guys like “Bonecrusher” Smith, Evander was here, Cornelius Boza Edwards and of course Mike was here at the opening which was huge.”

Going back to Mike, you work with another capacity right?

“When Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton had the fight film company, they started to manage fighters in the early 70’s. By the late 70’s the first big fighter that they managed was Wilfred Benitez from Puerto Rico.[viii] He was the World Welterweight Champion. From there they got Edwin Rosario[ix] and during that time period they were funding the training camp of Cus D’Amato.

Cus would have fighters coming through, and he told Jim that he had this kid and that he ‘would be something’ and his name is Mike Tyson. They said ‘Fine Cus, keep us in the loop.’ No one with the exception of Cus thought that; especially after he lost the Olympic trials, and then fighting in the obscurity of Upstate New York, but Cus knew that type of fighter would be sizzling.

In 1985 when he started his pro career, he fought very often, maybe two weeks, maybe ten days, and Cus committed him to take a one day break after each fight.[x] Mike would come to the city and stay in my apartment for that evening. As the fights got bigger, he would stay longer and eventually as the Heavyweight Champion he would still be sleeping on my couch but now it was now three to four weeks at a time. So he lived with me for about three years.”

It is hard to imagine the Heavyweight Champion of the World sleeping on a couch! That’s amazing!

“He loved it. He loved it because Jim Jacobs, Cus’s dear friend lived in the building. Cus knew me and permitted Mike to stay in my apartment. That was a huge plus for Mike in Mike’s brain. Cus would not permit anyone around Mike, or allow Mike around anyone unless they had some credibility. It was fun coming out of my bedroom in the morning and there on the couch is the Heavyweight Champion of the World.”

Did that change when Cus passed away, and after he joined up with Don King?

“No. That’s a common misconception. When you go back in history, it becomes compressed, as does the timeline. Mike started living with me in March of ‘85[xi]. Cus died October of ’85, where Mike had about twelve fights. After that Mike got better and better and better. Knockout after knockout. He won the title in November of ’86 against Trevor Berbick and then went on a World Heavyweight Title spree winning against James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Pinklon Thomas, unifying the titles against Tony Tucker, and then the next four fights were unbelievable against Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs and then 91 seconds over Michael Spinks.

During that time period between ’86 and ’88 he was voted the most popular athlete in the world, he was doing network television commercials for Pepsi Cola[xii], Nintendo Video, Kodak Film. He was hired, don’t laugh now, by the New York City Police Department as a spokesperson to get new recruits[xiii]. Posters were all over the city with the statement, “it takes a bigger man than me to be a New York City cop.

Here’s the kicker; the FBI and the CIA wanted Mike to do a PSA. Mike’s on camera, punching the heavy bag and he turns to the camera and says “I’m Mike Tyson and I’m telling you kids to stay off drugs.” Mike was happy, deliriously happy with his life until Robin Givens in the spring of ’88. It’s almost like a line of demarcation; from ’85 to the spring of ’88, then completely different with Robin Givens and Don King and that was the end of it. Once Robin and Mike broke up and Don jumped in, it was all over.”  

Going back to something you mentioned earlier, you mentioned that Floyd Mayweather would not appear there. Is that because he is an active competitor or is there another reason in play?

“Only because it’s so hopelessly inconsequential to him for one. Number two, there would have to be somebody around him who had authority to say to Floyd, ‘You know this would be in your best interest. You could get some great pictures, with Ali’s posters, Jack Dempsey’s posters.

He does visit the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame and they have had an induction ceremony, and he appeared there for the induction ceremony. If we had an induction ceremony, that would be different. There is television and celebrities, it would be very different.”

Let me ask you this then Steve, where do you want to see this Hall of Fame five years from now, ten years from now?

“I would love to see it be in a casino on it’s own flag, meaning having it as a Hall of Fame without the other Halls of Fame attached. That would be great, but that would be so remote a chance to happen, and I’ll tell you why. Canastota opened up around 1990.[xiv] They could never ever in ten years get to Las Vegas or Atlantic City. They’ll never do that because you need some money to rent out the space and the hotels are not interested.

The Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame here have an entity, but no space. There again, there is no one who is going to come along and offer the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame five million dollars to rent a space in a hotel. If that happened, they (the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame) would say yes, but once the investors find out that they have no fight films, the investor would say Steve Lott and his Hall of Fame has those. The investor would say how can you build a Hall of Fame without fight films? They would have no answer for that.

Finally for us, it’s the same thing. To get someplace bigger, whether it’s in New York City or Las Vegas, or the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, you need a guy with a lot of money or a hotel that says we want this product. We are very lucky to have this space on the strip in Las Vegas, but to get something bigger that would be hard. Maybe in a foreign land, that’s a big draw, that’s a magnet; especially with the films. Perhaps, Macao, where they have the hotels, but here in Vegas it would be very tough.”

You spoke about an induction ceremony. Is that something that you see in the Hall’s future?

“Yes. There again you need a lot of money. I’m very impressed that Canastota can do that and that the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame can do that. But if I had a choice of having a ceremony or having a site on the Strip in Las Vegas, and having a Facebook page that blows them away, I’d rather have what I have.

The induction ceremony takes place once a year. Sometimes they get incredibly bad press because of the people they put in; names like Don King and people like that. They got hit hard in Canastota, and here in Nevada with their Boxing Hall of Fame.

If we get somebody with money down the road, maybe a co-promotional with a TV Station that would be great but we would need the space and the world-wide eyes to make that work.”

I understand. I have to ask, in regards to the future of Boxing; some people are down on it, some are not. Still, arguably, Floyd Mayweather is the most recognizable name in Boxing today. I can argue that 99 percent of Sports fans know who Floyd Mayweather is. Conversely, I can argue that 99 percent of sports fans can not name what title he has.[xv]

Lott 3Going back to Tyson, everyone knew his name and non-sports fans knew he was the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. With all due to respect to Wladimir Klitschko, he’s not Tyson, he’s not Holyfield, he’s not Ali, he just doesn’t capture American attention.[xvi]   What do you think is the best thing that can happen for boxing’s future?

“The best thing that could happen is a Heavyweight that comes along who can explode in the ring and capture the attention of the American public. That’s going to be very remote because you need a kid who’s twelve or thirteen, and usually what happens with all those kids is that they go into Baseball, Football or Basketball.

If you have the right kid, you can explain that you can make more money as the Heavyweight Champion of the World in one championship fight than in an entire Football or Basketball career. The problem then is when they check out the (boxing) gym. It’s dusty, it’s dirty, there’s spit buckets, there’s guys being taped up with old bandages. The kid looks around and says ‘no way’. That’s why all the great fighters today are the little guys, because they can’t play Baseball, Basketball or Football; they’re too small.[xvii]

Fortunately for boxing, the Latino audience is humongous. It is exploding and they are huge boxing fans. The only reason that Mayweather is up there is because he is the best of a weak mainstream boxing group. There is no Roberto Duran, no Tommy Hearns, or Marvin Hagler or Aaron Pryor or Ray Mancini. If any of those guys were out there today, nobody would know how to spell Mayweather, because he’s very boring. The way to tell that is, if you take any one of his fights or 99 percent of them and you put them on TV and you turn off the sound and suspend disbelief and don’t know who the fighters are, nothing’s happening. Nothing.

That’s not true with Aaron Pryor or “Boom Boom” Mancini, or Hagler or of course Tyson. The public has forgotten what real excitement is. Mike was here the other day, and we watched a fight that he had first seen with Cus D’Amato in 1981 with Eusubia Pedroza[xviii]and his cousin[xix] was on the card too and the fight was unbelievable. Unbelievable!

Having a Heavyweight fighter would be the best. Second to that would be an explosive little guy; a really explosive little guy. We haven’t really seen that yet.”

Would you say that this man would need to be an American to recapture that audience?

“Either American or a Latino. Capturing the American audience would take a white kid who’s really explosive, or a black kid who’s incredibly explosive, or a Latino, though I don’t know how White America would gravitate to him, but the kid has to be explosive. He has to have a look like you stole something from him, that type of ferocity. It won’t bring the fans back from UFC, but boxing would be in a better standing. The Latino audience are very loyal to those fighters. Fortunately, there are a lot of great kids coming up who are Latino.”

Steve, thank you so much for your time!

“My pleasure”



[i] Sports Illustrated once called Jacobs the greatest Handball player of all time.
[ii] Not only did Big Fights Inc, control most of the footage, they restored a lot of old boxing film that would have been likely lost forever.
[iii] The Titanic exhibit features genuine artifacts from the famed cruise ship and are a very popular exhibit at the Luxor.
[iv] That is a valid difference. Seriously, How many Athletic Halls of Fame DON’T HAVE contributors or non-competitors in some fashion?
[v][v] Ryan played a Boxer in a film.
[vi] O’Neill was not just a “fictitious” Football player but was a legit High School and College Football player.
[vii] Tyson has visibly and verbally lent his support to this venture. He was at hand at the opening of the Hall, and images and a write-up can be found here: http://boxinghalloffame.com/mike-tyson-opens-new-boxing-hall-of-fame/  
[viii] Of note, Benitez remains the youngest World Champion in Boxing’s history.
[ix] Rosario would win the World Lightweight Title three times.
[x] He had fifteen fights in his first nine months.
[xi] That was the month of his first professional fight.
[xii] Here is one of those commercials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqsYnSmsGn8
[xiii] This is a poster from that campaign.
[xiv] Conestota refers to the International Boxing Hall of Fame located in Upstate New York.
[xv] As of this writing, Mayweather is the WBC Welterweight and Junior Middleweight Champion, WBA Welterweight and Super Welterweight Champion and The Ring Welterweight and Junior Middleweight Champion
[xvi] He has been the Heavyweight Champion of the World for the past eight years, and universally regarded as the top Heavyweight for the past ten years. Incidentally, his last twelve fights took place in Europe, mostly in Germany. His next scheduled title defense will also take place in Germany.
[xvii] Realistically, we are in the first era in Boxing history where the top draw in the United States is not a Heavyweight, or the Heavyweight Champion.
[xviii] Pedroza was from Panama and held the WBA Featherweight Title from 1979 to 1985.
[xix] His cousin was Rafael Pedroza who was a champion once in the Junior Bantamweight division.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2015 18:47
Committee Chairman

Kirk Buchner, "The Committee Chairman", is the owner and operator of the site.  Kirk can be contacted at [email protected] .

Comments   

0 #2 Committee Chairman 2014-07-18 17:58
Welcome back knuckles!
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0 #1 Knuckles 2014-07-08 12:57
Lott truly seems to be Jim Jacobs's progeny. I hope his HOF gets the space it deserves.
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