Pia Zadora threw a hot dog in the ring at the Holmes-Spinks fight at the Riviera Hotel

Aug. 28, 2012

By Royce Feour
Rank (or status) hath its privileges. Was that what Pia Zadora was thinking? Or was she even thinking. Probably just reacting.
I saw a lot of bizarre and unusual incidents in 42 years of covering professional boxing in Las Vegas. Most of them involved the fighters, of course. Even in the infamous “Fan Man” fiasco at the Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe heavyweight championship fight at Caesars Palace, the fighters were directly affected by a long delay. The “Fan Man” became famous for his act although he suffered a beating by the folks in Bowe’s corner.
Zadora was a very small but an interesting sidelight of the story at the first Larry Holmes-Michael Spinks heavyweight championship fight in the parking lot behind the Riviera Hotel on Sept. 21, 1985.
Zadora was a popular singer but more to the point for the incident, the reason for this column was that she was married to Riviera Hotel owner Meshulam Riklis.
Even in 1985 I had covered countless important championship fights and there was never a controversial incident involving the host hotel owner’s wife. To even think there would be one would be unfathomable.
But something did happen involving Zadora. She was sitting in the first row on the East side of the ring. I was sitting to her right in the first row of the press section.
At or near the bell for the end of a round, I saw Zadora throw something in the ring. Duane Ford, chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission at the time, said it was a hot dog.
In discussing the incident recently, Ford said, “The referee did something and the crowd reacted.”
Ford said the referee had warned one of the fighters. It may have been for hitting after the bell or a low blow. Whatever it was upset Zadora.
Ford went over to Zadora and I could see he was scolding her.
Ford said he told Zadora, who was standing up and yelling, ‘You can’t throw things in the ring. You do it again and we’ll have security take you out. She was embarrassed at first. (Then) she laughed,” Ford said.
I remember thinking to myself at the time, “She is married to the owner of the hotel. What are they going to do to her?”
I just can’t believe a hotel security guard is going to eject the owner’s wife. No way.
If someone from the crowd had run up to ringside and tossed a hot dog in the ring in a similar fashion, I have to think they would have been removed from the temporary stadium by hotel security at once. The Nevada commission wouldn’t even have been consulted. There would have been no warnings.
That is why “Rank (status) hath its privileges.” And being the hotel owner’s wife is a heck of a status when his hotel is the host for the fight.
Zadora and Riklis had been married eight years earlier when she was 23 and he was 54. They were divorced in 1993.
The fight itself was so good and historic that Zadora’s incident received almost no attention in the press. I don’t think many writers even noticed it.
Spinks took a 15-round unanimous decision to become the first light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight (IBF) championship. That was one huge historic angle.
The other was that Holmes had been undefeated coming into the fight with a record of 48-0. Holmes was trying to equal Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0, but he fell short. That was also huge.
The third reason there was virtually no coverage of Zadora’s incident was that Holmes was a story in itself at the post-fight press conference.
I had covered all of Holmes’ championship fights in Las Vegas and I had never saw him so bitter and antagonistic as he was at the press conference. He blasted the judges for the decision. (Two judges had Spinks winning by three points and one judge had Spinks winning by one point.) Holmes said the judges could kiss him where the sun doesn’t shine.
Holmes was also disrespectful, to say the least, of Marciano, who was a treasured fan favorite of the general public.
Holmes said, “(Marciano) couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”
Given all of that, it is little wonder that virtually no writer wrote about the Pia Zadora incident. But I don’t forget owner’s wives throwing things in the ring.
I was reminded of the Zadora incident when she appeared at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in late July.
I have heard unofficially that she may return for more appearances at the Smith Center. I certainly hope no one throws anything on the stage when she is performing.
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