If you’ve seen any boxing events along the East Coast in the past 40 years, you likely have one man to thank for it: Frank Gelb.
In a career that has spanned more than four decades, Gelb has worked to promote some of the biggest names in boxing, and has since turned his attention to the biggest names in opera.
It’s a varied career that will be celebrated on Memorial Day weekend, when Gelb will be inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame.
“I loved it,” the 80-year-old Gelb said in a recent interview while remembering his career. “I didn’t want to see either fighter get hurt, I loved it so much.”
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Since 1973, Gelb has worked as a promoter, bringing boxing events to locales throughout the region. Often, he worked with his son, Neil — who is now a Center City personal injury lawyer — who would set up the rings for the fights.
But when asked about some of his most memorable fights, Gelb said he clearly remembers the first fight he brought to the casinos in Atlantic City — Howard Davis Jr. vs. Luis Davila on Nov. 4, 1978.
It was his first time promoting fights for Atlantic City casinos, but it was far from his last because, Gelb said, in those days, he was the only individual with the license that allowed him to promote boxing in the city.
“I had the license — no one challenged it. That was the rule at the time,” said Gelb. “Nobody really wanted to promote. Atlantic City was a dying town at the time. … When the casinos opened, I automatically morphed into their promoter.”
Over the years, he said, Gelb worked with great local boxers, like Matthew Franklin, Leroy Roberts and Tyrone Everett. Gelb said he had close relationships with many boxers. In fact, Everett’s death — the promising young boxer was murdered by his girlfriend in 1977 — had a profound impact on him, Gelb recalled.
“That took a lot out of me,” Gelb recalled. “I felt that he was robbed of his chance to be a champion.”
Gelb also worked to promote the greatest fight that, he felt, was ever held in Philadelphia, Matthew Franklin vs. Marvin Johnson. The April 22, 1979, fight was named one of the best 100 title fights of all time by The Ring magazine.
In fact, Gelb said the he worked on so many fights — especially during the 1987 strike of the National Football League, which left networks scrambling for sporting events to air — that for some time he was working several fights a day at a variety of casinos all along the Atlantic City boardwalk.
“I would do two or three fights in the same day at the different networks,” he said. “Boxing was an easy event to televise.”
In more recent years, Gelb has gotten into promoting opera. In fact, his only client currently is opera superstar Andrea Bocelli. The shift from fisticuffs to falsettos, he said, happened by chance when he was asked to help promote shows for a singer he had never heard of — Luciano Pavarotti.
“I didn’t know anything about opera,” Gelb said, noting that he asked the singer’s weight out of habit, and was told, “He’s the biggest heavyweight you’ll ever meet.”
“I know a lot more about it now,” Gelb joked about opera.
Frank Gelb will be inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame during a ceremony to be held on Sunday, May 28, at Atlantic City’s Brighton Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit acbhof.com