Boxing doesn’t really have a home. It moves with the tides and takes up root in major arenas around the world.
World class fighters display their talents in the UK, USA and even Saudi Arabia. Yet there’s long been a special connection between boxing and Las Vegas. The Strip is not only home to the world’s greatest casinos and poker rooms, but has also played host to some of the most iconic boxing matches of all times.
There’s plenty to be said about the East Coast. New York is also home to major boxing events. The ‘Fight of the Century’ between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier took place at Madison Square Garden, and so too did the recent upset between Ruiz and Joshua.
New York was arguably the home of boxing in the early days, though many of the fights were between brawlers, and hardly produced the iconic matches that many would have expected at the time. In 1960, NBC pulled the plug on the regular televised shows coming out of NYC, and the action moved over to the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Vegas Takes Root as Boxing Capital
When boxing first moved to Vegas in the 1960s, the Las Vegas Convention Centre became the place to be for major matches. The venue was close enough to the casinos and poker tables to satisfy the punters, yet the indoor arena was perfect for TV broadcasts. It was here where Sonny Liston fought his epic rematch with Floyd Patterson.
As the years progressed, boxing was already doing the hotel and casino chains a lot of favours, bringing in high-paying punters who were more than willing to bet and gamble huge amounts of money. Yet the casinos wanted a bigger slice of the action. Not satisfied with the extra poker and slot revenues that boxing fans brought to the city, they started to host their own fights.
Caesars Palace, home to some of the best poker tournaments in Las Vegas, were quick off the mark. In 1976, George Foreman fought Ron Lyle. The fight, which has been described as being held in a “long metal and asbestos shed”, won Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. As the boxing fanbase grew, Caesars built makeshift stadiums that were assembled and taken down on a per-fight basis.
Although the tickets from these fights brought in revenue, most of the profits of the casinos were derived from an age-old strategy of keeping punters within the premises so that they spent money on gambling, hotels, food and merchandise. Holmes Vs Ali is a great example. The fight itself is now considered a one-sided flop, but at the time reportedly whipped up a frenzy at the gaming tables.
Vegas was already known for being the gambling capital of the world. The city now has 130 casinos and holds regular poker tournaments, both as part of casino’s regular schedules and as one-off events. Since the 70s, it has also been growing as the nation’s home of boxing and still has awesome fights to this day.
As a result, the boxing industry in Vegas is inextricably linked to the gambling and hotel industries. Boxing brings in high paying tourists who then spend money at casinos, poker rooms and other places on the Strip. Although there are too many to mention here, let’s take a look at some of the fights that made it happen in Vegas.
Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns (1981)
Caption: Sugar Ray Leonard was one of the early greats of the Las Vegas Strip
This was a legendary Las Vegas fight by all accounts, in regards to both the fight itself and the atmosphere and celebrity attendance. Muhammad Ali, Frazier, Larry Holmes, Jack Nicholson, Bill Cosby and more recognisable faces were at Caesars that night to watch Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns battle it out.
Many expected an easy win for Leonard, but that wasn’t to be the case. Hearns took the lead on the cards, showing particular dominance in the 9th through 12th rounds. By late on in the fight,
Leonard’s eye was so badly swollen it was nearly closed shut. Cornerman Angelo Dundee was heard shouting words of encouragement, “you’re blowing it son, you’re blowing it!”. This woke Sugar Ray Leonard up a bit, and he delivered a battering in the 13th round and a stunning win in the last few minutes of the fight.
Hearns was later involved in another iconic Vegas fight, his match against Marvin Hagler which was dubbed “The War”. Though this bout ended after just eight minutes, the first round is still considered one of the best in boxing.
Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield (1992)
Although Sugar Ray Leonard won the fight against Hearns, he couldn’t be found out partying or playing poker after his victory. He was in the dressing room, badly wounded and contemplating retirement. It would be Leonard’s last bout as a full-time fighter. This left more space in Vegas for favourites like George Foreman, Iron Mike Tyson and new blood like Evander Holyfield.
Tyson was only 20 when he had his first fight, an undercard match against Alfonso Ratliff at the Vegas Hilton in 1986. By the time he came back to the Strip for a six-fight deal with Don King at the MGM Grand nearly a decade later, Mike was past his prime. He still gave us some decent fights, but was never the same after his time in prison.
In 1996, Holyfield took Tyson’s crown with a TKO win in the 11th round, albeit after a nasty headbutt and low blow earlier on in the fight. The rematch led to the ‘Bite Match’, iconic for the moment Tyson bit a chunk out of Holyfield’s ear.
Holyfield’s greatest fights in Vegas were against the huge beast of a man, Riddick Bowe. The 1992 fight between the pair generated over 900,000 views on PPV. It was a brutal onslaught from the beginning, with both men slogging it out. It was Bowe who eventually got the points decision, leading to an exciting trilogy – Holyfield won the second fight and Bowe got the stoppage in the third fight.
Triple G vs. Canelo
Of course, there are dozens of epic Las Vegas fights that could be mentioned here, but one of the modern day greats has to be Triple G vs. Canelo. Two legends battling it out for the unified middleweight championship, a division that is usually overshadowed by heavyweight battles.
The show didn’t disappoint. The fancy footwork of Alvarez was met by the early jab of Canelo until the fight crescendos with exhilarating toe-to-toe exchanges in later rounds. Not without controversy, Alvarez won the fight by split-decision draw, despite GGG outlanding him in 10 out of 12 rounds.
This controversial decision led to a highly anticipated rematch a year later, again at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. After another 12-round thriller, Canelo once again took the points decision, leaving some believing Golovkin was robbed for the second time.
Still, it’s better than watching Floyd Mayweather dance around the ring until he beats Manny Pacquiao by decision.
Canelo Vs GGG first fight highlights
Alongside its casino resorts, poker tables, clubs and restaurants, Vegas will continue to play host to some of the greatest boxing fights in the world. The bright lights and buzzing atmosphere of the city provide the perfect backdrop for boxing events. Upcoming matches include Canelo Vs Kovalev and Wilder Vs Ortiz while we can only imagine how many more classics will come in the future.