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Boxing and the city of Las Vegas are a combination as classic as Lennon and McCartney, Jack and Coke, or Christmastime and snow.

The City of Lights has been home to some of the most iconic and infamous fights of all time, and has become practically synonymous with the sport. From Muhammad Ali to Sugar Ray Leonard; Mike Tyson to Oscar De La Hoya and, most recently, to Floyd Mayweather, the most iconic fighters of all time made Vegas their home.

While in the earliest days of the sport, where fights would still be listened to on the radio, New York was the real home to boxing, with the advent of television New York boxing venues saw a big decline in attendance. It was then that Vegas- known for its spectacle and, of course, being the gambling capital of the world- stepped in and took boxing under its umbrella, knowing that the ability to bet on the fights would be a huge draw for fans. Before long, boxing had grown completely entrenched in the town’s DNA. 

While Vegas may have lost its status as the gambling mecca of the world to Macau in the last few years, and online sportsbooks and casinos now allow fans to bet on the fights from home, Vegas still continues to be the undisputed premiere destination to host the biggest and most emblematic fights in the boxing world. Even if gamblers across the world may prefer the privacy of playing anonymously from home these days, these mega events keep drawing them back to Vegas for an unrivalled spectacle.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the boxing matches throughout the decades that were responsible for making Vegas the boxing capital of the world.

Larry Holmes vs. Ken Norton

Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion

June 9, 1978

Few would have ever thought that a bout between Ken Norton, WBC heavyweight champion only after Leon Spinks defaulted the title, and Larry Holmes, better known for being one of Muhammed Ali’s sparring partners, would yield one of the most memorable nights in boxing history.

A marathonic 15 rounds slugfest, there was nothing to separate both fighters after 14 rounds, with all 3 judges awarding them a 7-7 split. Knowing that the championship hedged on the last round, both fighters came out swinging in what is often referred to as the greatest final round in heavyweight history.

While Norton grabbed the advantage with an uppercut that sent Holmes’ mouthpiece flying, Holmes managed to recover and turn things around with a furious combination that almost laid Norton on the mat. That late round comeback turned out to make the difference, giving Holmes the win in a split decision victory and awarding him a heavyweight belt he’d retain for another 7 years.

Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns

Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion

Sept. 16, 1981

Perhaps the most emblematic fight in Sugar Ray Leonard’s storied career, his battle against Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns is the stuff of legends. Leonard had complete control of the match up till the 7th round, where Hearns started coming out of his shell to disrupt what was looking like a sure win for Leonard. By the end of the 12th round, Sugar Ray’s left eye was practically swollen shut, and Hearns was leading big on all three cards.

After a pep talk by legendary trainer Angelo Dundee (“You’re blowing it, son! You’re blowing it!”), Leonard came out in search for a knockout - the only realistic way he’d win. Leonard’s masterclass performance in the 13th and 14th round was arguably the best of his career, going on the offensive and knocking Hearns off balance with powerful combinations and blink and you miss it punches. Pinning Hearns against the ropes twice with little answer, the referee finally called the fight for Sugar Ray. This unlikely comeback made Leonard into a veritable superstar.

Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns

Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion

April 15, 1985

Known by practically all who saw it as the “greatest fight in Las Vegas boxing history”, Marvin Hagler vs Tommy Hearns may have only lasted 8 minutes and a second, but it will live on in the annals of history forever.

Billed as “The War”, one of the most ruthless and exhilarating matches to ever grace the sport, Hagler and Hearns had managed to build a healthy enmity with each other during the pre-fight promotion and they certainly brought it in with them to the ring, making the fight absolutely personal. Since the opening bell, both fighters traded vicious haymaker after another in what is commonly known as the most action packed first round in history. One of Hearn’s punches packed so much, that it even broke his hand upon making contact withHagler’s skull.

While rounds 2 inevitably slowed down the tempo slightly, both fighters brutal assault continued, leaving Hagler bleeding profusely. Determined to end the fight before a doctor did, he came out in the 3rd determined to knock down Hearns, and he did just that with a brilliant combination that sent Hearns violently to the mat. While a semi-conscious Hearns somehow managed to get up before the 10 count, the ref decided the fight had had enough and signals Hagler as the winner.

Riddick Bowe vs.Evander Holyfield

Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion

Nov. 6, 1993

A fight known just as much for its boxing as for the most infamous interruption to ever grace the ring, “The Real Deal” and “Big Daddy” faced off for the second time in one of the greatest heavyweight matches of all time.

A year earlier Bowe had managed to take the Heavyweight belt from Holyfield after an epic performance, where he used his superior weight, strength and speed to hand Holyfield his first ever defeat.

The rematch started with great intensity, as both boxers attempted to assert themselves and take control of the match However, during the 7th round the most unexpected of interruptions descended from the sky, as James Miller - ever since known as the Fan Man - crashed landed into the open air ring using a parachute/fan contraption.

This strange interruption - one that feels like it could only happen in Vegas - cause a more than 20-minute delay as security dragged the Fan Man out and cleared the area. Once the match resumed, some of the momentum from the first half had vanished, and Holyfield managed to work his way into a victory on the scorecards, regaining his world championship titles. 

Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield

MGM Grand Garden Arena

Nov. 9, 1996

While it was their second match that everyone remembers thanks to the infamous ear bite, the first bout between Iron Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield should be the one to remember. 

After coming out of jail for his rape conviction, Tyson returned to the ring and made short work out of his first four opponents, and planned to do the same to Holyfield, a former champion whose career at this point was in a clear decline. However, despite being 25-1 underdog, Holyfield had other plans.

Using the exact same strategy employed by Buster Douglas to knock out Tyson in 1990, Holyfield set out to out bully Tyson, taking the offensive and pressing Tyson from the very start. While in the 5th round one of Tyson’s punches nearly floored him, he responded back in the 6th by sending Tyson to the mat himself. By the end of the 10th round Holyfield was in complete control of the match and it was only the bell that saved Tyson only momentarily, as the inevitable knockout that would come 35 seconds into the 11th round.

With a result the very few expected and a newfound rivalry, wheels were immediately set in motion for the infamous rematch.


The 5 Fights that crowned Vegas the Mecca of Boxing
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