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Why Las Vegas is the home of combat sports?

When we think of big fights these days, we automatically think of Las Vegas. The gambling mecca has played host to some of boxing and MMA’s biggest fights over the last few decades, and there are no signs that will change any time soon. But how did combat sports make the popular tourist destination its home?

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The early years of boxing

When professional boxing was introduced in the 1920s, the first casino in Las Vegas wasn’t even built yet. Instead, the home of boxing was on the East Coast, with New York and Philadelphia as the leading destinations for top-class fights with legendary names like Jack ‘Kid Blackie’ Dempsey. His bout versus Georges Carpentier pulled the first million-dollar gate when 91,000 people crammed into the purpose-built Boyle’s Thirty Acres arena in Jersey City to watch Dempsey successfully defend his heavyweight title.

Boxing continued its rise in popularity and in the 1950s a new destination was introduced to fight fans…

New York to Las Vegas

Two-and-a-half thousand miles west of New York lies Las Vegas, a gambler’s paradise in the heart of the Nevada desert. Boxing was introduced to the city during its economic boom in the 1950s, and the sport would soon find a home there for years to come. The combined pull of gambling and entertainment was a match made in bookmaker’s heaven. Fighting fans arrived earlier and stayed later, turning a Saturday fight-night into a long weekend as the events became more illustrious and the casinos more spectacular.

Famous fights

Some of the most famous (and infamous) fights in boxing history have taken place in Las Vegas. The likes of Ali vs Spinks, Tyson vs Holyfield, Lewis vs Klitschko, and Mayweather Jr. vs Pacquiao are among some of the most memorable fights in boxing history. In fact, the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight even holds the record of the highest-grossing fight in boxing history, with a reported generated revenue of around $500,000,000! The ‘fight of the century’ was staged at the MGM Garden Arena where more than 16,000 fans witnessed Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was the bookies’ favourite, win a unanimous points decision over fellow welterweight, Manny Pacquiao.

Recent big fights

Saul Canelo Alvarez And Gennady Golovkin Fight To A Draw

Boxers Canelo Alvarez and champion Gennady Golovkin battle to a 12 round draw in their Super Middleweight championship bout on September 16, 2017 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada

The biggest fights on the Strip in recent years have seen two of today’s biggest names going head-to-head with ‘Triple G’ Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez squaring off in front of 22,000 fans at the T-Mobile arena in 2018, a rematch of their bout that ended in a draw. After a controversial decision in 2017, the two fighters stepped back into the ring and delivered an enthralling 12 rounds which won “fight of the year” in The Ring magazine’s awards for 2018.

Not to be forgotten, New York has had its fair share of boxing action in recent months, with heavyweight Andy Ruiz Jr. shocking the world of sport by stopping the UK’s Anthony Joshua in Madison Square Garden, in June this year. The American underdog, who was a late replacement for Jarrell Miller who failed a drugs test, was 25-1 to beat the British champ with a rematch reportedly being arranged for a date in the UK, although Ruiz Jr. said in this Fox interview that he is hoping they can square off in The Garden once more.

MMA in Las Vegas

MMA UFC Jon Jones Thiago Santos

MMA UFC Jon Jones in red gloves fights against Thiago Santos in blue gloves at T Mobile Arena, Mandatory Credit Stephen R. Sylvanie USA TODAY Sports Sipa USA

Unlike boxing, modern day MMA began in Las Vegas when the UFC was formed in the ‘90s. Before its revamp in the early ‘00s, MMA was a no-holds-barred sport and struggled for acceptance in the sporting community. The rebranding brought in a new era for MMA, along with new rules and safety features, and the sport was now governed by the same institutions that regulate boxing.

Today, MMA is a permanent fixture in Las Vegas. Leading promoter UFC regularly hosts events in the city, predominantly at the T-Mobile Arena where, on December 14th 2019, UFC 245 is expected to sell out the 18,000-person capacity venue. Fans will hope to see the likes of Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones in action.

The influence of the casinos

With gambling in Las Vegas legal, fight fans can back their favourite fighter. And as the city grows and more casino resorts opening up, fans can turn a fight night into a long weekend. Fridays are usually the ‘weigh-in’, the public ceremony where the competing fighters are weighed in front of fans and officials. This is an opportunity to whet the public’s appetite as the fighters square off for the cameras before they get it on in the ring the following day. Saturday is the day of the event and punters have no shortage of entertainment options at their fingertips. Wherever the event is being held, a casino is no more than a dice throw away.

Whilst boxing matches are predominantly staged in the big casinos, such as the MGM, Mandalay Bay, and more historically Caesars Palace, the UFC often use the T-Mobile Arena, which has a large capacity and proximity to the Strip.

Mayweather v McGregor

Floyd Mayweather Jr., Conor McGregor

Floyd Mayweather Jr., (Black and Gold shorts), fights Conor McGregor (White Shorts)in a super welterweight boxing match Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada

We can’t talk about boxing and MMA in the same breath without mentioning one of the most talked about events in combat sports history – Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor. As mentioned, Mayweather/Pacquiao was the top earner in boxing, but the famous bout between the undefeated Mayweather and the highly-rated MMA star McGregor had an estimated revenue equal to the record set by the two boxing greats.

The fight received a mixed reception with combat sports fans, and some suggested that it was nothing more than an exhibition bout that neither camp truly expected to be truly contested. Regardless, 13,000 fans flocked to the T-Mobile Arena and millions of people from around the world bought PPV to watch Mayweather win a competitive fight against the Irish underdog with a 10th round stoppage. 

As boxing and MMA continue to maintain their massive popularity, there will be major events held in other locales across the globe. From the Gustafsson/Jones fight of 2013 in Ontario, Canada way back to the Ali/Foreman ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ of 1974 in Zaire, some of the biggest bouts has taken place away from Sin City. However, when we talk about the actual home of combat sports, it’s undoubtedly Las Vegas.