Whether it's boxing, wrestling or mixed martial arts (MMA), fight night in Las Vegas is always a major event. Big fight weekends are celebrated the length of the strip, with all of the major bars, clubs and restaurants getting in on the act, and making serious profits as a result. A significant bout will be preceded by the weigh-in event the night before and is inevitably followed by several post-fight parties at the city's many high-end nightclubs. When people come to watch a fight they also book hotel rooms, go out to eat, maybe enjoy a few drinks and most likely place a bet on the outcome in order to feel even more involved in the match itself.
So we can see that fights are big business. But why are they such a big deal in Vegas, as opposed to other places that could equally capitalize on their allure? The reason that boxing and other forms of competitive fighting are so associated with Las Vegas is quite simply that they are forms of entertainment. As Las Vegas is famously the entertainment capital of the world, it follows that fights are managed, promoted and celebrated as entertainment more intensely in Vegas than anywhere else.
When Las Vegas was first starting to establish itself as an entertainment center in the 1950s, boxing was a key ingredient in its appeal. The sport had previously been associated with New York, where bouts were broadcast from Madison Square Garden and other venues on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports from 1946 to 1960. But TV coverage in many ways ruined the sport, with people watching at home rather than going to see fights at small clubs. Televised boxing in the 50s was also notoriously bad and sloppy, and falling ratings saw it dropped from the schedules at the end of the decade.
A new home for boxing
Vegas was instrumental in the sport's revival, and in the sixties the Las Vegas Convention Center was boxing's new home. It was here that Sonny Liston fought his celebrated rematch against Floyd Patterson in 1963, knocking him down three times and beating him within the first round. Two years later Patterson went up against Muhammad Ali at the same venue and lasted twelve rounds before being knocked out.
By the mid-seventies the established hotel-casino complexes in Vegas were hosting their own fights in order to keep more of the profits from food, drink and gambling in-house. The Caesar's Palace Sports Pavilion was the flagship venue for boxing, hosting George Foreman vs. Ron Lyle in 1976 and Larry Holmes vs. Ken Norton in 1978. This latter fight was a legendary 15-round battle royal eventually won by an exhausted Holmes, who then held the world heavyweight championship for the next seven years.
Bigger and better
A new purpose-built arena was constructed for Holmes' fight against Ali in 1980, and although the fight was a letdown the casinos that night did incredible business, while the pre-match hype elevated Caesar's Palace into an iconic sporting venue. By the nineties it had been replaced by bigger purpose-built arenas like the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, but the glitz and glamour of a big fight in Vegas remained.
Today Vegas is still America's casino and gambling epicenter, despite strong competition from NJ online casinos. Betting on sports is a hugely popular activity, but Vegas doesn't currently have an NFL or major league baseball franchise. Perhaps this is one reason why boxing, wrestling and MMA are so heavily promoted and enjoyed there. Being able to bet on the big fight and watch it live or via pay-per-view adds an extra layer of excitement, and boxers from Sugar Ray Leonard to Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather have considered the city their professional home.
The world's biggest MMA organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is based in Vegas, and broadcasts bouts on networks around the world. The UFC 40 event at the MGM Grand in 2002 is seen as a turning point for the sport, breaking it into mainstream acceptance and possibly saving UFC from bankruptcy.
Wrestling in Vegas is currently dominated by the Future Stars of Wrestling (FSW) events at the Silverton Casino and Impact Wrestling at Sam's Town. The Cliff Keen Wrestling Tournament has been held at various venues across Las Vegas since 1982. The amateur college wrestling championships are currently held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where boxing made its return to glory over half a century ago.
Competitive fighting is a part of the entertainment industry, and Las Vegas does entertainment like nowhere else. To see a bout in Vegas is an experience like no other, with glitz, glamor, neon lights and celebrity crowds all being part of the package. In Las Vegas, fight night is always a night to remember.