Titles in boxing are rarely permanent - it is in the very DNA of the sport to give rise to new challengers. It is not just champion boxers who have to face this custom. It seems that even the title of “the Home of Boxing” is up for grabs these days.
Las Vegas had a firm grip on this title since at least the 1950s or ‘60s. Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr - the list of champions across generations who called Vegas their favorite destination is quite long indeed.
But even Vegas gained the title of the Boxing Capital of the World at the expense of yet another great city - New York. Before WWII, Big Apple was your destination if you wanted to watch the greatest fights of the day.
How Vegas became the Home of Boxing
Vegas may be the ultimate gambling destination, but the casino owners were smart enough to figure out that the city needed to be more than just a place for hardcore gamblers. This is why they have a lot of different entertainment options on The Strip.
From music concerts to magic shows, Cirque du Soleil and more, there is something for everyone in Vegas. For those heading to Vegas anytime soon check out this coupon page with Sin City's best offers on upcoming fights in the Vegas area and great free online casino deals as well. The city offers entertainment of every single type and possibility so when spectators throng to the area, they not only enjoy a great fight, but possibly an entire weekend of non-stop action.
With its close links to sports betting, boxing was a natural fit for a city like Vegas. By bringing big-ticket matches to Vegas, the casinos could attract both boxing enthusiasts and “whales” (big-time gamblers) who could be relied upon to spend at the bookies and the casino floors. It was basically a match made in heaven!
The shift from New York to Vegas was also helped by the rise of TV. Folks started staying away from smaller bouts (as they could get their weekly boxing fix right at home) stagnating boxing at the local level in New York. By the 1960s, the sport was looking for a fresh start. It was found in the deserts of Nevada.
With TV networks dropping boxing in 1960, Vegas became the new source of cash for the sport to grow. By the 1970s, resorts like Caesar’s Palace were attracting big-ticket fights involving champions like Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Ron Lyle, and eventually, the great Muhammad Ali himself.
By the 1980s, the outdoor arenas of Vegas had become the favored hunting grounds of the best boxers and would-be challengers. Ali was followed by Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and others, right up to Floyd Mayweather in our times.
But now, things are not as clear cut. Sin City no longer has dibs on all the big fights. One of the biggest fights in living memory happened in December 2019 in the desert, but not the sands of the Mojave. Instead, it took place in the desert Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - one of the unlikeliest locations for a World Heavyweight title match in the world!
The Story behind the “Clash of the Dunes”
The matchup between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr is already the stuff of boxing history. In what can only be described as one of the all-time biggest upsets in the annals of pro-boxing, Ruiz felled the reigning WBO, IBO, IBF and unified WBA (Super) champion Anthony Joshua in the first match between the two.
In true Rocky fashion, the Mexican-American underdog won the fight by TKO in the seventh round against his British opponent, causing shockwaves in the boxing world. A blockbuster rematch was definitely on the cards, with Vegas and New York both in top contention.
Usually, in these matters, it is money that decides everything in the end. And talk it did, as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia outbid everyone else thanks to their unlimited reserves of petrodollars. That is a war-chest even the casinos of Vegas cannot match!
There is next to no link between the desert Kingdom and professional boxing. Yet the Clash of Dunes happened because the Saudis needed some positive publicity. Rocked in recent years with the civil war in Yemen, the murder of a Washington Post journalist, and stories of human rights violations, they needed a boost, and a high profile boxing match was the perfect tonic.
This match was just another example of the phenomenon of “sportswashing.” It refers to attempts made by repressive governments and regimes to use sporting events to project a positive image to the world.
Does Vegas still have a future as the Home of Boxing?
It was reported that both Joshua and Ruiz took home a combined total of $100 million for this match, with Joshua earning a career-high $65 million or more. There is no doubt that these two fighters would have earned much less if the fight took place in Vegas or New York. And that is a problem for Vegas.
Things have definitely changed quite a lot since the turn of the millennium in matters of finance. With the global recession and everything taking a toll on Vegas, Sin City is no longer the highest paying boxing destination. And with the rise of live streaming revenues, you can hold a match anywhere in the world and still earn millions.
Rich regimes like the Saudis will continue to attract high profile bouts with the lure of money. But they also attract a lot of negative attention and criticism from many quarters. So all is not lost for Vegas and boxing. Sin City still has a lot to offer to the sport, in terms of money, exposure, and marketing. It will just have to share the bigger bouts with other destinations.
As a boxing venue, Vegas continues to attract high profile matches. Floyd Mayweather, arguably the best fighter of this generation, considers the city his favorite spot to fight. In 2019, plenty of high profile bouts took place in the city, including:
Tyson Fury vs Otto Wallin
Canelo Alvarez vs Sergey Kovalev
Deontay Wilder vs Luis Ortiz
And that is not all, the city is poised to host some of the biggest boxing matches in the coming year. Vegas is in the running to host the highly anticipated rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder in 2020. In case you don’t recall, these two were involved in an epic match in December 2018 which ended in a draw.
This upcoming fight between the Gypsy King and the Bronze Bomber will decide the ownership of the WBC belt, currently held by Wilder. The date and venue for this fight have not been finalized yet, so don’t forget to keep an eye out.
Who knows, if you are heading to Vegas sometime in the latter half of 2020, you might even get a chance to see the biggest fight of them all, between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder! But for that to happen, Vegas Casinos will have to step up their game and compete with New York and other off-shore challengers like Saudi Arabia.