In part one of this article, I was able to talk about 3 of the greatest Las Vegas boxing matches. But obviously, there are more than 3. In addition, there are more than just heavyweight title matches that are among the greatest.
As a matter of fact, only 1 of the top ten biggest boxing gates in Las Vegas was a heavyweight matchup. And 6 of the biggest gates involved the same man, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
But the biggest gates aren’t the only barometer for determining a great fight. A fight could have the biggest gate of all time and stink on ice. The fighters have to have heart and determination. In many cases, something has to be at stake, usually a title belt.
4 – Evander Holyfield vs. Lennox Lewis II in 1999
This was a return match for the 2. The last bout, which took place 8 months prior at Madison Square Garden, ended in a draw. Many said that Lennox had won, but 2 judges split the decision and the final judge ruled it a tie on points.
Both bouts were set up to unify the WBA, WBC, IBF, and Lineal World Heavyweight Championships. Holyfield was the WBA and IBF Heavyweight Champion and Lewis was the IBO, WBC, and Lineal Heavyweight Champion. After the last bout, both had retained their championships. Prior to the bout, the IBO had named Lewis as its champion, adding that title to the mix in the return bout.
The bout was evenly matched for the first 8 rounds, with the scorecards going back and forth as far as who was winning. Lewis had a strong showing in the early rounds, winning the points in the first 3 rounds. Holyfield came back with strong showings in rounds 4, 5, 6, and 7. Lewis then started to move ahead by winning the next 3 rounds. The final round saw the round split between the 2. When the dust settled. Lewis won the fight and became the first Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion since 1992.
The fight saw 17,078 paid attendees and had a gate of $16,860,300.00
5 – Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns in 1985
Marvelous Marvin Hagler (and yes, Marvelous is his legal first name) had defended his undisputed World Middleweight Championship 10 times by the time he had met Hearns in the ring. In his previous 50 fights, he had only been knocked down once, and Hagler to this day maintains that it should have been ruled a slip and not a knockdown.
The fight was held at the Caesars Palace and it surely was a battle from the beginning. For the first round, the 2 fighters traded power punched for the majority of the 3 minutes. The first round saw Hearns open a cut on Hagler’s head and Hearns would find out (after the bout) that the slugfest resulted in him breaking his right hand. The judges split on the round, with Hearns winning on 2 judges’ cards and Hagler winning on the last judge’s card.
In round 2, Hearns became rubber-legged and the pace of the bout slowed considerably. Hagler was able to pin Hearns to the ropes at the end of the round by landing a flurry of hard punches.
Round 3 saw Hearns land a punch that opened up the cut on Hagler from the first round. Hagler had the proverbial crimson mask from blood flow, so much so, the referee temporarily stopped the bout to have it looked at. The doctors gave the okay, and the match continued.
The stoppage lit a fire under Hagler as he didn’t want to lose the titles due to a cut, so Hagler came out aggressive and landed an overhand left to the head of Hearns. Hearns backed away, and Hagler moved forward and landed a hard right hook high on Hearns’ head. Hearns awkwardly stumbled backward into the ropes, with Hagler chasing after him. The champion landed a vicious right to Hearns’ chin. Hearns went limp and fell forward, as Hagler landed two uppercuts. Hearns then fell face first to the canvas. Hearns staggered to his feet at the count of nine, but he was unable to continue. The referee stopped the bout.
Despite the fight only lasting 3 rounds, it won acclaim in the boxing community. British magazine Boxing News called it “8 minutes of mayhem”, while US magazine The Ring called it “the most electrifying 8 minutes ever.” The match would wind up winning Fight of the Year for 1985.
6 – Marvelous Marvin Hagler v. Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987
This fight saw the much-anticipated return to the ring of “Sugar” Ray Leonard. It had been 3 years since the former Welterweight and Middleweight Champion had fought officially, however, behind the scenes, he had been fighting full bouts in secret, which included official referees, judges, and ranked boxers to prepare for his return.
The bout saw Hagler try to use a right-handed boxer stance in the first few rounds, this was a switch from his natural southpaw stance. However, Leonard adjusted quickly and won the first 2 rounds. Hagler then switched back to southpaw for the rest of the fight.
As the bout continued, Hagler was starting to take it to Leonard. In the fifth round, Hagler rocked Leonard with a right uppercut before the final bell. This led to Leonard slowing down for the rest of the fight.
The best fighting was in the 9th round. Hagler did damage to Leonard with a left cross. Leonard then furiously tried to fight his way out of the corner. The action see-sawed back and forth for the rest of the round.
The fight ended with Hagler and Leonard exchanging along the ropes. Leonard threw 629 punches and landed 306, while Hagler threw 792 and landed 291. Leonard was announced as the winner by split decision and took the WBC, The Ring, and lineal middleweight titles in the process. The decision remains one of the most controversial in boxing history as many thought that Hagler won.
The paid attendance for the bout was 12,379 and generated a live gate of $6.2 million.
7 – Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor in 2017
Rarely has a match between a boxer and a fighter from another genre been a good fight. Matches that saw Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki and Chuck Wepner vs. Gorilla Monsoon in the 1970s turned matchmakers off of the thought of a mixed fighting match.
Originally, that’s what was expected by 2 division UFC champion Conor McGregor and undefeated 5 division boxing champion Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Jr. But as negotiations progressed, it was decided that both fighters would battle in a boxing match.
The match was one of the most anticipated ever among both boxing and MMA fans, as both were the respective torchbearers for their sports. It was a no brainer that Las Vegas visitors around this time arrived solely for this match alone.
The start of the fight saw McGregor start strong and actually won the first 2 rounds. During round 3, ringside experts realized Mayweather was using the “rope-a-dope” technique to lull McGregor into a sense of false security. In MMA, McGregor has been used to fighting 25 minutes at a time (5 5-round bouts). This showed in the fight as he started fading by the 9th round. Mayweather landed several punches to McGregor’s face by the end of round 9. This continued into round10 when the referee stopped the bout and awarded the match to Mayweather.
McGregor was disappointed by the early stoppage but respected the referee’s decision.
Mayweather officially retired after the match with a 50 – 0 record with 27 knockouts.
The bout saw 13,094 paid fans in attendance with a live gate of $55,414,865.79. Both fighters made over $100 million for their appearance.
Part 2 – Conclusion
In the last 40 years, Las Vegas has established itself as the mecca for boxing. The highest grossing matchups are usually held in the Entertainment Capital of the World.
And fans are realizing this, as many of the top grossing gates in Las Vegas happening just in the last 5 years (and this includes adjustments for inflation).
In the years to come, boxing and Las Vegas will continue to be synonymous with bigger and better venues being built in the form of new casino resorts and other facilities under construction such as the 18,000 seat Madison Square Garden Sphere Las Vegas that’s expected to open in 2021.