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A History of Las Vegas’s Best Fights

Have you ever attended a big fight in Vegas? Or, have you been to Sin City on fight night while one was going on?

If you answered yes to either question, you know there is nothing more electric in sports or entertainment than what Vegas can bring when the best fighters go at it. The celebrities, whales, built-up tension, energy, and big money are in the air. And if you have only been able to watch one on pay-per-view or your favorite streaming app, you have only experienced about 10% of the excitement.

From legendary boxing bouts that defined an era to epic UFC showdowns that left the crowd in awe, here is our (chronological) list of the best fights in Las Vegas:

Best Vegas Fights in the 80s

The 80s kicked off with a bang in Vegas. The other divisions took center stage in the boxing world’s lull in the heavyweight division between Ali and Tyson.

September 16, 1981

“Sugar” Ray Leonard vs. Thomas “The Motor City Cobra” Hearns

Like today, even back in the 80s, it was not uncommon to find a big fight in Las Vegas on the weekends of Cinco de Mayo or September 16 (the latter of which is a major holiday in Mexico).

Held in the parking lot…….err, the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace, The Showdown, as it was dubbed, was not just one of Vegas’ best fights ever. Still, this welterweight championship fight was arguably one of the best fights in boxing history.

The fight was outdoors, and both fighters had to battle each other in 100-degree temperatures. Before he was known as The Hitman, Hearns won round one both during and after the round with a punch he landed way after the bell had rung.

The fighters inflicted punishment on each other, with each winning several rounds. Leonard backed an exhausted Hearns into a corner in the fourteenth round, with Hearns leading narrowly on the judges’ cards. He landed enough shots for the referee to stop the fight and award Sugar the undisputed world welterweight championship.

This fight was vintage Vegas, as although both legendary fighters had to endure the same conditions, the hot early Fall Vegas weather may have had as much impact on deciding the winner as the referee.

April 15, 1985

Thomas “Hitman” Hearns vs. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler

This fight not only pitted two great fighters against each other, but also two cities – Detroit against Boston.

Held again outside at Caesars Palace, The War, as it is now known, was a slugfest of epic proportions. It did not last long until the third round when Hagler knocked out Hearns. Both fighters withstood one of the most epic first-round barrages in boxing history in which an unlucky Hearns broke his right hand.

A Premier Vegas favorite, Wayne Newton was in attendance – as was, according to Neal Rubin of the Detroit News, a Wayne Newton impersonator.

The Tyson Era

Although Mike Tyson fought several times in Las Vegas, including his fight with Trevor Berbick, where Iron Mike knocked Berbick out twice with one punch in 1986 – maybe Tyson’s most signature win (over Michael Spinks) occurred in Atlantic City.

November 9th, 1996

“Iron” Mike Tyson vs. Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield

From a pageantry perspective, and (thankfully held inside) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Tyson met Holyfield as many of the big fights were held between 1993 and T Mobile Arena opened.

“Finally,” as the fight was called, was the culmination of anticipation that had been building for eight years for these two to meet. In fact, Holyfield was in the crowd posing for the cameras when Tyson lost unexpectedly in a tune-up fight to Buster Douglas in 1989. Injuries and Tyson’s legal troubles would further delay the fight until 1996.

Tyson came into the fight a heavy favorite against the smaller and once-retired Holyfield. However, after largely dominating the fight, Holyfield ended it in the eleventh round after the referee stopped the fight to save a defenseless Tyson.

A gracious Iron Mike had nothing but praise for Holyfield at the post-fight press conference.

The now more famous fight between Holyfield and Tyson would occur seven months later, where Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear. However, it should be noted that these bites occurred after many headbutts from Holyfield in the first and second fights.

The 21st Century

With Tyson, Holyfield, and Lennox Lewis’s retirements, the lighter fighters have taken the Vegas big-fight mantle from the heavyweights.

May 7th, 2005

Diego “Chico” Corrales vs. José Luis Castillo

Although the least hyped bout on our list (it was held at Mandalay Bay….not MGM Grand), this lightweight unification championship fight may be the most epic and entertaining in Las Vegas history.

The first nine rounds were exhilarating, but nothing could compare to what would happen in the tenth. Early in the tenth round, Castillo knocked Corrales down twice in quick succession.

After going to the corner to have his spit-out mouthpiece put in, Corrales’ trainer could be heard very audibly on TV telling Corrales, “You got to (expletive) get inside on him now.”

Once getting up, over the next minute, Corrales had all the inspiration he needed. He shocked Vegas and the boxing world by coming back to first stun Castillo and then win by technical knockout after a flurry of punches put Castillo out on his feet.

Both fighters went to the hospital afterward.

May 5th, 2007

Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. vs. “Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya

Most observers consider Floyd Mayweather Jr., long-based in Las Vegas, to be the best pound-for-pound fighter of his generation. This was the case before and after the De La Hoya fight.

The fight, held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, generated revenue of more than $130 million and 2.4 million pay-per-view buys – both records at the time. The hype was helped by the first fight to have an HBO show called De La Hoya-Mayweather 24/7 building it up. In the best professional wrestling sense, the HBO show helped create a narrative of Good (De La Hoya) vs. Bad (Mayweather Jr.).

The fight, contested at 154 pounds, was close, with Mayweather winning by split decision. Many observers believe that Mayweather Jr. clearly won.

Although Mayweather Jr. may have been the best boxer in the world before the fight, De La Hoya was boxing’s biggest draw – especially after winning gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. And this 2007 fight was the fight that passed the baton of financial box-office champion from De La Hoya to “Money” Mayweather.

Mayweather Jr. took the mantle as box-office champion and would go on to more big Vegas fights. From a money standpoint, the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in 2015 would far eclipse the De La Hoya fight with more than four million pay-per-view buys.

However, the Pacquiao fight was lopsided, with Mayweather Jr. dominating from start to finish.

In 2017, Mayweather Jr. would again have another big Vegas payday by defeating UFC star Connor McGregor in ten rounds…..of boxing.

July 11th, 2009

UFC 100

We were careful to title this article the best fights and not the best boxing matches in Las Vegas history. From a big-fight standpoint, UFC 100 was the event that we believe cemented the UFC and mixed-martial arts on the same playing field as boxing.

Held at Mandalay Bay, the loaded card was headlined by former professional wrestling champion and NCAA wrestling champion Brock Lesnar facing off against Frank Mir.

This match was especially intriguing because it was only Lesnar’s fourth UFC fight and also marked a rematch against Mir, who beat Lesnar in Lesnar’s UFC debut.

In the end, Lesnar delivered, winning the undisputed UFC Heavyweight Championship by defeating Mir in the 2nd round via a barrage of punches.

We don’t know when the next big Vegas fight will take place, but we’re here to help you maximize your Vegas fight night. Check out all our Sports highlights articles.

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