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Las Vegas’ biggest fights: Mayweather-Pacquiao will join this exclusive group

From Ali to Tyson, the Fight Capital of the World has lived up to its name


Isaac Brekken

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are shown in this composite from file photos.

Boxing Throughout the Years

Nino Valdes, right, of Cuba, jolts the veteran Archie Moore with an overhand right to the head in the third round of their scheduled 15-round heavyweight fight at Cashman Field May 2, 1955. Launch slideshow »

Pay-per-view buys. Purse money. Prestige levels.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are expected to shatter an arsenal of boxing records, both quantifiable and subjective, when they fight on May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

No matter how many other locales and venues lobbied for the long-awaited fight, it was always bound for Las Vegas. Our town is not known as the Fight Capital of the World for nothing.

Many of boxing’s grandest moments have taken place here, especially over the last 35 years. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao is far from the first bout held on the Strip capable of attracting millions of television viewers, accumulating a king’s ransom in ticket sales and going down as one of the biggest moments in boxing history.

Find a look back at some of Las Vegas’ other most memorable boxing matches through the years below.

    • Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez

      Sept. 14, 2013, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena

      This is the fight to top in terms of Mayweather’s favorite metric — money.

      Mayweather’s majority-decision victory over Alvarez less than two years ago set the record with a $150 million pay-per-view revenue. The matchup between undefeated fighters tallied 2.2 million buys, the second-most in the history of the sport.

      It’s forgotten now, what with the way Mayweather boxed circles around Alvarez, but the closing odds gave the Mexican superstar a better chance than Pacquiao to knock off the pound-for-pound great. Alvarez went off betting boards as a plus-190 (risking $1 to win $1.90) underdog with Pacquiao currently at an even 2-to-1.

    • Floyd Mayweather Jr.,left, of the U.S. avoids a punch from Oscar De La Hoya, right, of the U.S. during their WBC super welterweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada May 5, 2007. STEVE MARCUS / LAS VEGAS SUN

      Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

      May 5, 2007, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena

      The pay-per-view record that the event billed as “The World Awaits” has held for eight years is in imminent danger.

      “Golden Boy” vs. “Pretty Boy” sold 2.4 million pay-per-views, or about 600,000 less than most early predictions for Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. It also held the record for the $130 million pay-per-view revenue until Mayweather vs. Alvarez in 2013.

      An attendance of 15,432 spectators watched Mayweather beat De La Hoya by split decision, creating an $18.42 million gate. The gate stands second in state history to Mayweather vs. Alvarez, which produced $20.03 million in live receipts.

    • Manny Pacquiao of Philippines (L) connects on Oscar De La Hoya of the U.S during a welterweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday, December 6, 2008. STEVE MARCUS / LAS VEGAS SUN

      Oscar De La Hoya vs. Manny Pacquiao

      Dec. 6, 2008, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena

      Pacquiao also reached pay-per-view superstardom by going through De La Hoya.

      Pacquiao defeated De La Hoya more thoroughly than Mayweather, scoring an eighth-round TKO, but the buy rate didn’t perform quite as well. De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao generated 1.25 million pay-per-view purchases, which ranks just inside boxing’s all-time top 20.

      Although Pacquiao thrice equaled or surpassed the 1.25 million mark later in his career, the De La Hoya fight remains his best performing in terms of gate. The bout made $14.38 million off of tickets, good for sixth-best in Nevada history.

    • Evander Holyfield, left, hits Lennox Lewis with a right during the seventh round of their undisputed world heavyweight championship bout at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday, Nov. 13, 1999. Lewis won the bout by way of unanimous decision after 12 rounds. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)

      Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield II

      November 13, 1999 at the Thomas & Mack Center

      The rematch for the undisputed heavyweight championship was the most heavily attended fight in Las Vegas of the last 20 years.

      That’s because it was virtually the only mega-fight to take place away from a venue on the Strip. Seeking to capitalize on the momentum following a draw between the two fighters eight months earlier at Madison Square Garden, promoter Don King opted for a higher-capacity building in the Thomas & Mack Center.

      The fight, which saw Lewis win by unanimous decision to avenge the controversial decision from the first meeting, drew an attendance of 17,078 to create a $16.86 million gate, Nevada’s third highest ever.

    • Mike Tyson continues to battle in the ring after his fight against Evander Holyfield was stopped after Tyson bit Holyfield on both ears, in the third round of their WBA Heavyweight match Saturday, June 28, 1997, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  Tyson was disqualified and Holyfield retains his title.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

      Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II

      June 28, 1997, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena

      The 1990s were all about the heavyweights, and reached an apex when Tyson met a true foil in Holyfield.

      “The Ear Fight,” in which Tyson infamously lost by disqualification after biting a chunk out of Holyfield’s right ear, stood as the most-watched pay-per-view for more than a decade.

      Intrigue around whether Holyfield could upset Tyson for the second time in eight months resulted in 400,000 more pay-per-view buys for the rematch, which attracted a total of 1.99 million purchases. It’s seventh all-time in gate with the 16,279 people paying a total of $14.27 million.

    • Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, right, hits Peter McNeeley with a right uppercut during the first round of their match in Las Vegas, Saturday, August 19, 1995. Tyson knocked McNeeley down twice during the round before McNeeley?s manager; Vinny Vecchione stepped into the ring and stopped the fight. Nevada state boxing regulators will decide this week whether to take action against Vecchione for his action. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)

      Mike Tyson vs. Peter McNeeley

      Aug. 19, 1995, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena

      One of Tyson’s most devastating performances doubled as one of his most financially successful.

      Tyson’s first fight back after spending three years in prison for a rape conviction sold 1.52 million pay-per-views. The $63 million revenue set a record at the time and held as the fourth most profitable pay-per-view featuring “Iron Mike” behind the pair of bouts with Holyfield and a 2002 loss to Lennox Lewis at the Pyramid in Memphis.

      Tyson scored a knockdown within the opening 10 seconds, and battered McNeeley to the point that his corner entered the ring to end the fight a minute and 19 seconds later.

    • Evander Holyfield, left, lands a punch to body of challenger Riddick Bowe in the first round of heavyweight title fight on Friday, Nov. 13, 1992 in Las Vegas.

      Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield II

      Nov. 6, 1993, at Caesars Palace outdoor arena

      This is one fight on the list that Mayweather and Pacquiao won’t want to live up to.

      Although the bout was certainly momentous and lived up to expectations with a close majority decision going Holyfield’s way, it’s most remembered for the parachuting incident.

      Henderson resident James “Fan Man” Miller landed in the ring during the seventh round, with his suspension lines tangled in the lights, to interrupt the action. There was a 21-minute delay to escort Miller out of the arena and restore order before the fight resumed with its final four and a half rounds.

    • Thomas "Hitman" Hearns is carried from the ring in Las Vegas Monday night, April 15, 1985 as Marvelous Marvin Hagler celebrates his undisputed world middleweight championship.   Hagler knocked out Hearns in the third round of the fight.

      Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns

      April 15, 1985, at Caesars Palace outdoor arena

      Few fights remain as revered as the eight-minute “War” among boxing fans, and perhaps none that took place in Las Vegas are on the same level.

      The sold-out attendance of 15,200 got more than their money’s worth as Hagler and Hearns exchanged wildly for the duration of their fight until the former was the only one standing. Although the numbers weren’t as gaudy as other fights — Promoter Bob Arum reported 1.2 million viewers on closed circuit television — the fight’s lasting influence can’t be over exaggerated.

      Thirty years later, more than 2 million viewers have watched Hagler vs. Hearns on YouTube.

    • Gerry Cooney, right, begins to fall to the canvas during the 13th round of the World Heavyweight Championship bout against Larry Holmes, June 12, 1982, in Las Vegas.  Holmes is held back by referee Mills Lane.  (AP Photo)

      Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney

      June 11, 1982, at Caesars Palace outdoor arena

      After having already fought 10 times at Caesars, all victories, and defending his heavyweight title on 11 occasions, the then 32-year-old Holmes got what was supposed to be his biggest challenge in the undefeated 26-year-old Cooney.

      Caesars capitalized on the excitement by erecting an expanded footprint for its venue, which resulted in a record attendance of 29,214. It still stands as the largest crowd for a fight in Nevada.

      Celebrities lined the outside of the ring to watch Holmes drop Cooney in the second round, open a cut in the middle rounds and ultimately finish him with a technical knockout in the 13th.

    • Boxing Welterweight Champion Sugar Ray Leonard hugs his handler after winning the title in a fight against Thomas Hearns in Las Vegas September 16, 1981.  (AP Photo)

      Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns

      Sept. 16, 1981, at Caesars Palace outdoor arena

      Aside from going down as one of the greatest fights in boxing, Leonard vs. Hearns was also groundbreaking in another area.

      Pay-per-view was still in its infancy, and the bout was the most widely available in the medium’s history at the time. Approximately one million homes in 24 cities could purchase the fight, according to

      The fight wound up making a total of $35 million, which included $7.5 million in pay-per-view sales and $5.9 million in live gate. The attendance of 23,618 falls within Las Vegas’ top five of all-time.

      Leonard had to mount a comeback to retain his title, beating Hearns via technical knockout in the 14th round despite trailing on all three judges’ scorecards.

    • Larry Holmes, far left is introduced during the world heavyweight championship at Caesars Palace on October 2, 1980.

      Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes

      Oct. 2, 1980, at Caesars Palace outdoor arena

      The second-to-last bout in Ali’s storied career lives in infamy. He hardly resembled the fighter many consider to be the greatest of all-time, almost surely suffering from early-onset Parkinson’s Disease, and even Holmes had mixed feelings about battering Ali through 10 rounds before a stoppage.

      But, in terms of history and measurables, it was probably the most significant of Ali’s seven career appearances in Las Vegas. Ali was promised $8 million to come back for his first fight in two years against the undefeated Holmes, who made $2.3 million.

      Needing a larger venue, Caesars decided to build its famous outdoor structure for the first time. The new arena resulted in a sold-out attendance of 24,790 and a gate of $6 million, which were both records at the time.

    • Nino Valdes, right, of Cuba, jolts the veteran Archie Moore with an overhand right to the head in the third round of their scheduled 15-round heavyweight fight at Cashman Field May 2, 1955.

      Archie Moore vs. Nino Valdes

      May 2, 1955, at Cashman Field

      The first major fight to ever take place in Las Vegas was billed as the “Nevada World Heavyweight Title”, which was a fancy way of saying the winner was in line to face real champion Rocky Marciano.

      Las Vegas Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun helped attract the bout to the desert, according to “Prizefighting: An American History,” and called it “the greatest event for the town since the government started using the area for the atom bomb tests.”

      It failed to draw an attendance of more than a few thousand and ended in controversy when the referee declared Moore the victor by way of winning eight of 15 rounds. The crowd booed the decision, and Valdes broke down in tears.

      Despite the glitches, the bout set the foundation for Greenspun’s prophecy to come true: That Las Vegas was a perfect place to hold boxing’s biggest fights.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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