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Can I tell you a story?

Once upon a time, in a not-so-barren desert, men used to hit each other for huge sums of money. Thousands would show up to watch and many would wager on the outcome.

Sometimes, the result was tragic. Often, those who lost lived to fight another day. Those who won were the toast of the town and beyond as the entire nation, and later, the entire world would be able to see their triumphs.

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Men still hit each other today, making even larger sums of money than their predecessors. Women also fight other women and the best of them have become wealthy as a result.

Saturday, that grand tradition we call boxing returns to what was one considered the world capital of the sport. Two massive men, one from Alabama, the other from across the pond in the United Kingdom, will once again do battle in front of thousands, just like in the old days.

Can Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury return Las Vegas to its past glory as the fight capital when they meet at the MGM Grand Garden? In all honesty, I’m not sure where the fight capital of the world is these days. I guess I could Google it and see what comes up. But I’m damn sure it’s not Vegas.

Still, it is a heavyweight championship fight, on the Strip, on Pay Per View, which makes it worth noting, if not watching.

These two fought a terrific fight back in December of 2018 in Los Angeles, another town that used to hold tons of great fights. Perhaps you recall the old Olympic Auditorium (RI 9-5171 was the phone number to purchase tickets). The fight at the Staples Center ended in a 12-round split draw, enabling Wilder to keep his titles.

And yes, it was indeed controversial, which is why rematches exist.

According to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, there were 21 boxing cards staged in the Silver State during 2019. Of those 21, 18 were held in Las Vegas. By comparison, there were 19 Mixed Martial Arts cards held in Nevada. That doesn’t mean boxing’s popularity has severely declined. If you look around the country and around the world for that matter, the sport’s popularity is strong. Then again, so is MMA’s popularity. The fact is simple — people like watching other people beat the crap out of each other and they don’t necessarily need to travel to Las Vegas to see it take place.

The days of the big outdoor fights at Caesars Palace are probably not coming back to Las Vegas. If there’s a megafight down the road, perhaps Allegiant Stadium could serve as a suitable venue. More than likely, Las Vegas will host its share of big fights, but there’s more and more competition to land those matches every year. Even Saudi Arabia took a page from the Zaire playbook and landed a world heavyweight title rematch between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua in December. Zaire, of course, ponied up big bucks at the time to land the 1974 heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Today, fans use their mobile devices to watch and wager on boxing and MMA. It’s DAZN and ESPN+ that now televise boxing after HBO and Showtime dominated the industry. HBO has left the ring but Showtime continues to televise boxing. Still, it impacts the sport. Where it’s held doesn’t necessarily matter as much anymore because these streaming services are going to make their money on viewership, not the live gate. So you can hold the fight in Singapore or Scotland and as long as the card is shown at a reasonable hour in the U.S., people will find a way to watch on their tablet or phone.

If the promoter, whose best interests are to stage the fight where a big live gate can be produced, wants to keep coming to Las Vegas, great. But they have other options and we see fights go to other states and other countries. So can you blame them from putting on a fight in Brooklyn or in Moscow?

The romantic in me would like to think Las Vegas hasn’t totally lost its cachet when it comes to boxing. I would hope a compelling matchup, regardless of weight class, would make the Strip come alive.

But I’ve learned to be realistic and grudgingly, I’ve come to accept change. Boxing is still very much alive and when there’s a great fight, people will watch. Whether they watch it in Las Vegas or some other place doesn’t seem to matter much.

However, for this week at least, the purported king of the ring still wears his crown. But the fit isn’t as jaunty as it used to be.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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