Forever trying to stand as the entertainment capital of the United States, Las Vegas has historically struggled to bring in the most popular form of entertainment in the country: major league sports. In place of the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA, Sin City concocted its own big-money sport that drove the thrills and spills of the Nevadan city, boxing.
In an age of larger-than-life athletes coming to Las Vegas, the city became the combat sports capital of the world. Now, however, times have changed, with more combat sports rising to prominence, storied sports moving elsewhere, and some promotions just ignoring Vegas altogether.
So, how did Las Vegas become a beacon of combat sports, and how has Sin City adapted to the changing scene?
A sport that embodied the Las Vegas image
Filled with bright lights, casinos, and gambling, Las Vegas was a place unlike any other in the United States. A bastion of thrills, and danger, it remained a modern-style, post-War Wild West. While very lucrative, the Vegas image and its many gambling options were seen as incompatible with the “wholesome” major league sports organisations, with the prominent issue being the sports betting.
So, the city went big on a sport that was, at the time, more in line with its themes and its embrace of the Id side of society. It all started in 1995 with Archie Moore taking on Niño Valdés for a crack at Rocky Marciano. Five years later, boxing returned, eventually taking over convention centres and becoming a mainstay on the event cards of the casinos, becoming intrinsically tied with oddsmakers.
The arenas were intimate and exclusive, charging absurdly high ticket fees, which people were more than willing to pay. For fights in Las Vegas, in the words of Bill Caplan, gave people the excuse to get drunk and gamble. Furthermore, the increased gambling revenue granted casinos the funds required to attract the most prominent names and sketchiest promoters.
Combat sports move on, until Vegas finds a new gem
As the decades passed, more and more major boxing events moved around the globe, with the world titles truly becoming more global. Now, you have the unified world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua selling out 90,000-seater arenas in the UK, Tyson Fury only coming over to appease Deontay Wilder, Saul Alvarez now set to fight Callum Smith in San Antonio instead, and Errol Spence Jr. not fighting in Sin City since before he won a strap.
The same too goes for wrestling, with the WWE never staging its PPV events in Las Vegas since the mid-80s – however, they have come close, with several being held in Paradise. Some would say that the ultimate allure of Las Vegas has waned, along with its power in the sporting scene. For example, on a global scale, Las Vegas isn’t the pinnacle of gambling as it once was.
With customers, craving convenience coupled with experience over prestige and history, the rise of online casino gaming has been able to appease those seeking the thrills that once only led to Sin City. Now, internet-based casinos have live casino games, which allow users to appreciate the sensation of a land-based casino from the comfort of their own home. With live roulette, live baccarat, live blackjack, and titles like Dream Catcher, and Monopoly Live, players can instantly access Vegas games and more with ease.
With the spread of combat sports to elsewhere, and other nations keeping top talents for themselves, Las Vegas needed a new primal sporting attraction that embodied Sin City. Enter a fledgeling sport catching unsavoury headlines and legal concerns. Mixed martial arts, cage fighting, and specifically the UFC were fully embraced by Las Vegas at the turn of the millennium, hosting 142 events since UFC 33.
While the exclusivity of gaming has been blurred in Nevada, the persona of Sin City hasn’t faded, making the oft-bloody and foul-mouthed affair of a UFC title perfect. Recently, however, with gambling and sports betting spreading around the USA, even the major league sports have arrived. First came the emphatic Vegas Golden Knights, and then the floundering Las Vegas Raiders to the new stadium hailed “The Death Star.”
Despite its very niche persona in the US, Las Vegas has done exceptionally well to adapt to a new age, finding a new combat sport to relay the Sin City feel as boxing once did.