Ranking the Greatest Las Vegas Fights in Boxing History
In the past 50 years, the city of Las Vegas has established itself as the premier boxing city on the planet. We still get important fights on the East Coast, and since boxing is an international sport, important fights get held each month all over the globe.
But each year, the highest percentage of major cards go down at that neon oasis/mirage in the desert of Nevada.
Even an old-school Yankee like myself freely acknowledges that Vegas has become the sport's de facto capital. So naturally a list of the greatest fights in the history of Las Vegas is a daunting project to narrow down.
I've also limited the list only to fights held inside of Vegas, which unfortunately forces me to leave out important historical battles like Joe Gans' 42-round war with Battling Nelson in Goldfield, Nevada in 1906, or Bob Fitzsimmons' 1897 upset of heavyweight champion Jim Corbett in Carson City.
Riddick Bowe UD 12 over Evander Holyfield: November 13, 1992
It was a different era in America. The Berlin Wall was newly fallen and myself, some of my buddies, and about a half-million other cheerful American service members had even more recently liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.
And 10 days prior to this epic clash for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world, Bill Clinton had been elected President of the United States.
It was over 20 years ago and heavyweight championship fights were still major sporting events in North America. And this one, the first of the trilogy between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe, delivered as one of the greatest heavyweight title fights of all time.
The second fight, which Holyfield won by majority decision in Vegas almost exactly a year later, was closer on the cards. And it had the novelty of a sky-diving attention junkie landing in the ring during Round 7 to disrupt the action.
But the first fight was a high-action war, and a brilliant tactical display of two elite fighters with very different game plans, battling desperately to impose their will inside the ring. Even though Bowe won the majority of the rounds, each round was a tense, hotly contested engagement.
Holyfield came into this fight intent on doing what he specialized in doing: out-hustling and bullying larger men. I rate Holyfield the greatest cruiserweight of all time and think he would make an honest fight of it with any heavyweight who ever wore the belt.
But this night in November was the night when so many fans my generation and older thought we were seeing something special emerge in the form of Riddick Bowe. "Big Daddy" came in at a well-conditioned 235 pounds and matched Holyfield's relentless pace behind his excellent jab and smooth combination punching.
Bowe looked like Larry Holmes 2.0. His win over Holyfield that night is the closest a fight fan of my generation ever got to seeing Frazier-Ali.
Bobby Chacon UD 12 over Cornelius Boza-Edwards: May 15, 1983
Bobby Chacon was among the most exciting fighters in boxing during the sport's golden age of the early 1980s.
The WBC super featherweight champion was involved in The Ring Fight of the Year for both 1982, when he beat Rafael Limon, and for this fight in 1983, when he avenged his prior loss to Ugandan warrior Cornelius Boza-Edwards.
It was a fight that could have been stopped on multiple occasions, though in the end, both men were firing punches up to the closing bell. Chacon, in particular, seemed to abandon himself to this war of attrition, dropping his hands and swinging away at his taller, rangier foe.
In the end, the difference on the cards came down to a Round 12 knockdown by Chacon, featured in this linked video.
Steve Cruz UD 15 over Barry McGuigan: June 23, 1986
"The Clones Cyclone" Barry McGuigan entered this fight as the WBA featherweight champion and one of the hottest and most popular small men in the sport.
Steve Cruz was a relative unknown for this showdown at Cesar's Palace, although he had fought extensively as an amateur and entered 25-1 as a professional.
The popular Irishman McGuigan was a heavy betting favorite, but Cruz ended up providing a textbook example of just how rare a sure thing is in boxing.
Fighting outside in oppressive 105 degree heat, Cruz and the champion waged a relentless battle. Round after round the two men sprinted from their stools to the center of the ring to continue their wild engagement.
Trailing on two cards entering the final round, Cruz knocked down the champion twice in Round 15 to seal his victory in 1986's Fight of the Year.
Michael Carbajal KO 7 Humberto Gonzalez: March 13, 1993
The first fight in the classic trilogy between these two 108-pound stars was the best of the rivalry. Not only was this fight between Michael Carbajal and Chiquita Gonzalez among the best fights in the history of Las Vegas, it was also among the biggest fights in the history of the junior flyweight division.
Carbajal was the IBF champion and Gonzalez held the WBC crown. Gonzalez was the more experienced fighter and came into the fight determined to push Carbajal early. For the first five rounds of the fight, he took it to Carbajal, knocking him down twice and building a lead.
Carbajal started to turn things around in Round 6 and landed some monster combinations to stop Gonzalez in Round 7. Carbajal would end up becoming the first junior flyweight in history to earn a million dollars for a fight.
Julio Cesar Chavez TKO 12 Meldrick Taylor: March 17, 1990
This fight ranks as among the most dramatic comebacks of all time, and also as one of boxing's most controversial stoppages. When referee Richard Steele waved off the action with three seconds left in the fight, awarding Julio Cesar Chavez a TKO victory, Meldrick Taylor led comfortably on two of three cards.
Still, the pace and action of the fight had been relentless, with Taylor absorbing some huge shots, even as he built up a substantial lead on points.
Richard Steele has had a distinguished career in the ring and deserves the benefit of the doubt for honestly assessing Taylor as no longer able to intelligently defend himself at the point the fight was stopped.
Three seconds isn't much time, but it's more than enough time for a life-changing series of punches to land on an already badly injured fighter.
Chavez unified the IBF and WBC junior welterweight titles and improved his perfect record to an amazing 69-0.
Paulie Ayala UD 12 over Johnny Tapia: June 26, 1999
The classic two-fight rivalry between Paulie Ayala and Johnny Tapia started with a pre-fight skirmish when Tapia shoved Ayala before the opening bell in the first fight. It ended with a post-fight riot after the second fight, when Tapia's entourage reacted with outrage to a second close decision that went Ayala's way.
In between, Tapia and Ayala provided fight fans with some of the hardest-fought action in the history of Vegas boxing.
The first fight was The Ring's Fight of the Year for 1999. Ayala captured the WBA bantamweight title and handed Tapia his first professional loss in 49 fights.
Erik Morales SD 12 over Marco Antonio Barrera: February 19, 2000
In recent years, the seemingly ageless Juan Manuel Marquez has largely eclipsed his contemporary countrymen, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. But during the first decade of this century, Barrera and Morales were the bigger stars.
Their three-fight rivalry was among the greatest trilogies of all time, and the first fight was among the most competitive and hard-fought in history.
Morales fought like a demon and earned a split decision. Barrera would come back in the next two fights to hand Morales the first and second losses of his career.
George Foreman KO 5 Ron Lyle: January 24, 1976
Although no title was on the line, many people still regard this 1976 battle as the greatest heavyweight fight in history.
For Foreman, it was his first fight back after a long layoff following his 1974 loss to Muhammad Ali. Lyle came in hot from a thrilling stoppage of the power-punching Earnie Shavers.
Lyle took the fight to the former champion and engaged him in a slug-fest. It was a gutsy strategy that nearly paid off.
Lyle rocked Foreman in the opening frame, but Foreman came back and hurt Lyle badly in the second. In Round 4, Lyle knocked Foreman down early in the round, but Foreman got up from the canvas and dropped Lyle.
Lyle than came back and knocked Foreman down for a second time near the end of the round.
Lyle again rocked Foreman badly and almost ended things early in Round 5. But Foreman hung tough and stopped Lyle with a barrage in the corner later in the round.
Larry Holmes SD 15 over Ken Norton: June 9, 1978
I view this fight as the last hurrah for the golden age of the heavyweight division during the 1970s. With Muhammad Ali temporarily retired, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes met in Las Vegas to contest the WBC title and to determine who would be The Greatest's heir.
The result was a classic heavyweight title fight. Holmes possessed perhaps the finest jab in the history of the division, but the powerful and athletic Norton fought a smart and determined fight that extended the younger "Easton Assassin" to his absolute limit.
The 15th round is legendary. Both men somehow pushed through complete physical exhaustion to wage final rallies.
In the end, Holmes nosed out the victory. It was the beginning of a reign that would last over seven years.
Sugar Ray Leonard TKO 14 Thomas Hearns: September 16, 1981
In terms of dramatic ebb and flow and historical significance, you can make a strong argument that the first fight between Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns deserves to be ranked as the greatest fight in the history of Las Vegas.
It's one of the most important fights for two of the most important fighters of the past half-century. It was the performance where "The Hitman" Thomas Hearns demonstrated that he could match the best of the best as a scientific boxer.
And it was the fight where Sugar Ray Leonard proved that, despite his television-friendly, golden boy persona, inside his chest beat the heart of a ruthless assassin.
Hearns started strong and seemingly won the first five rounds. Leonard battled back through the middle rounds, but Hearns began to reassert control as the fight approached the home stretch. Entering the championship rounds, it was clear that Leonard would need a stoppage to win.
With his eye swelling shut, Leonard pushed the pace desperately in Round 13 and managed to knock Hearns down. A badly hurt Hearns came out for Round 14 and Leonard finished him off.
Diego Corrales TKO 10 Jose Luis Castillo: May 7, 2005
In terms of non-stop action and last-round excitement, this first fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo has to rank as among the greatest fights of the past 50 years.
Everybody expected it to be good going in. Castillo and Corrales were two all-action ring warriors, and their meeting in 2005 was highly anticipated.
They did not disappoint for a second, standing right in front of each other and trading huge power shots all fight long.
As Round 10 started, both of Corrales' eyes were nearly swollen shut. Thirty seconds into the round, Castillo dropped him with a monster body shot. Castillo dropped Corrales for a second time in the round with over two minutes still remaining.
Corrales was further penalized a point in the round for excessive spitting out of his mouth piece, putting him down by three points in the round, even if he could survive it.
But then, near the round's halfway mark, Corrales caught Castillo with a perfect right hand and quickly followed up with a brutal left hook. Castillo was badly hurt.
Corrales forced Castillo to the ropes and opened up on him. As Castillo sagged defenselessly against the ropes absorbing punch after punch, referee Tony Weeks stepped in and stopped the action with just over 50 seconds left in the round.
Marvin Hagler TKO 3 Thomas Hearns: April 15, 1985
Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns are both pound-for-pound, all-time greats. Each man possessed excellent boxing skills.
But when the two men met in Las Vegas in 1985, neither one entered the ring thinking about the sweet science. This fight was all about pure machismo: two legendary gunslingers throwing down furiously until only one man could still stand.
Hagler came out hacking away at Hearn's long torso. The Hitman lived up to his nickname and rocked Hagler early with his sledgehammer right hand and opened up a brutal cut high on the bridge of Hagler's nose.
Hearns also broke his hand in the round and entered the second more cautiously, trying to maintain some distance with his jab. Hagler remained relentless as he pressed his attack. He sent Hearns staggering back to his corner between rounds.
Although the momentum of the fight was shifting to Hagler as the third round began, the cut on his forehead was bleeding badly and he was in danger of losing on a cut.
Referee Richard Steele stopped the action a minute into the round for the doctor to check Hagler's cut. Once action continued, Hagler resumed his frantic pace.
In George Kimball's Four Kings, the veteran Steele is quoted as saying he had "never seen that much intensity in a fight."
Over halfway through the third, Hagler dropped Hearns hard with two thunderous rights. Hearns miraculously beat the count, but he was clearly out on his feet and Steele stopped the fight at 1:52 of the round.