Tyson Fury set to light up Vegas but must keep promise against Deontay Wilder to join the greats
Hallelujah, the big men are back on the streets of Las Vegas with their promises, their agendas and their special ability to make the fight city special for a week.
The gun shows and the sex shows generate more cash for this place, but it takes a title fight, an old-fashioned scrap with bad blood on tap and a suitably unwritten ending, to give the city the feeling that helped make it the grandest of destinations.
Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder will run this city for a few days before Saturday’s overdue and welcome rematch at the MGM. Their fight posters fill vast walls and there is a ceremonial ring in the casino lobby – at midnight on Sunday people were queuing for selfies by the ring. In a place of great sparkle it is good to note that the WBC belt, the title for the night, and any other glittering baubles strapped to the fight have been relegated to the back of the sporting jewellery shop. Please spare us all that desperate scrambling by men in suits, nudging, pushing and fake-smiling as they try to attach their belt first to the winner at the end. It has become an ugly ritual and needs to stop.
Heavyweights, their dubious flocks and everybody desperate to be in the heavyweight business have been descending on Las Vegas for over fifty years, travelling through the lonely maze of a city that makes and breaks people every hour on the clock. Heavyweights have gone through the boxing grinder here for too long, men shaped by their dreams, crushed by losses and left not understanding either.
The first heavyweight championship fight to ever take place in Las Vegas was in the summer of 1963, a time when men in large hats carried weapons at ringside and watched a 130-second massacre of Floyd Patterson by Sonny Liston. At the Convention Centre that night a young Cassius Clay ran to every microphone to sell his image to the factory of fun players.
It is the city Mike Tyson owned, that Ali put on the boxing map, that Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield traded punches in the sport’s last heavyweight golden period. A time, by the way, we foolishly took for granted from our privileged seats, but is now studied for its many noble nights. And a few ignoble ones – a lump of Holyfield’s bloody ear on the canvas will never fade.
It is also the city where champions Liston and Joe Louis came to die, leaving behind regret, mystery and a statue. There is an endless list of great heavyweights that packed rings here for titles, for money and for the hell of it on occasion: George Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Leon Spinks, Gerry Cooney, Joe Bugner, Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry and Earnie Shavers all fighting like their life depended on it during days and nights now neglected or forgotten. Many remained or returned for the fights, long into life and retirement they still came back to haunt the casino floors on big weeks.
Nobody can forget the vanishing act of Buster Douglas one night in 2000, over 20 million dollars richer, but bundled out in shame from his digs at the Mirage after his loss to Holyfield – it takes a lot to be kicked out of this place.
There was also the violent siege in a hotel suite involving unbeaten Ike Ibeabuchi, the best heavyweight you have never heard of and the man expected to be king. Big Ike, known as The President, took a stripper hostage, threatened lunacy and was then gassed and cuffed and imprisoned to end his boxing life. The fall of Oliver McCall one day at the Hilton is still fresh; watching his manic dialogue as he withdrew publicly from drug addiction during a breakdown – he was fighting for the heavyweight title live on American television at the time. It was also the city of two savage failures for Frank Bruno against Tyson. Even Anthony Joshua fought here when he was a skinny amateur. Heavyweights simply have to fight and win here.
Fury is a great fit for the city with his garish suits, crooning skills and ability to shake the hands of kings and paupers – shallow icons and the wretched – each time he walks the halls of the casino canyons. Ali and Elvis, two Las Vegas goldmines, had that same human touch in this city with few barriers. I have heard respected veterans out here mention Fury in the same sentence as both – he’s a better singer than one and a better fighter than the other, that is for sure.
It is a city where history is made in boxing rings by the heavyweights that arrive with their accolades, their missions and an ageless fighting desire to leave behind forever a special piece of wonder. Fury and Wilder are just the latest on the sport’s greatest stage, two very big men making promises.