The Vegas experience is an assault on the senses and mine first came under attack in August 1995. Down the years here, I’ve seen Mayweather, Pacquiao, De la Hoya, Lewis, Holyfield, Hatton, Calzaghe, Canelo and Golovkin bring different levels of entertainment to the ring, encompassing one of the great eras in the sport and embellishing the city’s reputation as the fight capital of the world.
It all began with a circus billed as ‘He’s Back’.
Mike Tyson had been released from prison five months earlier and was making his return to the ring after serving a three-year sentence for rape. He needed all of 89 seconds to dismiss the Bostonian Peter McNeeley, and promoter Don King succeeded in dressing up the event as more than a legalised mugging, so much so that 1.5 million homes bought the pay-per-view broadcast in the US.
The promoters and TV partners involved in this week’s rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury would happily settle for such returns.
Within 15 months, Tyson would win and lose the world heavyweight title in the same MGM Grand Garden Arena – against Frank Bruno and Evander Holyfield respectively – and Iron Mike’s presence was significant in the shifting of big Vegas fights from outdoors (in car parks of hotels such as Caesars Palace) to arenas under the casino roofs.
Tyson was a magnet for more than fight fans.
In an interview with an officer from the Las Vegas Police Department on one of my earliest visits, I was told how pick-pockets and hustlers from across the US would converge on Vegas for a Tyson fight with the mindset of a tennis player arriving for a Grand Slam or a golfer in town for a major – it was where the biggest prizes were to be won.
In more recent times, Floyd Mayweather has been the biggest draw.
“We have a lot of great events, and I mean great events, but a Mayweather fight here is one of a kind,” said Richard Sturm, then the president of sports and events at the MGM, speaking in 2014.
Mayweather’s showdown against Ricky Hatton in December 2007 created many stand-out memories.
Thousands followed Hatton across eight time zones, and by the middle of fight week strains of “There’s only one Ricky Hatton” were driving Americans to distraction. The British fans changed the flavour in the fight hotel like never before, or since.
As the ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr once said to me, when Frank Bruno was the subject of the Brits’ warbling: “You never hear Americans singing Mike Tyson songs.”
Weigh-in ceremonies staged in the main arena, with fans allowed in free on a first-come, first-served basis, are now a staple of Vegas fight week.
The night before the Mayweather-Hatton weigh-in, I was heading through the casino towards the media centre at just after midnight, ready to appear on the BBC 5 Radio Live Breakfast Show (shortly after 8am UK time) when I found myself in the slipstream of a Hatton fan holding a bottle of beer, and singing about his idol while bouncing off each of the perimeter walls 15 metres apart. And he didn’t spill a drop.
When I left half an hour or so later, the same fan was slumped on the floor but had made his way into the queue for the weigh-in, which was already forming even though the boxers were not due to tip the scales until 2pm.
The fight competed for news coverage with the Rodeo National Finals and I remember reading in the Las Vegas Review Journal about a saying in the rodeo world: “Ain’t never been a cowboy, ain’t never been thrown.”