THIS past weekend I was in Las Vegas for the first time in two years and two months, to cover the Brandon Rios-Diego Chaves card at The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino.
This is one of the newer properties on The Strip, and very nice it is too. The Chelsea venue holds about 2,000 and is perfect for a show of this size – Rios has been in big fights but is not himself a huge attraction, while Chaves is from far-away Argentina and was never going to bring more than a few supporters.
So it made sense to have a couple of local fighters on the bill in the two Jessies, Vargas and Magdaleno. Both won, with the former retaining his WBA light-welterweight belt and the latter walloping an opponent in an eight-rounder. And both Jessies had plenty of support.
Lee Samuels, the top PR man for the show’s promoter Top Rank, told me that his company thinks The Chelsea is a great venue for boxing, and the hope is that it will become a regular venue for the sport. With banked seating on three sides and nobody too far from the ring, it certainly affords a good view for fans.
The Cosmopolitan’s owners apparently like boxing, something worthy of note in an era when there are so many alternatives for the public’s dollar (or pound, or Euro). While in Vegas I saw billboards advertising the August 16 event at the Mandalay Bay entitled “BKB” (it stands for Big Knockout Boxing). This will see Brian Vera and Gabriel Rosado square off in a pit with no ropes or corners, in a throwback to the old bare-knuckle days (although these boxers will wear gloves and will box over two-minute rounds).
It’s sanctioned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which also controls regular pro boxing in the state. Who knows if this new venture, which presumably appeals to the bloodthirsty, will take off? But it’s worrying that Vera and Rosado, two decent pros, regard it as an avenue worth exploring.
Yet those billboards weren’t the saddest thing I saw in Sin City. Walking through the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace, I passed sporting memorabilia store Field of Dreams – and who should be in there, sitting at a desk in a cordoned-off part of the shop, but Leon Spinks. The former world heavyweight champion would chat and sign memorabilia for a fee, and there did appear to be a couple of takers as I strolled past.
It was in Las Vegas that “Neon Leon” enjoyed his greatest night, dethroning Muhammad Ali in February 1978. That was at the Las Vegas Hilton a couple of miles off The Strip, although Leon did box twice at Caesars, outpointing Italy’s Alfio Righetti in his bout before the Ali triumph, and then stopping Colombian puncher Bernardo Mercado (nine rounds) in October 1980 before the decline set in. That’s the Leon Spinks I’d prefer to remember.