LAS VEGAS -- Sin City is best known, in boxing terms, for its mega-events -- the high-stakes clashes that today headline Saturday nights at the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay and formerly brought regular doses of sanctioned violence to the likes of Caesars Palace and the Las Vegas Hilton. (If, incidentally, you've ever tried to picture the rusting hulk of the Starship Enterprise being turned into a casino, check out the former Hilton, now shorn of its franchise and known as the LVH. It's a ... thing.) But Las Vegas is also home to a thriving community of boxers, managers, promoters, gyms and off-the-radar smaller-scale fight cards -- and has been for many years.
Beginning with this fifth professional fight in 1979, for example, a scrappy New England featherweight called Freddie Roach contested the majority of his bouts at such long-lost Vegas venues as the Showboat and the Silver Slipper (the latter of which was famously purchased by aviator, inventor and wackadoodle Howard Hughes, just so he could disassemble the rotating neon slipper that shone light into his quarters at the Desert Inn across the street). More recently, the social highlight of the Vegas boxing calendar every month wasn't found on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue, but west of the Strip at the Orleans, where Guilty Boxing's regular Friday Night Fight cards attracted local crowds to watch young boxers like Ishe Smith and Alfonso Gomez in closely contested matches.
So when veteran broadcaster Rich Marotta moved to the Silver State from southern California, he thought, "I'm going to try to support the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame -- go to their events, go to their dinners. So I did a bit of research, and found out to my astonishment, there is no Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. How can that be? There's one in California, one in New York, in New Jersey, in Washington, in Pennsylvania -- and you're telling me there isn't one in Nevada?"
And so, Marotta decided to start one himself, reasoning that it would not only be a vehicle for honoring Nevada boxing legends, but would provide an opportunity that would allow the boxing community to mingle and give fans the chance to rub shoulders with stars of the sport. In the process, it would also raise some money for worthy, boxing-related causes "like the University of Nevada Las Vegas boxing program, the Boys' and Girls' Clubs that have boxing programs -- those kinds of things."
The effort was, he admitted, "a much bigger undertaking than I anticipated," but, aided by a board of directors comprising fighters, writers, casino officials and others, the Hall now has its first round of inductees and, on Thursday evening at Diego's restaurant in the MGM Grand, hosted its first dinner and fan event.
Oscar De La Hoya was there, remembering his 30 (!) professional fights in Nevada, and jokingly bemoaning the fact that, while he was renowned for attracting female fans to the sport, today those female fight fans scream for Canelo Alvarez. Mike "The Body Snatcher" McCallum cheered and shouted along with the rest of the room as video played of his knockout victory over Donald Curry. Freddie Roach and Wayne McCullough signed autographs and posed for pictures. The loudest table in attendance was the one occupied by the fraternity of officials, including Kenny Bayless, Robert Hoyle, Tony Weeks and Robert Byrd, who will be the third man in the ring when Floyd Mayweather squares off against Robert Guerrero on Saturday night. It was all, as they say, a rousing success -- even if, at the end of it all, Marotta was exhausted and hoarse.
"I think we've really got a boxing community here that was waiting for something like this to bring it all together," he said as he unwound and the restaurant slowly emptied. "Boxing takes a lot of shots, but there's a lot of great people in boxing and a lot of great characters in boxing. This is just a stepping-off point for us. It's a beginning, and I really expect the boxing community here will get behind the effort."