Las Vegas, Nevada - As the twentieth century dawned, bare-knuckle prizefighting was transforming into the popular sport of boxing, yet simultaneously it was banned as immoral in many locales. Nevada was the first state to legalize it, in 1897, solely to stage the Corbett-Fitzsimmons world heavyweight championship in Carson City.
Promoters such as Tex Rickard brought in Jack Dempsey and other fighters to the mining towns of Goldfield and Tonopah. Prizefights sold tickets, hotel rooms, drinks, meals, and bets on the outcomes. Reno hosted the Johnson-Jeffries “Fight of the Century” in 1910. It was boxing—before gambling, prostitution, and easy divorce—that first got Nevada called “America’s Disgrace” and the “Sin State.”
The Main Event explores how boxing’s growth in Nevada relates to the state’s role as a social and cultural outlier. Starting in the Rat Pack era, organized gambling’s moguls built arenas outside the Vegas casinos to stage championships—more than two hundred from 1960 to the present. Tourists and players came to see and bet on historic bouts featuring Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, and other legends of the ring. From the celebrated referee Mills Lane to the challenge posed by mixed martial arts in contemporary Las Vegas, the history of boxing in Nevada is integral to the growth of the sport in America.
Davies utilizes primary and secondary sources to analyze how boxing in the Silver State intersects with its tourist economy and libertarian values, paying special attention to issues of race, class, and gender. Written in an engaging style that shifts easily between narrative and analysis, The Main Event will be essential reading for sports fans and historians everywhere.
Richard O. Davies is Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Nevada, Reno. His most recent book is Rivals! The Ten Greatest American Sports Rivalries of the 20th Century; other works include Sports in American Life: A History and The Maverick Spirit: Building the New Nevada. In 2013 he was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.
The Main Event: Boxing in Nevada from the Mining Camps to the Las Vegas Strip
Publication date: April, 2014 / University of Nevada Press
$29.95 / cloth / 320 pages / 12 photographs / ISBN: 978-0-87417-928-6