Leaving Las Vegas

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Erik Morales has been something of a franchise in Las Vegas over the past five years. The once-great featherweight has fought 10 of his past 16 bouts in what has been known as the Boxing Capital of the World.

Manny Pacquiao has become a headliner on the Strip, as well, and has fought every other bout in Las Vegas since his enthralling draw with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004.

Unbeaten welterweight champion Miguel Cotto has fought eight of his 30 fights in Las Vegas, which is more than anywhere he's fought except for the nine times he's been in his native Puerto Rico.

Things, though, are making a distinct shift out of Las Vegas.

Morales will seek to make history Aug. 4 by becoming the first Mexican-born fighter to capture titles in four weight classes. He will try to do so not in what has become his boxing home, but rather in Chicago, when he challenges local hero David Diaz for the WBC lightweight title.

Pacquiao, the super featherweight who is regarded as one of the two best fighters in the world along with Floyd Mayweather Jr., will fight again in October or November. Los Angeles or Vancouver will serve as the venue, a nod to the large Filipino population in those cities.

Cotto will remain an East Coast fighter, where a large number of his doting Puerto Rican fans live.

Boxing cards promoted by Don King and Bob Arum used to be a staple in Las Vegas, but neither man has been the lead promoter for a card in Nevada in 2007.

Ricky Hatton, who knocked out Jose Luis Castillo on Saturday in the latest headline bout from Las Vegas, said he grew up in the United Kingdom dreaming of one day topping a show in Vegas.

"When I came out (in January for a fight with Juan Urango) and I saw my name up on the marquee, I was tingling," Hatton said. "It was like a dream. It was a great honor."

It's hard not to think of Las Vegas without thinking of boxing. But that might be changing. Arum, whose company is based in Las Vegas, said he has no plans to do any fights in the city.

"It's a zero sum game to do shows in Las Vegas, because you're not building any new fans," Arum said.

Golden Boy Promotions is the only major promoter still doing regular boxing shows in Las Vegas. Its next card in Las Vegas is July 21 at Mandalay Bay, when Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright meet in what figures to be an excruciatingly dull light heavyweight bout.

A news release Tuesday boasted of 6,000 tickets already sold for that bout. Most of those tickets, though, were purchased by the casinos and are distributed to their customers and aren't necessarily boxing fans eager to see a match.

Gene Kilroy, Muhammad Ali's ex-business manager and a long-time Las Vegas casino host, said the increasing cost of tickets makes it difficult for the casinos to support events.

"It's pretty hard to justify paying $1,500 or $2,000 for a ticket for a guy with a credit line of $10,000," Kilroy said. "The big fights can still work in Las Vegas, because nobody can do a fight like Las Vegas can. There's still a magic there about a Las Vegas fight.

"But it has to be cost-effective. There are a lot of choices now and if you're putting your ticket prices into the stratosphere, unless you have kids like (Floyd) Mayweather and (Oscar) De La Hoya fighting, (the casinos) aren't going to pay those outrageous prices for anybody but their top customers."

King started the trend of moving fights away from Las Vegas in 2005, when he took the Cory Spinks-Zab Judah welterweight title rematch to Spinks' hometown of St. Louis. The bout sold 22,730 tickets, still a record for an indoor arena boxing match.

King described the strategy as "taking the show to the people."

He isn't ready to declare Las Vegas dead as the country's primary boxing venue, but he made it clear he's looking in different directions. He's taking the WBC heavyweight title fight between Oleg Maskaev and Samuel Peter to New York on Oct. 6, where he expects the heavy Russian population to support Maskaev.

"You have to stir up an interest in a hometown hero and, in the process, pay homage to their community," King said. "You go to a place where they remember this kid from the time he was in the first grade, when he was the high school hero at USA High. You build community unity and the people come out. They'll buy into that."

There are two primary casino-based fight venues in Las Vegas – the MGM Grand Garden and the Mandalay Bay Events Center. When they were owned by separate companies, they competed fiercely for events and boxing promoters were the beneficiaries.

There handed large site fees, in which a casino would pay a promoter a fee in order to have him put a card in its arena, multiple times a year in a bid to outflank each other for the largest fights.

But when Mandalay Bay was acquired by MGM Mirage, which owns the MGM Grand, competition for fights in the city all but ceased.

And as the UFC has surged in popularity in the past two years, it has booked dates at the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay that used to routinely go to boxing.

"When you see a fight like De La Hoya and Mayweather do $155 million gross, then it proves to you that boxing is not dead," King said. "But you have to spark some interest in the people and make them want to come out and support a hero. It's a lot easier to do that when you take it to the hometowns or to a place where there is a connection between the people and your athletes."

King's point was proven June 9 when Top Rank drew 20,658 to Madison Square Garden for the Cotto-Judah fight. The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Cotto because of New York's large Puerto Rican population and because Arum marketed heavily to it.

Arum said going on the road helps make him a better promoter, because he has to pay more attention to detail and work harder to get attention for a card.

"The infrastructure is all there in Las Vegas and it's easy to do a card," Arum said. "It takes some elbow grease to get out and do it somewhere else. But if you go out and do it and put the elbow grease in, you'll see results.

"I'm not going to tell you Las Vegas is (doomed), but it's not the first and only option any more. Frankly, right now, I'm not even thinking of Las Vegas at this point."

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