Modern-Day Gladiators

Muhammad Ali reacts during the weigh-in for his fight against Joe Bugner at Caesars Palace Feb. 14, 1973. Ali won by unanimous decision. CREDIT: Las Vegas News Bureau

Muhammad Ali reacts during the weigh-in for his fight against Joe Bugner at Caesars Palace CREDIT: Las Vegas News Bureau

The casino was buzzing. Outside, valets opened a Cadillac trunk, removed a case filled with bills and wheeled it to the casino cage for counting. Fashion plates with outrageously angled fedoras, followed by their dates wearing sheer tops, sauntered through the casino. Every table was filled.

This could mean only one thing: fight night at Caesars Palace.

The June 11, 1982, bout between reigning world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and challenger Gerry Cooney didn’t disappoint. It was the undefeated Holmes’ 12th title defense, and the challenger, at 25-0, was considered a rising force. Nearly 30,000 fans jammed into the outdoor stadium behind Caesars Palace to watch Cooney and Holmes exchange blows—and rounds—until Cooney’s trainer, Victor Valle, threw in the towel in Round 13, and Holmes retained his title.

This wasn’t the first bout to take place under the lights outside Caesars; the makeshift arena was built for the October 1980 collision between Holmes and Muhammad Ali, and would continue to host megafights until 2000. Boxing at Caesars was more than an event; it was an identity. Former champion Joe Louis started working for Caesars as a greeter in 1970; today, a marble statue of the “Brown Bomber” greets passersby at Caesars’ sports book.

Some of the most famous and infamous moments—from Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns’ epic 1985 middleweight confrontation to the Evander Holyfield–Riddick Bowe 1993 “Fan Man” debacle—happened at Caesars Palace. Just scheduling a fight at Caesars made it, for boxing fans, must-see.

This was the stuff an empire was built on.