During our nearly decade long run at the blackjack tables, we lived for the fights.
There was George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr. and even Sugar Ray Leonard during a comeback. Regardless of who it was, if there was a big fight back in those days, it was in a casino and we were there.
We were there for business, however, as those big fights brought in the big whales -- the guys that we were pretending to be -- actors, athletes, millionaires. Our $5k bets would disappear into obscurity next to the $10k plus bets of the real high rollers. Those weekends presented great opportunity for us to ply our art of card counting.
But beyond the business there was the pageantry. There was nothing quite like being in Vegas for a big fight. Landing at McCarran airport, you could feel the buzz when you got off the plane: hats, t-shirts, and posters sold at every store that you passed on the way to baggage claim, throngs of limo driver holding signs with every name from Smith to Chang, and a celebrity sighting every time you looked in a new direction.
Walking into a fight was an experience in itself. Spectators lined up four deep, down a half mile corridor, pushing and shoving just to get a glimpse of whatever celebrity might be walking into the fight. I've been to concerts, movie premieres and even Super Bowls but all pale in comparison to the buzz around a big fight in Vegas.
The pinnacle was probably the second Tyson-Holyfield fight. Vegas was packed. You couldn't just get a room -- you had to be somebody. 16,000 people piled into the MGM Grand Garden to see a rematch of two of the greatest fighters of the decade. But what happened instead was equally memorable.
I remember watching in disbelief as Tyson bit Holyfield's ear and referee Mills Lane stopped the fight. As people filed out onto the floor at the MGM Grand, it was a zoo -- way too crowded for comfort.
Because of the crowd, we decided to break until midnight. I took a nap in my room and came back down to the casino a little after midnight to bring down the house.
But to my shock, the casino was empty.
What I later learned was that there had been a riot. There had been gunshots. Tables had been overturned. And chips had been stolen. They had evacuated the entire casino.
But what I didn't realize was I was witnessing the turning point for a sport that was slowly going to fade into obscurity. Sure there was Lennox Lewis and some other nameless faceless heavyweights along the way but a little over 12 years since that fateful night, you'd be more likely to find someone who knows who Brock Lesnar (UFC Heavyweight Champion) is than someone who knows who David Haye (WBA Heavyweight Champions) is.
Every time there's a big fight in Vegas, my friend Shaun Koiner, who is one of the last real boxing fans, asks me if I'm headed out to Sin City. Embarrassingly, I always have to ask him who's fighting.
But that's all changed. With the upcoming bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. boxing has a shot to become relevant again. It has all the ingredients: years of anticipation, a brash undefeated champion, a relentless national hero, outside the ring drama, the immovable object versus the irresistible force.
The fight pits the two best fighters of the last decade, still seemingly at their prime. It is projected to break all pay-per-view records.
All that's seemingly missing right now is a location. Reports are that the three leading contenders are the Cowboys' new stadium, the Superdome in Louisiana and the MGM Grand in Vegas.
In my mind this shouldn't even be a contest. Boxing has a chance to put itself back on the map, but to do that it has to return to the town that made it such a force in the 1990s. The fight isn't simply a sporting event, it is a weekend long extravaganza, and the only place that does that type of event justice is Las Vegas -- trust me, I know. Sorry Jerry, but your cute new house in Dallas just won't do the trick.
So Golden Boy and Top Rank please listen up. Do the right thing. It has to happen in Vegas.
And if does happen, get your flights to Vegas and hotel rooms now. I know I will.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more