All Elite Wrestling (AEW) announced their show Double or Nothing will be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena May 25th in the Fight Capital of the World, Las Vegas, Nevada. A fight card of this magnitude should be in Las Vegas. For three decades, Las Vegas has been the home to nearly every major Boxing and MMA match bringing in people from all over the world. Southern Nevada began its ascent as the Fight Capital of the World in the early Sixties. Boxing had burst its bubble in New York City, in particular on television. They oversaturated the market with low-quality competition and fans grew tired of it. Their fan base turned on them and the sport needed a new home.
Las Vegas and Boxing were a perfect fit. The bright lights, year-round beautiful weather, casinos, and the entertainment brought more people on big fight weekends and they packed the casino floors. In 1955, Archie Moore fought Nino Valdes for a shot at Rocky Marciano’s Heavyweight Championship. The event overall was a disappointment, but the idea was there. Five years later in 1960 was the birth of the Fight Capital.
The brand new Las Vegas Convention Center was the host. It’s a short walk from the Strip and for a time the casinos worked together, but their goal is to keep gamblers on the property. Example: If the casino brings a gambler or whale in for a fight he won’t pay for anything. Everything is complimentary. With room, fight tickets, food, and amenities could cost the hotel $30,000. However, the whale gambles and loses $500,000. Let that sink in. That’s a nice profit margin for the casino, and that’s about midland. Plenty of whales swim into Vegas and cough up millions to the casinos. When Floyd Mayweather was in his prime he would generate over 100 million dollars to the Las Vegas economy for a fight.
In one weekend.
After doing the math casinos started hosting fights. Different hotels booked fights on a property with varying results, but nobody figured it out like Caesars Palace. The Strip resort began hosting fights in a small shack that seated around 5,000 souls in 1976 when they hosted George Foreman’s war with Ron Lyle. 1980 saw the first use of the famed 24,000 seat outdoor Sports Pavilion which was built in the Caesars parking lot before every fight. Larry Holmes sent Muhammad Ali into retirement with a brutal beating. The Pavilion even hosted Wrestlemania IX. We don’t talk about that around here.
Friend: We’ve never had a Mania in Vegas.
Me: Ya we did. Wrestlemania Nine!
Friend: *Cold Stare*
Jim Ross wore a toga! His Mania debut with the freaking World Wrestling Federation, and he wore a toga. Our Managing Editor can’t discuss the finish without screaming. I was in the Navy in 1993, so I take no responsibility for it. I was defending our country.
Boxing has dwindled in popularity in Sin City over the years, but as always someone is ready to fill in the void. Fortunately for the Fight Capital, Dana White and Stations Casino’s owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, owned something called the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The UFC built its base here, and prior to hockey was the “home team” in town. Every big UFC card was and many times is still here, but they’re a worldwide brand now, and their big fights could be spread globally over the next five or ten years. The company has held shows worldwide including Dubai and China where deep pockets are the decision makers for fight locations.
While boxing and later MMA took advantage of this, wrestling didn’t. Other than “the Mania that we don’t mention” there has never been a major pro wrestling card in Las Vegas. The first reason is because when boxing collapsed in New York City, Professional Wrestling filled the void. While boxing escaped to “lawless” Las Vegas, promoter Vince McMahon Sr., owner of the World Wide Wrestling Federation featuring Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers was selling out Madison Square Garden. The WWWF dominated wrestling in the northeast including New York City. With fans tired of boxing, they embraced wrestling, and packed the houses. Bruno Sammartino dominated grappling in the Big Apple with Title reigns spanning more than a decade continued through McMahon’s son taking ownership.
Another reason was the archaic territory system. While the WWWF dominated the northeast, the rest of the country was divided up among the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). The Los Angeles booking office at 6061 Hollywood Boulevard was controlled by Johnny Doyle. He ran the territory, booking shows in the California area until 1954 when he left the syndicate. In 1955, Doyle emerged and wanted to book shows in the city again. However, Doyle received a great deal of opposition from his former friends and now rivals. Wrestlers were afraid to compete for Doyle, fearing retaliation by the National Wrestling Alliance. The former Southern California boss pleaded for help from National Wrestling Alliance President Sam Muchnick to no avail. The St. Louis Legend even tried to buy into the Los Angeles area with Lou Thesz following Doyle’s departure.
With Los Angeles closed for business at least for him, Doyle set his eyes 270 miles east to Las Vegas. However, Southern Nevada was still controlled by the Los Angeles Booking office. Despite this, Doyle obtained 52-week television deals with KLRJ-TV in Las Vegas and KTTV-TV in Los Angeles. These television deals were contingent that Doyle book the wrestlers from Chicago he promised. That was no problem because Doyle had worked out a deal with Chicago promoter Fred Kohler to obtain talent from the Windy City.
Johnny booked Antonino Rocca, but found out shortly before the card that he had been forbid to compete by his manager Toots Mondt. Rocca’s Manager claimed the Los Angeles office had put so much pressure on him it left him with no other choice. Doyle then booked Verne Gagne in September, 1955 but he also backed out because unbeknownst to Doyle, his partner in Chicago, Fred Kohler, changed his plans in the desert. Kohler was told the LA office would stay out of his work in Colorado and New Mexico if he left the Vegas Valley. Done and done, but it cost Kohler a fortune.
In the late seventies, Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) controlled Southern Nevada. The AWA was based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, so all of their major cards were held there, somewhere else in Minnesota, or Chicago. The Vegas Valley was the forgotten land. Yet, they booked in Las Vegas consistently from 1983 through 1988 and Las Vegas hosted the AWA television tapings at the Showboat Hotel & Casino. The Pavilion hosted the AWA television tapings, but never a Wrestling Super card. Pro Wrestling USA, which was a conglomerate of the AWA, World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) from Dallas, Jim Crockett Promotions, and the Jarrett’s in Memphis held multiple supercards, but never held one in Las Vegas. Ric Flair would have owned Las Vegas the way any boxer had.
There were certainly facilities in town. The Thomas and Mack Center was a brand spanking new arena in 1983 that seated over 18,000 for boxing and wrestling. Despite being located on the UNLV campus it’s close to the strip. Not surprisingly the World Wrestling Federation booked their first show in the arena in 1987, where fans saw Ted Dibiase beat WWF Champion Hulk Hogan by count out, and the card also featured an upstart named Dingo Warrior (Ultimate Warrior), Jake Roberts, and Bam Bam Bigelow.
Unfortunately, the first major wrestling card in Las Vegas was April 4, 1993, at ahem… Wrestlemania IX. Vegas hosted the first outdoor Wrestlemania and it was easily one of the worst. We can give you several reasons why, but that’s for another article. World Championship Wrestling (WCW) held Halloween Havoc annually at the Grand Garden Arena from 1996 through 2000 and more recently, WWE held multiple pay per views with the opening of the T-Mobile Arena.
AEW’s Double or Nothing is the biggest Wrestling card in the history of the Fight Capital. This event will have many similarities to a huge Boxing, or MMA card. Outside of WWE, the who’s who of the Grappling world will descend on the city to see what AEW is all about. This is a gutsy move by everyone involved, but they picked the perfect place to debut. At this point, it doesn’t matter who’s on the card. The Grand Garden is a great venue for Wrestling and it will be full. There is no better place than Las Vegas to have a big fight, and it’s time wrestling takes advantage of this. Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and everyone else involved have done this right. On May 25th the competition will be terrific, and it will be a financial success, so it makes perfect sense for AEW to be ALL IN.