5 Memorable Casino Bouts, Including Some Irish Classics
Some of the most remarkable fights in boxing history have taken place in casinos, with fighters landing savage blows just metres away from roulette wheels and blackjack tables. Think of Floyd Mayweather’s blockbuster bouts in Las Vegas, which helped make him the highest paid athlete of the past decade. Sin City certainly lived up to its name back in 1997, when Mike Tyson chomped off a part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during their WBA Heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
It goes without saying a fair few Irish boxers have also held sway at fights held in ritzy casino venues. Let’s take a look back at some eye-catching (and frequently eye-watering) examples from the past ten years.
Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder II
Following the controversial split draw of their first fight, volcanic levels of excitement greeted the rematch between reigning WBC champion Deontay Wilder and comeback kid Tyson Fury (who, lest any trash-talking social media trolls need reminding, is Irish).
The action unfolded in February 2020 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the fairy tale of Fury’s return from the abyss of depression and addiction finally had its happy ending. Having vowed to “dethrone [Wilder], rip his heart out and feed it to him”, Fury came close to making good on that promise, leaving Wilder woozy, bleeding from the ear and in desperate need of reprieve. That finally came with the throwing in of the towel in the seventh round – an act which capped off one of the most significant fights to take place in this iconic venue at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. Which, when you consider this was also the stage for
Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao in 2015, and the Tyson/Holyfield “Bite Fight” of 1997, is certainly saying something.
Carl Frampton vs Léo Santa Cruz II
When Carl Frampton moved up from super-bantamweight to take the WBA (super) featherweight crown from Mexican boxer Léo Santa Cruz in 2016, it was a truly historic win, making him Northern Ireland’s first ever two-weight world champion. As the Jackal himself said, “I had the dream of winning a world title, but I never thought I’d win in two divisions.”
So expectations were sky high for the sequel which took place the following year at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It was Frampton’s first appearance at the famed casino venue since turning professional, and the tension was palpable as he braced to defend himself from a vengeful Santa Cruz. With the action alternating between cunning restraint and frenetic onslaughts, it was a crowd-pleasing confrontation culminating in Frampton losing the title by majority decision – the Jackal’s first professional defeat.
It was such a memorable fight that millions – including Frampton – have hankered for a rubber match ever since. “It should’ve happened. There should’ve been a third fight,” he said in a 2020 radio interview. “But, you know, you can’t really point the finger at me as to why it never happened. I think Leo has to take sole responsibility.”
Carl Frampton vs Tyler McCreary
He may not have had another crack at Santa Cruz, but the Jackal certainly put on a fearsome display at his next casino-based clash at the end of 2019. This was when he took on US featherweight Tyler McCreary at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. The proximity of the craps tables would have felt appropriate, because for Frampton this was a final roll of the dice on his career.
Having failed to take the IBF featherweight title from Josh Warrington the previous year, then badly injuring his hand in a freak accident (a falling hotel lobby ornament crushed a metacarpal), Frampton felt the pressure taking on McCreary, saying “If I lose this fight, then it’s over. I’m done.” Fortunately, he was not done. The Jackal bared his teeth, knocking McCreary down twice and winning a 10-round shutout. The victory put him on a collision course with WBO (super) featherweight Jamel Herring, which takes place in April in Dubai, and may make Frampton the first three-weight world champion from Ireland.
Dennis Hogan vs Tyrone Brunson
According to TopRatedCasinos Ireland, online casinos were soaring in popularity even before the Covid-19 pandemic. But, while digital gaming hubs are undoubtedly providing stiff competition for land-based casinos all over the world, there’s no denying that Las Vegas remains a huge draw for gamblers and boxing fans alike. Casinos elsewhere regularly put on bouts as well.
Back in 2015, the city of Hinckley, Minnesota was the unlikely setting for a clash between Dennis Hogan and Tyrone Brunson, who stepped into the ring at Hinckley’s Grand Casino to fight it out for the World Boxing Association’s NABA USA super welterweight title.
“Hurricane” Hogan (who was born in Kildare but moved to Australia years ago) went in with zero professional defeats to his name, while American boxer Brunson had lost his two previous fights. So it was no surprise that Hogan was announced the winner after 10 juicy and crowd-pleasing rounds.
While it lacked the glamour you get with Vegas or Atlantic City bouts, the evening was a breakthrough moment for Hogan’s burgeoning career. It exposed the Aussie-based Irishman to US television audiences for the first time, while drawing attention to the Grand Casino, Hinckley – a classic example of the win-win relationship between the world of boxing and casino gambling.
Spike O’Sullivan vs Chauncey Fields
In 2017, Massachusetts became the latest US state to put on casino bouts when Cork native Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan took on Virginia’s Chauncey Fields. The venue for the middleweight fight was the Plainridge Park Casino, where a sellout crowd eagerly watched the action. Fields was not considered a strong challenger, having come into the fight following two straight losses, and things did indeed pan out in O’Sullivan’s favour.
The Irishman delivered a savage attack that dropped Fields multiple times, and the fight came to its inevitable conclusion with the American knocked out in the second round. “Four knockdowns and a 2nd roud KO is exactly what all the training is for,” O’Sullivan later wrote on Facebook.
Lower down the fight card, there was also a fearsome performance by County Mayo’s Ray Moylette, who bagged a first round TKO against US fighter Oscar Diaz. A fine night for Irish boxing, and another reminder that we can look well beyond Vegas when it comes to exhilarating casino bouts.