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The Main Event

Richard Davies

Publication Year: 2014

The first comprehensive cultural history of boxing in Nevada, tracing the sport from its origins in 19th century mining camps to the mixed martial arts of contemporary Las Vegas. Beginning in the late-19th century, Nevada played a key role in the history of the sport when it hosted the Fitzsimmons-Corbett contest in 1897, and then later the Johnson-Jeffries match in 1910. In the second half of the 20th century, Las Vegas became the center of American boxing. The state has also been home to important boxing personalities like Tex Rickard, Mills Lane, and Mike Tyson. Davies utilizes both secondary and primary sources to analyze boxing within Nevada’s tourist economy, morally libertarian values, and other unique aspects of the state’s history and culture. He pays particular attention to how boxing in the Silver State has intersected with issues of race, class, and gender. Written in an engaging style that shifts easily between analysis and narrative, it will appeal both to scholars and the general reading public.

Published by: University of Nevada Press

Title Page, Copyright, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

When I moved to Reno in 1980 to assume a senior administrative position at the University of Nevada, one of the first items to come across my desk was a contractual matter concerning boxing coach Jimmy Olivas. A couple of questions quickly popped into my mind...

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The Prelims

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pp. 1-8

On the evening of September 23, 1926, more than 120,000 spectators jammed into Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium to watch Jack Dempsey defend his heavyweight-boxing crown against the stylish Gene Tunney. The New York Times reported that the enormous throng...

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Round 1: Fistic Carnival in Carson City

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pp. 9-33

It was a bleak time when the Nevada Legislature convened for its biennial session in late-January 1897. The mining economy had been devastated by depletion of high-quality ore on the Comstock, and new mineral explorations were discouraged by federal policy that had...

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Round 2: Low Blow in the Desert

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pp. 34-61

As memories of the great fight between Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons began to recede, the possibility of future fights naturally came up in conversations over drinks and card games. The appeal of a good prizefight always lingered in the Nevada air because the primal masculine...

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Round 3: Reno, “Center of the Universe”

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pp. 62-91

America’s preeminent boxing historian Randy Roberts aptly described the famous prizefight for the heavyweight championship held in Reno on July 4, 1910, as a “racial Armageddon.” It was an epic spectacle that captivated the attention of the American people because it was defined...

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Round 4: Nevada Loses Its Boxing Mojo

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pp. 92-116

The three championship fights held by 1910 gave Nevada a national reputation as a safe haven for those seeking to promote major championship prizefights. They also contributed significantly to the growing image of Nevada as the “Sin State.” They were promoted on the critical...

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Round 5: When the Crowds Went Away

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pp. 117-143

The departure of Tex Rickard for New York symbolized the fact that Nevada had been pushed to the margins of the boxing world. For the next four decades, prizefighting in Nevada essentially reverted to the informal pattern that had existed in the mining camps and small...

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Round 6: “Let’s Get It On!”

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pp. 144-168

Mills Bee Lane III was a Nevada original, even if he was a native of Georgia and grew up on a South Carolina plantation. In his autobiography he emphasizes that as a young man, he had been attracted to Nevada and his adopted hometown of Reno because “it’s a no-nonsense...

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Round 7: Las Vegas Embraces Prizefighting

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pp. 169-199

Following the epic 1910 confrontation between Jim Jeffries and Jack Johnson, Nevada lost its ability to attract major prizefights. With legalization occurring in several states, the epicenter of prizefighting moved eastward, leaving Nevada boxing fans with only occasional lackluster...

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Round 8: Las Vegas, “Boxing Capital of the World”

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pp. 200-230

Between 1960 and 2010, Las Vegas was the site of more than two hundred championship fights. Although these contests attracted sizable crowds and served the underlying purpose of creating high demand for hotels, restaurants, and other Las Vegas amenities, they also increased...

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Split Decision: Prizefighting on the Margins

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pp. 231-256

As the twenty-first century approached, the public image of boxing took a decidedly downward trajectory. No longer were fights the center of casual conversation in offices and during the late-afternoon happy hour. Now, it seemed, no one really wanted to talk about boxing the way...


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pp. 257-274

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Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 275-278

Of all American sports, only baseball and boxing have produced a substantial body of significant literature. The appeal of baseball is to the “national game,” to pleasant memories of crucial games played decades ago, to the rich legacy of once-dominant teams and venerated players whose exploits have enlivened...


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pp. 279-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780874179385
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874179286

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 13 photographs in insert
Publication Year: 2014


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Subject Headings

  • Boxing -- Nevada -- History.
  • Nevada -- Social life and customs.
  • Boxers (Sports) -- Nevada -- History.
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