- The Main Event: Boxing in Nevada from the Mining Camps to the Las Vegas Strip by Richard O. Davies
The author of The Main Event is an emeritus Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Reno. Previous books include Sports in American Life: A History and, Rivals! The Ten Greatest American Sports Rivalries of the 20th Century. In 2013 he was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.
Davies and the University of Nevada Press need to be congratulated on their “packaging” of The Main Event. The book’s title focuses on boxing as does the books chapters — Round 1 to Round 8—with a fitting concluding chapter labeled, “Split Decision.”
The Main Event is a fascinating social history that transports readers from bare-knuckle fights in the nineteenth century to primitive frontier townships—Goldfield, Reno and Tonopah—that embraced the staging of big fights. Carson City, the state capital of Nevada, had only a population of three thousand but welcomed six thousand spectators as it staged the world heavyweight championship fight between Gentleman Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. Davies notes that Wyatt Earp—yes, he of Wild West fame and legend—felt it was the best “gloved” fight of all time.
Davies stresses in his preface that while boxing literature has a raft of accounts highlighting stellar boxers and outstanding contests, his mission was to link boxing to the history and culture of Nevada. Indeed, to make the case that the sport helped craft Nevada’s singular popular culture and, specifically, its economic development strategy.
The “rounds” described by Davies are as follows: “Fistic Carnival in Carson City,” “Low Blow in the Desert,” “Reno, Center of the Universe,” “Nevada Loses Its Boxing Mojo,” “When the Crowd, Went Away,” “Let’s Get It On,” “Las Vegas Embraces Prizefighting,” and “Las Vegas, ‘Boxing Capital of the World.’”
The Main Event tells the remarkable story of the evolution of prize fighting from the old-style frontier landscape of Carson City and a crowd of six thousand (Corbett and Fitzsimmons) to the glitz and glamor of the Las Vegas “Strip” a century later. Sixteen thousand at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and a global audience of millions in November 1996, looked on as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield demonstrated that a sport known for its brutal brawling could also showcase the bizarre and infamous. There was the “happening” of Mike Tyson biting into Evander Holyfield’s ear!
Richard Davies is adept and artful with his historical forays into the sorts of topics often ignored in boxing histories. There is a richly detailed essay in miniature on the huge popularity enjoyed by the Corbett-Fitzsimmons movie (the first genuine feature-length film in history?), and an extensive study of the life and times of boxing referee Mills Lane.
The Main Event will have a special appeal for sport historians. The concluding concise four-page “Bibliographic Essay” is a clever analysis of the sport and allows Davies to locate boxing as a special vehicle, allowing historians to ponder courage, redemption, corruption, exploitation, race, and class as a “metaphor for the conflicting forces engaged in international politics” (p. 275). The index also deserves praise. The detail and precision of [End Page 121] the various entries is remarkable. See, for example, no less than eleven references to casino regulation reform.