May 27, 1960: When Vegas Became King

By Clarence George on May 27, 2016
May 27, 1960: When Vegas Became King
It came down to promoters getting a better deal in Las Vegas than in New York.

Around the time the Tropicana and the Dunes were headlining “Jayne Mansfield and a few sequins”— boxing in Nevada has been all Las Vegas…

“Las Vegas. The City of Lights. Everything is beautiful.”—Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Fifty-six years ago today, Edward Brophy died while watching a prizefight on television.

The name probably doesn’t mean anything to you (no, not the executive director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame), though the face might. He usually played, and for comic effect, small-time hoods or bumbling detectives. You can see him, for instance, as hoodlum Joe Morelli in The Thin Man.

Who was in the ring when Brophy’s tick-tock gave up its ticking and tocking? Was it Johnny Page knocking out Jimmy Ferguson in the third? Tony Maya outpointing Otto Hardison in a four-rounder? Or Lino Rendon outpointing Willie Bell over six?

With any luck, he made it to see Benny “Kid” Paret relieve the enigmatic Don “Geronimo” Jordan of the Welterweight Championship of the World, winning the bout by unanimous decision.

A bout of some historical significance, as it was the first title match to be televised from Las Vegas, at the Convention Center. (The first title bout to take place in Vegas, staged by Doc Kearns and reffed and judged by James J. Braddock, was between Archie Moore and Nino Valdes at Cashman Field on May 2, 1955, Moore winning the “World Heavyweight Championship of Nevada” on points.)

Boxing had been legal in Nevada since 1897, and several significant fights took place there, including the historic heavyweight title match between champ Jack Johnson and former champ James J. Jeffries. The bout took place in Reno on July 4, 1910, Johnson winning by 15th-round TKO in a match scheduled for 45. A more colorful time, President Taft declined Tex Rickard’s offer to referee, so the legendary promoter did it himself. But, as boxing historian Lee Groves writes, “Las Vegas didn’t really enter the fray” until the Jordan-Paret bout.

During boxing’s Golden Age, from the 1930s to the 1950s, almost all the big fights took place in New York City, more often than not at Madison Square Garden. But following Jordan-Paret, “the Convention Center in Vegas became a semi-regular venue for title fights,” writes Groves, “including the rematch between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson and the fourth meeting between Gene Fullmer and Sugar Ray Robinson.” The relationship between the Sweet Science and Sin City was “fruitful.”

What exactly generated this symbiosis? It came down to promoters getting a better deal in Vegas than in New York. “Instead of paying rent to secure arenas like Madison Square Garden, the casinos gave promoters site fees for the privilege of hosting the event,” Groves writes. “This new business model proved lucrative for all sides and from the 1970s through the end of the 20th century Las Vegas (then Atlantic City) drew the lion’s share of boxing’s biggest events.”

James Roman, author of Chronicles of Old Las Vegas: Exposing Sin City’s High-Stakes History, agrees. “Las Vegas elevated boxing into a spectacle,” he writes. “More than a contest, a fight became an event. While hosting some of the most memorable title fights in history, a well-polished industry of lights, limos, promoters and media ratcheted up the excitement. It continues today: prizefighters battle for multi-million-dollar purses, tickets sell for jaw-dropping figures, and ever-greater fortunes are wagered in the sports betting rooms. Title fights in Las Vegas even make national news.”

Boxing in the Silver State has certainly lived up to its promise since Governor Reinhold Sadler made the sport legal on January 29, 1897 (when prizefighting was illegal everywhere else in the country), thus paving the way for the heavyweight championship bout between James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons at The Race Track Arena in Carson City that March 17, Fitzsimmons winning the title by 14th-round KO. But since 1960 — around the time the Tropicana and the Dunes were headlining “Jayne Mansfield and a few sequins”— boxing in Nevada has been all Las Vegas, “the country’s primary boxing venue,” writes Lee Cleveland, managing editor of “From its glitzy hotels to the bright lights and neon signs of The Strip to the buzz inside the casinos and the excitement in the air in the arenas. It’s electrifying.”

Maybe, though Groves writes, “Las Vegas’ role in boxing has been dramatically reduced, at least when compared to the glory days,” though he concludes that the town “still has a foothold in boxing’s firmament.”

Not so the Convention Center. It still exists, but hasn’t hosted a title fight, or any boxing match, since March 9, 1984, when Tim Witherspoon beat Greg Page by majority decision for the vacant WBC World heavyweight title and Carlos De Leon beat Anthony Davis by unanimous decision, thus retaining his WBC World cruiserweight title.

As for Edward Brophy, he’s in Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. Not much there in the way of bright lights or neon signs. But that’s as it should be.

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Benny 'Kid' Paret vs Don Jordan Part 1

Benny 'Kid' Paret vs Don Jordan Part 2

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  1. Mike Silver 09:00pm, 05/30/2016

    I agree, Farhood is a fine broadcaster and certainly knows more boxing history more than any of his contemporaries. Don Dunphy worked with the occasional guest boxer but most of the time he did a great job on his own.

  2. Clarence George 02:03am, 05/30/2016

    I’d also prefer one commentator, Mike, say, Steve Farhood, Al Bernstein, or Barry Tompkins, with an occasional guest appearance of a boxer, either current or retired (preferably the latter, as he’d have less of an axe to grind).

    Worth noting that Mauro Ranallo’s style is so much better suited to the WWE than to boxing.  Indeed, he does a much better job than John Layfield, whose “JBL” persona is both annoying and distracting, though I do enjoy his wonderfully out-of-date cultural references, with an exasperated Michael Cole demanding that he come up with someone more current than, say, Errol Flynn.

  3. Mike Silver 10:12pm, 05/29/2016

    Thanks for the TV broadcast of Jordan vs. Paret.  Jimmy Powers is the sole ringside commentator. Compare his very spare commentary to the three or more constantly babbling shills we have to suffer through today (of course there is always the mute button). Powers knew his limitations. He also realized the medium was television, not radio, and just let the action explain itself.

  4. Clarence George 05:55am, 05/29/2016

    My condolences, Peter, but volleyball?  Really?

    Glad you liked it, Mr. Rainey.  A bit of trivia for you:  Taft was the last president, at least to date, to have facial hair, thus referred to by beard enthusiast Jenny MarieClaire as “the last manly president.”  Breaking the ice at your next cocktail party?  Done.


    Peter Whitney

  5. Ford Rainey 05:29am, 05/29/2016

    Another great history lesson, Mr. George. Thanks for the trip back in time. I’m sure Tex Rickard never expected President Taft to accept his offer to referee, but I bet the offer generated an abundance of pre-fight publicity.

  6. peter 02:03pm, 05/27/2016

    The boxing model has also evolved from print-based to digitally based. Boxing has emerged from its infancy when poor, yet tough, young kids on the street corner sold newspapers and had to protect their turf with fists. Many of those kids in the 1920s matured into pro fighters, (ie. Benny Leonard, Barney Ross). That was the day of “newspaper decisions”, then later Ring Magazine and Boxing Illustrated—all print based media. Nowadays, it’s all digital—digital scoring and the internet…...and!.....BTW, My mother-in-law died of a heart attack while watching, and rooting for, the Chinese women’s volleyball team compete in the Beijing Olympics.

  7. Clarence George 08:43am, 05/27/2016

    I know that Loni Anderson played Jayne, but I never saw it.

  8. Vinny Vega$ 07:54am, 05/27/2016

    I remember watching a movie about Jayne Mansfield back in the day. The Austrian Oak aka the Governator played the role of her husband, Mickey Hargitay. This was a couple of years before Arnold broke out big with the Conan & Terminator movies.

  9. Clarence George 07:19am, 05/27/2016

    That’s Mickey Hargitay, Vinny, a Mr. Universe who was Jayne’s husband at the time.  They are, as I guess is well known, the parents of Mariska Hargitay.

  10. Clarence George 07:10am, 05/27/2016

    Thanks very much indeed, Irish, so glad you liked it.

    Liz Renay!  She hasn’t come to mind in ages.  A bit of a mob moll, though not quite in the same league as Virginia Hill.  Candy Barr is my favorite exotic dancer.  Like Liz, she was very much connected with Mickey Cohen.

    By the way, the accompanying photo is rather prophetic.  In 1966, a photo shoot went wrong and one of Jayne’s sons, Zoltan Hargitay, was badly mauled by a lion.  Another factoid:  Jayne earned $25,000 a week in Vegas, which is at least 200 grand today.  She was offered the role of Ginger on “Gilligan’s Island,” but opted for Vegas instead.  Just in terms of money, as there were no residuals in those days, I think she was right.  No matter, I guess, as she died debt-ridden.

  11. Vinny Vega$ 07:08am, 05/27/2016

    Nice pitcher. Just tell the big guy holding the cub to take it easy. Big cats are dangerous but a little pussy won’t hurt anyone. teehee.

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:15am, 05/27/2016

    Clarence George-Once again you deliver the goods! Great research, writing and very entertaining. Timing is everything in life….Ali fought for peanuts at the Convention Center and Floyd nullifies and avoids for wheelbarrows full of Ben Franklins! Jayne or Candy Barr or Liz Renay….take your pick….what a delightful dilemma….it makes one’s head spin!

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