By Eric Raskin
It was at the Thomas & Mack Center a few blocks off the Las Vegas Strip that Lennox Lewis unified all the heavyweight titles against Evander Holyfield in 1999. It was at Mandalay Bay that, two years later, Lewis recaptured the undisputed championship via vicious knockout over Hasim Rahman. It was down the road a few paces at Caesars that Holyfield himself became a two-time lineal heavyweight champ in the infamous “Fan Man” fight with Riddick Bowe. It was at the MGM Grand that Holyfield scored both of his unforgettable—for altogether different reasons—victories over Mike Tyson. It was also at the MGM that Bernard Hopkins crashed the mainstream by stopping Oscar De La Hoya with a bodyshot. And it was at the same MGM Grand Garden Arena that De La Hoya set what was then the pay-per-view record for buys and revenue when he battled for 12 rounds with Floyd Mayweather.
Now there’s a new venue in town, hoping to generate its own fair share of fistic memories, starting this weekend with Canelo Alvarez’s middleweight championship defense against Amir Khan. The T-Mobile Arena, tucked behind New York New York Hotel & Casino, less than a 10-minute walk from the MGM Grand, welcomes its first sporting event as well as its first live telecast of any kind on Saturday night (Friday night’s outdoor fights are on the property, but not inside the arena), and on Thursday evening, it welcomed the boxing media for a tour of the state-of-the-art facility. But the highlight on Thursday was not the empty building, dazzling though it is. It was the four legends sitting on couches, sharing their thoughts on Canelo-Khan and their memories of punches exchanged.
Lewis, Holyfield, Hopkins, and De La Hoya ribbed each other, paid respect to each other, and spoke their minds about the signature moments of their careers in a panel discussion moderated by ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael. Some highlights: Evander admitting that Lennox had him hurt along the ropes in the early rounds of their first attempt at unification, the disputed draw at Madison Square Garden; Lennox accusing Evander of using his head, and Oscar chiming in to accuse Bernard of doing the same; Hopkins paying tribute to the current Philadelphia sports scene by quoting the Sixers mantra "Trust the Process" in reference to the possibility of a Canelo-Gennady Golovkin fight; De La Hoya asking Holyfield what in the hell was going through his mind when Fan Man crash-landed along the ropes; Lewis struggling to remember if he’d ever been an underdog and asking some of the veteran British journalists in the crowd for help; Evander and Lennox both lamenting how the general public wouldn’t accept them as champions until they beat Mike Tyson; Hopkins half-jokingly saying he would have made it through his career undefeated if not for the judges; and Lewis quite insightfully talking about nerves and how it took about 20 or 30 pro fights before he could make it to the ring not feeling like he was going to throw up.
Lewis, Holyfield, and De La Hoya are finished making memories in the ring, and Hopkins figures to be joining them in retirement very soon. Canelo and Khan, both in their 20s, still have a long way to go. Hopefully, on Saturday night, they’ll engage in a battle worth telling stories about decades from now.