Ranking the Greatest Venues in Boxing History
For any serious boxing fan, arenas like Madison Square Garden and Caesar's Palace hold the same status as holy sites. These are the places where true boxing greatness took place.
Of course, for a boxing purist, the venue for a fight shouldn't really matter. Strictly speaking, as long as you have a 20'-by-20' squared circle, that should be enough.
But the best prizefights couldn't be made if there weren't venues willing to stage the fight. And so the places where the fights happened end up becoming celebrated along with the fighters.
Great fights happen all over the world every month. But from a historical perspective, it's tough to top these 10.
10. Yankee Stadium
The most famous baseball stadium of all time also has a rich history in boxing. It's become sadly underused since the late 1970s, although Miguel Cotto did fight Yuri Foreman there in 2010.
From the 1930s through 1950s, it was a true rival to Madison Square Garden. The biggest stars of the day, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis, fought there regularly.
The rubber match between Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton was also held in Yankee Stadium in 1976. I had big hopes for Cotto vs. Foreman initiating a new era in the Bronx, but so far that hasn't been the case.
9. The Cow Palace in San Francisco
In today's world, San Francisco is a city mostly associated with the computer-tech boom and outrageous real estate prices. In recent history, the city is known for the hippie, flower-power movement of the 1960s.
But in the history of boxing, San Francisco is an important place. In the early 20th century, it was a boxing hotbed, producing major stars like "Gentleman" Jim Corbett.
Originally known as the California Livestock Pavilion, the Cow Palace was completed in 1941. During the post-war golden age of boxing, it was a premier venue for world championship boxing on the West Coast.
8. York Hall in London
York Hall is the smallest venue on this list. In terms of prestige, it's the boxing equivalent of the tiny mom-and-pop diner that gets mentioned all over cable food networks alongside four-star eateries. It's a council-run spa and community gym.
But for British boxing fans, it has a special kind of cache. Established in 1929, it's an institution. It's hosted world title fights yet routinely stages local amateur cards.
If you're a boxing fan and you make it to London, it's a must-see location. There's not a bad seat in the entire place.
7. Plaza Mexico
Estadio Azteca is overall the most historic stadium in Mexico City. It's an iconic soccer stadium and has played host to two World Cup finals. It was also the site for the largest boxing crowd in history when over 120,000 fans watched Julio Cesar Chavez pound Greg Haugen in 1993.
But the Plaza Mexico has a deeper boxing history. The largest bullfighting ring in the world, it's also played host to the greatest Mexican warriors to emerge since the end of World War II.
Stars like Ruben Olivares, Chavez, Ricardo Lopez, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez all cut their teeth in the legendary venue.
6. Olympia Stadium in Detroit
Known as "The Red Barn," Olympia Stadium in Detroit was the longtime home of the Original Six NHL franchise Detroit Red Wings. And during the golden age of boxing of the 1940s and 1950s, it was one of the biggest boxing venues in the world.
The Olympia no doubt benefited from being located in Detroit, the adopted hometown of Joe Louis, but the city's International Boxing Club made the venue a major boxing location in general. It was where Jake LaMotta recorded the two biggest wins of his career, his victory over Sugar Ray Robinson and his middleweight world title victory over Marcel Cerdan.
5. The Great Western Forum
On May 17, Juan Manuel Marquez defeated Mike Alvarado in the Forum in Inglewood, California. It marked the first time a boxing card had been held there since the early days of this century. For boxing fans above a certain age, it was like a return to the good old days.
That Marquez should have headlined that card was entirely appropriate. He became a star fighting at the Forum in the 1990s and is the sole remaining star from the Forum's golden years. But he was only the last in a string of boxing superstars to make history there.
The Great Western Forum is like many venues on this list in that it was famous in a variety of sports. It was the home court for the great Showtime L.A. Lakers of the 1980s.
Boxing is the perfect sport to keep these historic venues lucrative and relevant.
4. The MGM Grand
The epitome of the 1990s building boom, the MGM Grand only opened for business a little over 20 years ago. In terms of room capacity, it's the largest hotel in the United States.
And it's quickly taken on a status that earns it a place on this list. Some of the sport's biggest fights in this century have happened there. It's become the go-to venue for major fights.
It's the headquarters for Floyd Mayweather and a frequent location for Manny Pacquiao fights. If this list is drawn up 50 years from now and Las Vegas hasn't run out of water yet, the MGM will no doubt rank even higher.
3. The Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City
Boardwalk in Atlantic City is an immediately recognizable name to anybody who has ever played the board game Monopoly. In boxing, Boardwalk Hall has a history that stretches back over half a century. In 1963, Hall of Famers Dick Tiger and Joey Giardello battled there for the undisputed middleweight crown.
The venue was originally known as Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall. Its status as a major boxing site really heated up in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the big fights of Michael Spinks' dominant run at light heavyweight took place there.
Evander Holyfield rematched with Dwight Muhammad Qawi at Boardwalk Hall. But Mike Tyson really put it on the map, making four title defenses there, including his famous 91-second demolition of Michael Spinks in 1988.
2. Caesar's Palace
For boxing fans who came of age in the 1980s, the words "Caesar's Palace" were magical. The iconic outdoor Colosseum was the major venue for the greatest fights of the era.
Sugar Ray Leonard fought there often. It's where he made his furious Round 14 TKO comeback against Thomas Hearns and where he fought the Hitman to a controversial draw in a rematch. It's where Leonard made his dramatic return to the sport when he won a split decision from Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987.
Larry Holmes sent Muhammad Ali back into retirement at Caesar's. Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield fought the second and third fights in their classic rivalry at the venue.
It's been eclipsed by the MGM Grand in recent years, but if you're a boxing fan in your 40s, Caesar's remains in the lead for historical value.
1. Madison Square Garden
Let me be clear: When it came time to make this list, there was Madison Square Garden and everywhere else. Located in midtown Manhattan, on Seventh Avenue between 31st Street and 33rd Street, the venue long ago earned its status as "The Mecca of Boxing."
Virtually every elite boxer of the modern era has fought in the Garden, from John Sullivan to Wladimir Klitschko. It's where Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali in "The Fight of the Century."
The Knicks and the Rangers call it home, but for decades, boxing was king in the Garden. Even an East Coast guy like me can't deny that the center of boxing has shifted to Las Vegas during recent decades. But the Garden still hangs in as one of the sport's major venues.
On June 7, it will host yet another pay-per-view gala, as future Hall of Famers Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez face off.
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