Evander Holyfield, others eye Las Vegas for boxing league

Retired boxing champion Evander Holyfield is among the ownership group seeking to develop a boxing league to be headquartered in Las Vegas.

Commissioner and league chief operating officer Jim Thomas, who once served as Holyfield’s manager, are hoping the world will embrace boxing as a team sport as it has supported soccer.

“We’re not talking about kicking a ball,” he said. “We’re talking about kicking ass.”

Thomas envisions a league with accessible athletes and fan engagement, an open scoring system that is easy to understand and procedures that should keep fans interested for the duration of a match.

Each team would have fighters in six weight classes — probably 12 boxers per team to include back-ups — and matches would feature five three-minute rounds with one-minute recesses between rounds. Each team would face each other home and away with possible bye weeks to provide a 14-match season from February through June.

To generate suspense, the final bout of each match would be for double points and the home team gets to choose the order of the the bouts featuring lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight fighters.

“Individual fighters should be able to develop a nice local fan base, and geographic rivalries should enhance fan enthusiasm,” Thomas said in an interview.

Thomas and Holyfield were hoping to address the newly formed Southern Nevada Sporting Event Committee to pitch the idea of establishing boxing as a team sport.

The committee, formed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, met for the first time in mid-June but has yet to set its next meeting. It has been charged with issuing a report to the governor and the Nevada Legislature on the steps necessary to attract major sporting events to Las Vegas.

A representative of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development said the league was referred to the Nevada Athletic Commission, which has jurisdiction over boxing and mixed martial arts competition.

There was no indication whether the league could qualify for economic incentives by locating league offices in Nevada or whether it would apply.

Thomas said he believes boxing, as one of the foundation sports to bring Las Vegas to prominence, can regain some of its prestige with a league that pits cities against each other and turns the individual sport into team competition.

Thomas, of Atlanta, was in Las Vegas last week to discuss his World Boxing League proposal with top combat sports promoters and potential investors.

Thomas said the investors tried to get the league started in 2007, but plans were short-circuited by the Great Recession. But now, he said, the time is right to try again, especially with Southern Nevada’s bid to capitalize on sports entertainment.

Investors hope to launch the league within 18 to 24 months.

The partners say the boxers will enjoy a reliable, livable salary with a steady stream of matches, life and health insurance through the league, professional management and potential global exposure through live-streaming of matches.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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