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Superstar ‘Tank’ headlines historic boxing card for Strip venue

The clues as to what a special boxing venue the MGM Grand Garden was going to be were there from the beginning.

Julio Cesar Chavez was unbeaten in 90 career fights and was more than a -1,500 favorite when he stepped in the ring there to face Frankie Randall on Jan. 29, 1994, in the first championship fight card at the new arena on the Strip.

Randall sent Chavez to the canvas and controlled much of the fight, though he was only awarded the majority decision because of two point deductions for Chavez low blows.

The unbeaten run for Chavez was over, but the legend of the MGM Grand Garden was just beginning.

One of the most storied venues in all of boxing will host its 100th night of championship boxing bouts Saturday when one of the sport’s biggest big office draws, Gervonta “Tank” Davis (29-0, 27 knockouts), faces challenger Frank Martin (18-0, 12 KOs) for the WBA lightweight title in the main event of a pay-per-view card that begins at 5 p.m.

“The MGM has meant everything to boxing,” said Leonard Ellerbe, the promoter for Davis and one of the sport’s biggest power brokers. “It’s the most historic place in the entire world for me. It’s held the most iconic and biggest events in the history of the sport. I’m so glad I’ve been a part of that history-making stuff, and this is big for Tank. He knows what this means and he’s so proud and thankful to be able to headline this important celebration of such an iconic venue.”

History happens here

It’s difficult to oversell the amount of boxing history that has been made at the arena, with many of the biggest moments of the past 30 years going down at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. fought there 15 times, including the blockbuster event against Manny Pacquiao in 2015 that set just about every box office and pay-per-view record for boxing.

Mike Tyson famously took a bite out of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a 1997 bout at the venue.

Tragically, it was also the site of the Sept. 7, 1996, fight between Tyson and Bruce Seldon that is best remembered for the shooting of rapper Tupac Shakur in a car a few blocks away after he departed the arena. He died six days later.

There was a long stretch of time when the arena was the default host of every major event and every major star in the sport.

“The MGM Grand Garden Arena, for a significant period of time when it consistently hosted major boxing events, was the pinnacle as it pertained to a venue,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Lampley said.

T-Mobile Arena opened across the street in 2016 and has taken on many of the major cards in Las Vegas, but the intimate MGM Grand Garden continues to be a viable option and still has massive sentimental appeal.

Martin is certainly excited about his opportunity to challenge Davis on that stage.

“It means everything,” Martin said. “It’s my first time fighting here and that was already a blessing, but for it to be the 100th makes it even more special. And to be able to have the opportunity to beat Gervonta Davis, one of the faces of boxing, it doesn’t get any bigger than that. It’s a big blessing.”

Different paths

It’s particularly special for Martin, who has fought in places like armories and a sports park. His first fight in Las Vegas was just four years ago at Sam’s Town.

Davis, who won a national Golden Gloves title at 18 years old in 2012 and was a decorated amateur, was already a big name when he made his pro debut.

Davis took a shot at Martin for being less heralded, but the underdog is proud of his career trajectory.

“Everyone has their own path and my path is different,” Martin said. “That’s why this fight is so important to me to go out and win it because all the hard work and sacrifice I made is going to pay off.”

The co-main event of the $74.95 Amazon Prime and PPV.com card features an interim WBC light heavyweight title fight between David Benavidez and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, a Las Vegas resident, is moving up after being unable to secure a bout against Canelo Alvarez.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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