T&M shows staying power in fight game

Even while MGM Mirage properties have had a virtual monopoly on major fights in Las Vegas, the Thomas & Mack Center keeps finding a way to stay involved in boxing.

The long-awaited light heavyweight fight between Joe Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins will take place April 19 on UNLV’s campus, a deal that raised a few eyebrows when it was announced Wednesday.

Mandalay Bay had been regarded as the likely site if Calzaghe-Hopkins was to be in Las Vegas. Other possible venues included Yankee Stadium and undetermined sites in the United Kingdom, because Calzaghe is from Wales.

But Thomas & Mack director Daren Libonati teamed with Robert Earl, founder and chief executive officer of Planet Hollywood, and they landed the fight.

“We’ve been working on this since Thanksgiving,” Libonati said. “We knew there would be a lot of interest, especially overseas.”

The last time the Thomas & Mack hosted a fight card was June 23, when thousands of British fans filled the arena to watch welterweight Ricky Hatton demolish an over-the-hill Jose Luis Castillo. Libonati expects another British invasion for Calzaghe-Hopkins.

“We had just under 10,000 for Hatton-Castillo and over 6,000 were Brits,” Libonati said. “We believe Calzaghe has the potential to bring even more fans over than Hatton.”

Libonati hopes the partnership with Planet Hollywood will result in more fights at the Thomas & Mack.

“We want it to be good for Planet Hollywood,” he said. “If they’re successful, we’ll also benefit.”

PRE-FIGHT TESTING — For the next few months, the Nevada Athletic Commission will administer pre-fight drug tests in addition to the usual fight-night testing for steroids and other banned substances.

The NAC will pay for the tests out of $18,000 secured from the Nevada legislature. A fighter who fails a pre-fight test could be denied a license and be subject to further commission discipline.

PAVLIK-TAYLOR OFFICIALS — Tony Weeks has been named referee for the Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor fight Feb. 16 at the MGM Grand Garden.

Patricia Jarman, Dave Moretti and Glenn Trowbridge, all from Nevada, will serve as judges.

KAMBALA RETURNS — Crown Boxing promoter Frank Luca said heavyweight Kaspars Kambala will fight on his March 7 card at The Orleans. The former UNLV basketball player fought to a four-round majority draw in his professional debut against Alvaro Morales on Jan. 11.

No opponent has been named for the 6-foot-9-inch, 270-pound Kambala. There was talk of a rematch against Morales, but it appears Kambala will face someone else.

“We’d like to fight Morales again, but not right away,” said Richard Steele, Kambala’s trainer. “We’re looking at a couple of local guys, but we want to do that date.”

Steele said Kambala will be getting his right ankle examined by a doctor. Kambala sustained a high ankle sprain three weeks before the Morales fight, causing him to miss more than a week of training.

“We want to make sure he can properly train so we can go in 100 percent for the fight in March,” Steele said.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2913.

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