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Brits in Vegas

British boxers have suffered their fair share of pain, defeat and even humiliation in Las Vegas down the years. This Saturday night, Amir Khan, of Bolton, England, will become the latest to risk his reputation in the gambling capital when he defends his WBA super lightweight championship against Argentinian puncher Marcos Maidana at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Although Khan will start as the betting favorite, history sees the odds tilted slightly against him. Since 1980, when Alan Minter outpointed Italian Vito Antuofermo to capture the world middleweight title at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas has hosted 28 world title fights involving 19 British boxers. The record stands at 12-16 - with 11 of those losses incurred by debutants.

So what is it about the neon-lit city that brings on those paralysing first-fight nerves?

Here are five Brits who came to Las Vegas for the first time seeking fame and fortune, only to leave with their pretensions shattered. We'll know soon enough if Khan can avoid the hoodoo that has left a huge hole in the resumés of some of the UK's finest.

BARRY McGUIGAN LUD15 Steve Cruz
Caesars Palace, June 23, 1986


The exciting, popular McGuigan had helped to unite trouble-torn Northern Ireland on his way to winning the WBA featherweight title, but was to regret accepting Cruz as a substitute challenger after original choice, Argentinian Fernando Sosa, withdrew with a detached retina. In his third defence, McGuigan, 26, struggled to cope with the searing afternoon heat in Nevada, and faded badly after leading on points. The Irishman was dropped once in the 10th and twice in the 15th as Cruz, a little-known 22-year-old from Texas, rallied to capture a unanimous decision, although two judges had him only one point in front. A drained, emotional McGuigan blew a kiss as he was carried from the ring on a stretcher. McGuigan, beset by managerial problems, didn't fight again for nearly two years. He eventually returned as a junior lightweight, winning three fights, but was beaten on cuts by Englishman Jim McDonnell and retired immediately.

LLOYD HONEYGHAN LTKO9 Marlon Starling
Caesars Palace, February 4, 1989


Honeyghan, the self-styled Ragamuffin Man from Bermondsey, south London, had already peaked by the time he met bitter rival Starling, having shocked emerging superstar Don Curry in 1986. Defending the WBC welterweight title he had regained from Mexican Jorge Vaca less than a year earlier, Honeyghan, 28, was a shadow of his old self. After trying to blast through Starling in the first five rounds, Honeyghan was implored by manager Mickey Duff to change tactics. He duly switched to a hit-and-move style from the sixth, but it only hastened his demise. Starling, the superior boxer, picked Honeyghan off at will and stepped up the pressure to force a stoppage in the ninth, with the champion down once. Honeyghan suffered a broken jaw and his right eye was closing from underneath at the finish. He had one more world title fight, a three-round blowout loss to Mark Breland in London, before retiring in 1995.

FRANK BRUNO LTKO5 Mike Tyson
Las Vegas Hilton, February 25, 1989


Bruno, 27, was the WBC's mandatory heavyweight challenger, but he hadn't fought for 16 months before facing undisputed champion Tyson in Britain's first live satellite TV fight. The south Londoner was given little chance, even though Tyson had been inactive for eight months himself since destroying nearest rival Michael Spinks in 91 seconds. It was also the champion's first fight since firing longtime trainer Kevin Rooney. Around 2,000 British fans flew over to support Bruno, and they must have feared the worst when Tyson floored the challenger with a right hand just seconds in. But Bruno survived and fought back to buckle Tyson's knees with a left hook before the end of the first round. It made no difference. Tyson, although well below par, regained control before overpowering Bruno in the fifth. They met again in Vegas in 1996, this time with Bruno as champion. Tyson won again, this time two rounds sooner. Bruno retired soon afterwards.

PRINCE NASEEM HAMED LUD12 Marco Antonio Barrera
MGM Grand, April 7, 2001


This was the night the brash, flashy Hamed had his bubble burst after 35 consecutive wins and 15 defenses of the WBO featherweight title. Although he had already fought four times in America, Hamed's Vegas baptism was eagerly awaited against an opponent he had been linked with for years. But he was badly exposed as Mexican Barrera, coming up from junior featherweight, outsmarted and outpunched the 27-year-old Yorkshire-Yemenite to capture a unanimous 12-round points decision and the vacant IBO title. A subsequent TV documentary in Britain laid bare Hamed's lax preparation for the fight, which saw him distracted by the trappings of wealth and celebrity. Hamed fought once more, decisioning Spaniard Manuel Calvo just over a year later, but he wasn't the same fighter and failed to deliver on his promise of becoming a multiweight world champion. Persistent comeback rumours, invariably fuelled by Hamed himself, came to nothing. Hamed is now a manager.

DANNY WILLIAMS LTKO8 Vitali Klitschko
Mandalay Bay, December 11, 2004


Williams, a likeable 31-year-old from Brixton, south London, had been known for years in Britain as a mood fighter - talented and brave, but prone to bouts of inconsistency. In his previous fight in Louisville, he had absorbed the bombs of an aging Mike Tyson for two rounds before blasting back to win in the fourth. The dramatic, unexpected turnaround catapulted the unassuming Williams to world attention and an inevitable heavyweight title shot. It came against the towering, heavy-handed Ukrainian Klitschko, who was defending the WBC belt for the first time. Williams was never in it, but needed all his bravery to survive four knockdowns before the fight was stopped in the eighth round. Williams finished marked up with his right eye swollen shut. He continued to figure in entertaining fights on the British scene but suffered a one-sided second-round loss to unbeaten prospect Dereck Chisora in his last fight in May.

We'll know soon enough if Khan can avoid the hoodoo that has left a huge hole in the resumés of some of the UK's finest.

Posted 12:00 AM | Dec 7, 2010

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