I like Las Vegas. Judge me. I don’t like it ironically, I don’t like it because I’m a raging capitalist, I don’t see it as a 21st-century equivalent of a Caribbean pirate town, nor the naked manifestation of the American Dream.
I just think it’s a fun place to hang out.
I’ve partied on the strip, fell in love with/at a downtown music festival, and been driven through the desert by Dan Bilzerian. Plus I’ve missed my flight out of there. Twice. (One lost passport; one missed alarm.) Not a bad Vegas resume, if I say so myself, but the beauty of this town is it always keeps giving.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you THE ULTIMATE VEGAS SPORTS WEEKEND! Multiple sporting experiences crammed into two days – because this is Vegas and fuck moderation.
Read the summary below and ensure your trip to Nevada coincides with your favourite. Or wait until the next UVSW and go to ALL OF THEM! Let’s get to it…
The first thing to note about the Pennzoil 400, one of two NASCAR races held annually at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is that it’s loud – really loud.
SO LOUD THAT I MUST RESORT TO CAPITAL LETTERS TO COMMUNICATE THE LOUDNESS, WHICH IS NONETHELESS FUTILE BECAUSE NOTHING ON EARTH IS AS LOUD AS A NASCAR RACE. HEAD TO YOUR NEAREST AIRPORT AND READ THIS ARTICLE WHILE STANDING NEXT TO A JET ENGINE AND YOU MIGHT GET THE IDEA, EXCEPT NASCAR IS EVEN LOUDER.
Cars scream around and circuit in front of 80,000 rootin', tootin' yankee-doodle dandies
Even as a non-autophile, I must concede that there is something impressively American about the whole shebang, cars screaming around the circuit in front of 80,000 rootin’, tootin’ yankee-doodle dandies, with petrol in their veins and smoke emerging from their cochlea, as goddamn fighter jets tear across the blazing sky, and the Englishman wonders if he’s about to faint from the heat.
If cars are your thing then this is a must; if cars aren’t your thing, well, Vegas is hardly short of alternative attractions. Cars are my editor’s thing, and he says “a NASCAR race in Vegas is a rite of passage for any petrolhead” – and he hasn’t even been to one. Typical limey.
Vegas Golden Knights
The preliminaries are just as understated as you’d expect for a Las Vegas ice hockey team. For a point of comparison: I support Crystal Palace. Before every match a bald eagle flies across the pitch, and the teams walk out to ‘Glad All Over’ through a guard of cheerleaders. That’s considered pretty nifty by PL standards (OK, some may say ‘tacky’.) The Vegas Golden Knights go a little bigger.
I was expecting the light show and the drummers and the fan/players montage, or at least something of this ilk. I wasn’t expecting a short film in which a group of (modern) soldiers discover a sword ’n’ stone in the desert and duly chopper the thing back to Vegas, where it appears in the middle of the ice…
(Like every other sport, ice hockey was more fun ‘In Them Olden Days’
Nor the golden knight (medieval) who skated onto the ice, battled the opposition mascot, and then removed sword from stone to manic applause. By the time Imagine Dragons had set off some fireworks outside a plastic castle in the top of the arena, I was ready to pick up a stick myself, and hit a dragon with it.
The game? The game was a thriller that went to overtime. There were fewer fights than I’d hoped for, apparently a product of the game’s increased skill and athleticism in recent years. (Like every other sport, ice hockey was more fun ‘In Them Olden Days’.) But overall this is a must-visit. Go Knights!
AKA the unexpected delight of the trip. The USA Sevens is part of the Sevens World Series (there are ten locations altogether), and has been held at the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas since 2010. It’s the largest annual rugby competition in North America – I’m not sure how hard this is, becoming North America’s largest annual rugby competition, but it’s something – and everyone in attendance should have left a convert. It’s a blast.
The games come thick and fast (as do the players). The quality is high, the sun is hot, and the crowd are clearly having the time of their lives. The KenYan contingent were especially raucous, and justly so seeing as their boys battled back for a 24-19 win over Argentina. There are few better ways to spend a Vegas afternoon, or any afternoon for that matter.
The format offers maximum bang for your buck, and by bang I mean large men running into each other.
It’s a bit simplistic to describe rugby sevens as rugby for people who don’t like rugby – see: cricket, 20/20 – but the format offers maximum bang for your buck, and by bang I mean large men running into each other. Tries come often, and halves last a mere seven minutes (this sport is hard), ensuring a constant flow of enjoyably idiosyncratic match-ups. (Japan vs Chile, anyone?)
Plus USA won, so everyone went home happy.
(Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
At its best MMA is ‘boxing – but you can kick!’ At its worst it’s basically two people sitting down. When they lie on the ground, one atop the other, arms locked, legs intertwined, the distance between MMA and pornography is the width of the combatants’ shorts. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with pornography but it isn’t traditionally considered a sporting activity to be watched by a live audience of thousands and screened on pay-per-view. (Well, not that type of pay-per-view.)
All of which is a long-winded way of saying: the two main events of UFC 235 – Jon Jones vs Anthony Smith; Kamaru Usman vs Tyron Woodley – featured virtuoso wrestling displays by Jones and Usman, unanimous points victories that won Usman the welterweight title and solidified Jones’ claim as the greatest MMA fighter to ever enter the Octagon, and were also a bit of a drag for the casual spectator who rocked up hoping to see someone roundhouse someone else in the head.
You can’t really go on a sporting trip to Vegas and not take in some form of licenced violence
On the flip side: the production of a UFC event is unbelievably slick, any chance to watch athletes operate at the pinnacle of their sport should be savoured – and, in the case of Jones, this pinnacle isn’t merely current but historical, he really is TBE – and you can’t really go on a sporting trip to Vegas and not take in some form of licenced violence.
But unless you’re a true connoisseur, maybe research the combatants’ fighting styles in advance, and give the wrestlers a miss.
Las Vegas Lights
So we didn’t actually watch a Las Vegas Lights football (fine, soccer) match, but we did take a tour of the stadium, hear about the team, and
I must say the loss appears to be ours.
Because Las Vegas Lights sound great. Cashman Field is relatively tiny by EFL standards – its capacity of 10,000 would make a decent League One crowd – but LVL more than compensate with various innovations that very much play up to their home city. This is entertainment first, football second.
A DJ plays in the crowd, the club is partnered with a marijuana dispensary
Take the team mascot: Cash the Soccer Rocker. Who is Cash the Soccer Rocker? Cash the Soccer Rocker is an amalgamation of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. He rides a Harley Davidson around the stadium (so you can arguably add Evel Knievel into the mix). Or there’s Dolly and Dotty – not tea ladies but alpacas. Actual, living alpacas who are shown off pre-match; one of them once pooped on the pitch shortly before kick off.
A DJ plays in the crowd, the frankly psychedelic jersey has an emoji on the reverse, the club is partnered with a marijuana dispensary, the downtown location is a short drive from Fremont Street – the coolest area of Vegas: forget the Strip – all good reasons to pay a visit to Cashman Field. The club only formed in 2017, and play in the USL Championship rather than the more celebrated MSL.
But frankly, when you have alpacas, who really cares? A good rule for life in general, really.