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Former Senator Harry Reid's lifelong passion for sweet science lands him in Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Harry Reid, once the second-most powerful man in the United States behind only President Barack Obama, has had a lifelong love affair with boxing.

The former Senate Majority Leader from Nevada grew up in Searchlight, a small town 60 miles from Las Vegas, in a modest home with no indoor plumbing, hot water or telephone. He was raised in the type of circumstances that many of the boxers he’d go on to root for had, and learned he had to work hard for everything he wanted.

Reid, who was recently elected to the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame and will be inducted at Caesars Palace on Aug. 18, fought as an amateur and served as a judge for the Nevada Athletic Commission. But his biggest contributions to the sport probably came when he was in the Senate, and desperate promoters would call him pleading for assistance getting a fighter into the country.

“I guess I was pretty good at that,” Reid said, grinning impishly.

Boxers helped him get re-elected twice. In 1998, he narrowly won re-election over Las Vegas veterinarian John Ensign, who would later be elected to the Senate in Nevada and worked alongside Reid.

In 1998, both Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya campaigned for him. In 2010, many have credited boxer Manny Pacquiao with bringing out the Filipino vote and enabling him to defeat Tea Party challenger Sharron Angle.

Reid fell in love with boxing as a boy in Searchlight, lying in his bed listening to the legendary play-by-play announcer Don Dunphy call the fights on the radio.

“These fights, they were so exciting on the radio,” Reid said.

Harry Reid addresses a small crowd at the commissioning of the 179 megawatt (MW) Switch Station 1 and Switch Station 2 Solar Projects north of Las Vegas on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

On a wall in his home in Henderson, Nevada, are pictures of legendary boxers Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Art Aragon, Barney Ross and Primo Carnera.

He and his wife, Landra, inherited the photos from her father, who was a chiropractor in Los Angeles who had an office near the old Main Street Gym. He treated many of the fighters who worked out in the gym and became friends with them.

After he died, Reid was going through his father-in-law’s personal effects with his wife and discovered the photos. They soon found a place of honor on a wall in his home.

New York’s Madison Square Garden seemed on the other side of the world to a boy in Searchlight, a town that even today has a population of only about 500. But Reid would listen to fights on the radio that were held in Madison Square Garden and he would draw a mental picture in his mind of the action.

He learned when he boxed himself what it was he loved about the sport.

“The atmosphere of a fight, even my fights, is electric,” Reid said. “It’s electric to go in there and see that. In a fight, you have nobody to help you. You’re there [by yourself]. It’s you and that guy across the ring. … Now, why do I enjoy going to these fights? First of all, it reminds me of Madison Square Garden. I didn’t get there until many, many years after I listened to these fights, but they were so exciting on the radio.”

He became a judge after his fighting days were over, and said he scored hundreds of bouts. For years, he’d tell people that he had judged a fight involving the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson.

Widely regarded as the best fighter of all-time, Robinson only fought once in Nevada, when he met Fern Hernandez on July 12, 1965, at the Hacienda Casino, which sat where the Luxor sits now. It was 25 years after he’d made his pro debut and only a few months before the end of his legendary career.

But in doing research, Reid realized that he hadn’t actually scored the Robinson-Hernandez bout. He worked the card that night, but didn’t work the Robinson fight.

Hernandez, a bartender at the Hacienda who was missing a thumb, won a split decision over 10 rounds.

“I had it so burned into my mind that I’d worked that fight,” Reid said. “Robinson was a hard guy to forget.”

Reid teamed with a Senate colleague, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to work on legislation aimed at having the federal government regulate boxing, but it never came to pass.

Reid stays in touch with the sport and watches all of the major bouts on television. He lost the sight in his right eye in an accident while working out in his home in 2015, and doesn’t go to many live fights now because it’s difficult for him to deal with the crowds.

But he made it a point to get a seat for the next major bout in Las Vegas. He said he’s eager to see Canelo Alvarez, whom he referred to as “the red-headed kid,” fight Gennady Golovkin on May 5 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“That is going to be a good fight,” Reid said of the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch. “That’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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