Why Mexican Independence Day impacts the boxing and MMA schedules

Alexa Grasso will headline the first Noche UFC event on Saturday -- which is also Mexican Independence Day -- defending her women's flyweight title against Valentina Shevchenko at Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena. Amy Kaplan/Icon Sportswire

On Saturday, Sept. 16, Mexico's Alexa Grasso will defend her UFC women's flyweight title in a rematch with Valentina Shevchenko in Las Vegas. The date itself, which not coincidentally also marks Mexico's Independence Day, holds a special place for boxing fans, too; mid-September championship fights in the Nevada desert have been a mainstay for decades.

Mexico's long fight for independence over 200 years ago took a heavy toll on the country and its people. It's only natural, then, for the fighting spirit of a country that has produced over 200 world boxing champions to take center stage on the weekend -- one of two big fight dates within any given calendar year.

Dieciséis de Septiembre -- which usually signals the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month festivities that begin Friday and last through Oct. 15 in the U.S. -- has become an unofficial holiday in Las Vegas. Mexican fight fans will once more have a few of their own to cheer for this weekend, albeit strictly in the Octagon. So how exactly did combat sports come to be synonymous with the weekend? From Julio Cesar Chavez to Canelo Alvarez and now Grasso, we take a look at the some of the key figures and moments behind this marriage of sports and culture.

What is celebrated on Dieciséis de Septiembre?

Much like the Fourth of July holiday in the U.S. marks the colonies' split with England, Dieciséis de Septiembre commemorates Mexico's declaration of independence from Spain. On Sept. 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo, a Catholic priest stationed in the central Mexican town of Dolores who is widely considerted the country's primary founding father, let out the first cry for freedom. What ensued was an 11-year war that claimed as many as half a million casualties before the Treaty of Cordoba in 1821 ended three centuries of Spanish rule over Mexico.

Today, Mexican statesmen at home and abroad ceremoniously replicate Hidalgo's famous cry, known as El Grito De Dolores. Just as Hidalgo did two centuries ago, these statesmen ring a bell, beginning the celebrations. Chants of remembrance for the country's founders follow, and festivities are capped off with lively and repeated cries of ¡Viva México! In the U.S., it is common for Mexican ambassadors and consuls in large cities around the country to gather some of the largest communities of Mexican Americans in celebration.

Dieciséis de Septiembre should not be confused with Cinco de Mayo, a celebration which honors the Mexican army's victory over the French empire at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1962. However, both dates are equally popular on the fight calendar.

When did boxing gain a foothold on the weekend?

The first recorded instance of Mexican fighters headlining a card to coincide with Mexican Independence Day weekend dates to 1972, when Armando Ramos fought Erubey Carmona at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. However, the idea of having Las Vegas serve as home base for such events did not come to fruition until almost 20 years later.

Legendary Mexican boxer and International Boxing Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez was placed center stage at Las Vegas' Mirage Hotel & Casino on Sept. 14, 1991. The idea was the brainchild of promoter Don King, who managed Chavez during the most successful portion of the boxer's career. The bout against junior welterweight Lonnie Smith was mostly a dud, with Chavez winning easily via unanimous decision. However, the interest generated from the fight, both from attendance and pay-per-view numbers, was enough that King and Chavez subsequently kept going back to that well.

Every year from 1991 to 1995, Chavez booked a fight on the week of Dieciséis. Only in 1993 did Chavez stray from Nevada, when his megabout with Pernell Whitaker required the services of San Antonio's cavernous Alamodome to meet attendance demands.

How does Vegas fit into the picture?

The boxing and music industries began using the Dieciséis week as a springboard to attract tourists of Mexican descent from both sides of the border in Vegas, creating a perfect storm of entertainment. Popular recording artists from Mexico such as singer-producer Luis Miguel (who famously paired with Frank Sinatra on "Come Fly With Me") and the late pop icon Juan Gabriel began flocking to Las Vegas for Mexican Independence Day, allowing fans to indulge in both a big concert and a championship fight without straying too far from their accommodations.

Oscar De La Hoya dutifully took up Chavez's mantle after beating him a second time in their 1998 bout. The Los Angeles native of Mexican descent headlined six times on Mexican Independence Day weekend, doing so every single time in Vegas. As did Chavez, De La Hoya experienced a mixed bag on the date, losing to Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, and Bernard Hopkins; but beating Chavez, Hector "Macho" Camacho and Fernando Vargas.

Who have been some of the date's most memorable draws?

The Sept. 16 weekend has featured a who's who of elite boxers from the last quarter century, regardless of nationality.

In 2014, American Floyd Mayweather, among the biggest pay-per-view draws of all time, faced Argentinean welterweight Marcos Maidana on Cinco de Mayo weekend. Mayweather's win by majority decision prompted calls for a rematch, which was granted on Mexican Independence Day weekend of that same year. Mayweather won that fight too, this time by unanimous decision at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Though he is not on this weekend's slate, Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez -- a world champion in four weight classes -- has owned the date lately and cemented his status as the boxing's current top draw. Alvarez's epic trilogy against Gennadiy Golovkin took place exclusively in mid-September Vegas dates between 2017 and 2022. Like Chavez, Alvarez has eschewed Vegas on occasion for his Dieciséis bouts; in 2016, he fought Liam Smith for the WBO junior middleweight title at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium to accommodate more fans.

Alvarez is scheduled to defend his undisputed super middleweight championship Sept. 30 against Jermell Charlo at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

What is the big draw this weekend?

Grasso and Shevchenko will headline the first Noche UFC event -- honoring the tradition of holding fights on Mexican Independence Day -- at T-Mobile Arena (watch live on ESPN+). The card features several other fighters of Mexican descent, including Tracy Cortez, Raul Rosas Jr., and Loopy Godinez.

Grasso's stunning upset of former UFC women's flyweight champion Shevchenko last March at UFC 285 earned her a share of the Performance of the Night bonus and spawned immediate talk of a rematch. Grasso joined countrymen Brandon Moreno and Yair Rodriguez as the first Mexican-born UFC champions, a sign that the nation's prowess in boxing is beginning to carry over into other mainstream combat sports.