Pay-per-view is ordered, Red Bull is in the fridge and all the reading and analysis is over. It’s just hours away, Mayweather v Pacquiao, the fight of the century.
Needless to say, there are few places I’d rather be tonight than ringside of Las Vegas. However, without a casual $250,000 or so lying around to commit to an event that could potentially could last less time than the introductions, the couch it is.
Yet I can readily appreciate how the high-rollers of this world could do it. How the average sports fan could reconcile paying the extortionate price for the “cheap seats” of the MGM Grand Garden Arena tonight. Fight Night in Las Vegas is special.
There’s a prerequisite to saying this. You have to be at peace with what Las Vegas is in the first place. The adult playground, the blazing sea of lights and excess in the desert. If you can bear it, you’ll want to experience Fight Night. If you thrive on it, yearn for it, you must must must experience a top level World title fight in Las Vegas.
We first touched down for Hopkins v Calzaghe in 2008, and quickly returned for Pacquiao v Hatton in 2009. The former a scrappy 12-round split decision in an undersold arena. The latter just shy of 6 minutes of intense violence in front of a raucous rafter-packed mass of fight fans, ending in a knockout as brutal as it was beautiful.
The buzz builds – it’s been building since you landed the ticket, through the flight over as fans back their man, yet worry for his chances, for his very future. It’s there on a jet-lagged stroll through the casino at 7am in the morning, wondering if the Hatton fans in the bar are still up since last night, or starting their build-up to the bout later on. It’s there in the sports book as you watch Munster v Leinster in the Heineken Cup Semi-Final at dawn, while the proverbial two flies climbing up the wall generate wagers in the thousands.
And it’s there at the approaches to the venue. While the bulk of bouts on the undercard are played out to a half-empty, almost wholly disinterested auditorium, the hum under the stands builds and fills the venue. Gangs in fancy dress, the sharpest of suits, the B-list celebrities, mere tasters for the A-list fare which awaits.
The glamour – real and strained – is out in force. Then the movement, the flurries of excitement as the trickle into the arena builds to a flow, then a flood. As the promising up and comers and card fillers come and go, the movers and shakers from boxing, from entertainment, from plain old reality TV make their strategically timed entrances, as the paparazzi up close, and as the spotters in the crowd pick them out.
But it’s not real until the gladiators arrive. And it’s not really real until they are given their due introduction. The exaggerated enunciation, the precise and unmistakable voice. The moment when the crowd let themselves be swept up in the full magic of the occasion. Tonight, we’ll have two, but everyone knows there’s only one needed. The master of Masters of Ceremonies, Mr Michael Buffer.
And so to the Main Event. The trash talk, the mind games, the flurries of tension and argument, stepping in to stop spoiling and scrapping. And that’s just in the stands. That Calzaghe v Hopkins fight was nobody’s idea of a classic, but from the 1st round knockdown of Calzaghe to the final bell as the Welshman’s low power high frequency attack took over, the doubts remained, with the winning announcement a genuine explosion of joy and shock, depending on where you stand.
I’ve yet to hear a noise at a sporting event however to match the eruption from the Filipino-dominated crowd as Pacquiao laid Hatton out once and for all at the end of the second round, perfectly positioned across the sponsors logo, effectively finishing his career as a top-level fighter.
Yet there’s more. All human life pours out of the arena and in to the casino floors, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. And with a little luck, you’ll be sharing the bar with the $250,000 seat brigade as Vegas-style democracy kicks in.
There’s Ricky the next day at his “pool party”, nursing a Guinness and pondering his future. Up the road, Manny Pacquiao had entertained the crowd not 3 hours after victory with a performance with his band. And the posters and banners start to come down, the circus begins to depart, leaving behind it the foundation of it all, that made it as great it as it was remains. The insane concept that is Las Vegas ready to unleash the rest of its tentacles on you, to hold you there, to bring you back for more.
Let’s get ready to rumble.