Vegas Baby, Vegas
By: William Holmes
It started as soon as I got off the plane.
I’ve been waiting for this the past five months, a chance to see the world’s best fighter in the world’s fight capital. I’ve been to the World Series, the Stanley Cup, an NBA playoff game, an NFL playoff game, a UFC title fight, and I have seen Manny Pacquiao fight in Dallas, and Bernard Hopkins fight in Philadelphia. However, I have been told I cannot truly be considered a fight fan until I see a fight in Las Vegas, and that the excitement in Sin City is an experience every fight fan should experience. They were right.
As soon as I got off the plane you’re greeted the sight of slot machines, and tired travelers sleeping in the airport waiting for their planes to take them home. You’re then shooed into a longer than expected line to get a taxi to your hotel. On the way to your hotel you see the fight being hyped everywhere, on billboards, on the radio, even the taxi driver was talking about it. The hotel receptionist greets me in Tagalog, she recognized I was part Filipino. I simply replied mestizo while pointing at myself, indicating that I could not speak Tagalog. She smiles and states, “I hope he wins”, and then wishes me luck. She must have given me some luck, because dinner that night was paid for courtesy of a Phillies victory.
I awoke the next day excited and amped, weigh ins were today, and I was one day closer to the fight. The cab driver revealed that cheapest you could a scalped ticket for the fight was about $1,200, and that it’s been awhile since Las Vegas had a big name fight. I wanted to get good seats for the weigh in, so I arrived an hour and half early. I should’ve arrived earlier. The MGM Grand Garden Arena was draped off, exposing half of it for the diehard fans who wanted to catch a ten minute glimpse of the fighters as they weighed in. Eight thousand fans showed up to watch a weigh in, and I’d estimate 90% of them arrived an hour early. People were chanting, some were singing, some were waving flags, but all were excited. Manny Pacquiao fans greatly outnumbered Shane Mosley fans; it was obvious that he owned this city. Tracy McGrady, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and Lou DiBella were seen to be in attendance at the weigh ins. After the weigh ins, I heard people in the crowd mention that employeed at the MGM Grand had to turn away approximately 2,000 fans. I suddenly became glad I arrived an hour and a half early.
Some members of my family were in Las Vegas this weekend to watch the fight. We decided to meet at the Wok in the MGM Casino for dinner after the weigh ins. Luckily, right next to us was Jorge Arce and some of his friends and advisors. He had four bottles of water and multiple plates of sushi in front of him. He was fighting in his highest weight class ever, yet still evidently had to cut weight, and couldn’t wait to feast. After he was done eating and preparing to leave, I looked at him and said good luck Jorge. He started to speak to me in Spanish, another language that I did not know, but was kind enough to take a picture with me and thanked me for wishing him good luck. We shook hands and he simply stated “I’m going to need it.” I must have passed off the good luck from my hotel receptionist to him, because despite being a large underdog, he won the next night by TKO.
That night some friends of mine were in Vegas for a bachelor party, and I tagged along. There are beautiful women everywhere in Las Vegas, and I mean everywhere. At the first night club we went to bartenders, clubbers, and members of my own party expressed their jealousy when I mentioned I was here to watch the big fight live. Nearly everyone had mentioned they had bet on the fight, and many of them would wind up losing money the next night. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and that night was a blur. Let’s just say that when I left the last club I went to, the only star in the sky was the sun, and it was very, very, bright.
My last day in Las Vegas was the day to go see the fight. My brother and I originally attempted to buy three tickets so that we could sit together. We wanted to buy three because he was also buying a ticket for his wife. The fight sold out so fast that we couldn’t buy three tickets next to each other, so I bought a ticket and said I would sit by myself. It did not bother me one bit, I was happy just to go. I’ve always been a huge fight fan, and considering my heritage, Manny Pacquiao is my favorite athlete. They could’ve said my seat was on the roof with a hole cut out to peer down below and I would’ve been pleased with it.
The casino floor of the MGM Grand was a sea of people. How could I go to a title fight in Las Vegas and not bet on it? As I waited in line at the sports book, I noticed the guy in front of me bet $10.000 on the fight, and the guy to the right of me bet $2,000 on the fight. I meekly and humbly bet $20 on the fight, and the cashier seemed to laugh at me as he informed me that I’ll win $2 if Pacquiao wins. As I walked away I thought to myself, but my whole trip will also be validated if Pacquiao wins.
The first thing that stood out was how empty the arena was for the undercard fights. It dawned on me that most of the people in attendance were not here to watch a night of boxing, but here to watch one fight, Pacquiao vs. Mosley. Everyone who was there dressed in their absolute best. You could hear arguments in the bathroom about who would win between Pacquiao and Mayweather, and who was to blame for this fight not materializing. In the mezzanine you heard a lot of Tagalog and Spanish, mixed in with some English. The excitement was in the air, it was almost time for the big fight. The arena slowly filled up, and by the time Jorge Arce fought it was nearly packed. The Arce/Vazquez fight was action packed, and came to a thrilling conclusion as Vazquez’s corner threw in the towel. Arce did not win that fight because of good luck, he won that fight because of his heart and determination. It brought the crowd to its feet, and only helped build the anticipation for the main event.
I struck up conversation with two Mosley fans to the right of me before the main event. They both strongly felt that Mosley would win, and we broke down the strengths and weaknesses of both fighters. When they realized I was sitting by myself for the fight, they stated “you must be a big fight fan.” I explained that I couldn’t consider myself a fight fan until I saw a fight in Las Vegas, but I’ve always followed the sport of boxing.
Every big fight has celebrities singing the national anthem. Charice sung the Filipino National Anthem, Tyrese sung the United States’ National Anthem, and Jamie Foxx sung ‘America the Beautiful’. All three had members of the crowd singing. Top Rank had promotional video of past fights featuring Ali, Leonard, Hearns, and others that had the crowd screaming in anticipation. Mosley picked LL Cool J to sing ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ for his walk out song. His walk out song selection was Mosley’s highlight of the night. Pacquiao came out smiling as Jimi Jamison sang ‘Eye of the Tiger’. By the time the crowd was in a frenzy, the reason for my trip had finally arrived.
Both fighters started cautiously, as they were trying to feel each other out. Mosley was the taller fighter with the reach, but that has become the standard for Manny Pacquiao fights. The crowd reacted with every punch, and erupted when Pacquiao knocked Mosley down in the third round. That apparently was all Pacquiao needed to do to win the fight, as he chased Mosley back pedaled from Pacquiao the rest of the match and clearly only wanted to survive. The biggest noise the crowd made for the rest of the fight was when a shove was incorrectly ruled a knockdown. It only angered the Filipino fighter, and for the last two rounds he appeared to step on the gas pedal in an attempt to finish Mosley. You could hear chants of “knock him out” from the crowd, and boos in between rounds as Mosley did nothing to try and win the fight. At the end of the night Pacquiao was announced the winner, but most of the crowd was not pleased. However, a Pacquiao victory was pleasing to me.
I have visited the Philippines once with my family, and I swear every bar in the Philippines has a karaoke machine. Music and singing is a big part of Filipino culture. My mother did not attend the fight, but she wanted to attend the after party when she heard that Pacquiao would be singing there. At the questionable price of $70 a ticket, my family and I went to the Mandalay Bay to see Pacquiao’s concert. It was nothing but Filipino’s, and I again wished I knew Tagalog as most of the performers spoke in my Mother’s native language. The opening acts performed for what appeared to be an eternity, and we grew impatient as we only wanted to see Pacquiao. Pacquiao is known to be notoriously late, and he of course was late to his own party. When he finally arrived, it was stunning to see a man who just fought a twelve round title fight, dressed in a suit and tie, with no marks on his face, smiling to sing at a concert for his fans. Perhaps he is so talented at boxing, that he was more nervous to sing in front of his fans than to fight in front of his fans. As he sang, the Filipino’s in the crowd danced and sang along. The songs were in Tagalog, and he spoke to the crowd in Tagalog, I had to ask my Mother to translate for me. The concert reminded me of my trip to the Philippines and being in front of the karaoke machine with my relatives who I just met. His fight may have failed to live up to expectations, but his concert did not. He performed until past 3AM, and finished with a lively rendition of La Bamba, in Spanish. Of course, I did not understand the words to that song either. I looked at my Mother and saw that this concert made her a very big Pacquiao fan, as she could care less about boxing. It was too violent for her, and there was more to her culture than just fighting.
When I arrived at my hotel it was past 4AM, and I had to be at the airport within two hours. The fight may not have lived up to expectations, but the pre-fight hype and activities in Las Vegas exceeded my expectations. A Pacquiao victory ensured that the trip was money well spent. I arrived at the airport an hour and a half before my flight, and I was extremely tired. I took a quick nap on the airport floor. Amazing how stories tend to come full circle.
William Holmes writes for our sister site MMAOnline.com