“It’s Jamie Foxx!” The young man standing outside the MGM’s KA Theatre grabbed his girlfriend’s arm. “There! Walking this way!”
She peered down the hallway toward the goateed, freshly dressed, muscled young man approaching. He did look a little bit like Jamie Foxx. He also looked a little bit like Sugar Shane Mosley, as evidenced by the fact that a minute earlier, when he was posing for pictures and signing autographs, people in the crowd kept craning their necks and asking, “Is that Sugar Shane Mosley?” He was not Sugar Shane Mosley.
He was Shawn Porter, a good professional welterweight boxer. There he was, in the MGM Grand Wednesday morning, a crowd magnetically formed around him, clamoring to shake his hand and pose for pictures and generally bask in his aura. I am a very big boxing fan, and even I must admit that the prospect of “seeing Shawn Porter in the flesh” elicits only the very mildest of thrills for me. So how was it, friend, that Shawn Porter was able to enjoy such celebrity status among a throng of spectators in Las Vegas yesterday?
It was because he happened to be in the MGM Grand just days before The Biggest Fight. And he happened to be strolling outside of the KA Theatre just before the pre-fight press conference kicked off—a time at which hundreds of fans had assembled in hopes of catching a glimpse of Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, or, failing that, anybody. The Big Fight is throwing off a halo effect onto the rest of boxing that allows fighters—gym-bound wretches who usually must satisfy themselves with a few moments of glory when they fight, followed by months of pain and drudgery and anonymity—to be treated like real athletes. To be treated like football players hanging around during Super Bowl week. This is a chance for the tribal members of boxing to taste the American dream of being treated like stars, rather than workingmen. And they would be foolish to pass it up.
I, too, was lined up outside the KA Theatre yesterday as the press conference went on inside. I watched journalist after journalist flash their credentials and breeze past the ten MGM security officers and the nine uniformed Vegas police officers and through a set of metal detectors and inside to absorb platitudes. I and the other uncredentialed hordes watched like panhandlers eying the foot traffic into and out of an expensive store. There was no physical rope line to keep us out; instead, security guards pointed to a single line on the carpet, and ordered us all behind it, and we all dutifully shuffled behind it, held back by the chains of our own minds.
Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao’s Parkinsons-afflicted trainer, walked by fast in a blue windbreaker, tossing off a quick wave and ducking inside. “Man, he look like he sick!” exclaimed the man next to me. “His head was all bent over and shit.” At one point dozens of fans began streaming off the imaginary rope line towards a nearby hallway where several large men surrounded a short man. The short man was Mike Tyson, in white pants and a plain black t-shirt, his tattoo snaking around his face. He did not seem happy with the crowd. Most of them did not follow him after a long, hard stare.
An hour of waiting brought glimpses of Floyd Mayweather’s little cousin, and Floyd Mayweather’s girlfriend, and the guy who wraps Floyd Mayweather’s hands. But no Floyd Mayweather, and no Manny Pacquiao. For the uncredentialed, there are only crumbs. Eventually more than a dozen yellow-shirted security guards streamed in and started shooing everyone away. “If you’re not with the media, keep moving!”
I willed myself unsuccessfully to shed a single tear at that moment for the sake of creating a poignant scene. Imagine the indignity.
In the afternoon, in the lobby of the MGM Grand Garden Arena, there were “workouts” of the fighters on the undercard of The Big Fight, which were “open to the public.” For a normal fight, no one would attend such a piddling publicity stunt except for a few harried reporters desperate for copy; yesterday, there were hundreds of fans. I walked towards the entrance to the arena when a security guard stopped me.
“You can’t come in here. Only the media.”
“You need a credential to come in here?” I asked.
“You don’t need a credential, but only the media can come in here.”
“I am the media.”
“You got a credential?”
I did not. So instead of walking directly in, I and the other scum were routed down the hall, down stairs, out a door, across a parking lot, in another door, up another set of stairs, and down another hall. This put us in the same place we would have been had we gone in the front. But that entrance is only for the media.
The arena’s lobby was plastered with enough Tecate-branded promo banners for the fight that they almost qualified as wallpaper. A boxing ring had been set up, and Big Tigger stood in it playing hype man as a DJ spun 90s hip hop. “First and foremost I gotta shout out Tecate!” he said. “Also I gotta shout out Paramount Pictures and Terminator Genisys—make sure yall watch that movie after we watch this movie on May 2!”
Promo t-shirts and posters were tossed into the crowd at irregular intervals. I was nearly smacked in the face by each, while trying to take notes. One by one, the undercard fighters came into the ring and shadowboxed for about ten minutes as DMX songs played. Off to the side, in front of a large Tecate backdrop, four “Tecate girls” in red bikinis posed for photos with enthusiastic men who never really grew up. The smell of cologne in the room was overwhelming.
Standing against the wall, a police dog watched us all.
Floyd Mayweather Sr., the champ’s dad and a famed boxing trainer and general lunatic, came into the ring to work the pads with one of his fighters. Just like his son, Mayweather Sr.’s face is smooth and unlined, a result of not being the sort of boxer who takes a lot of punches to the face. The veins in his neck stood out. At the age of 62, he looked very much in shape. Big Tigger gamely “interviewed” him about his thoughts on Saturday’s showdown.
“Manny Pacquiao got one opportunity—dive off a building and kill himself, or let Floyd kill him,” Mayweather Sr. said. The crowd cheered.
“Teach!” exclaimed one middle-aged church lady type who was waving a paddle-shaped fan with Floyd Mayweather’s face on it. “Teach the world!”
Mayweather Sr. launched into a well-rehearsed poem: “Floyd the man to meet/ If you want to get beat!” This went on in the same vein for another 20 bars. The crowd cheered. Muhammad Ali would be ashamed of what passes for boxing poetry these days. When he was done, Big Tigger went on with the show. “Mayweather-Pacquiao is sponsored by: Mexico! Mayweather-Pacquiao is also sponsored by: The Weinstein Company!”
The crowd cheered.
On ESPN, coverage of the fight has reached saturation levels. The Vegas morning TV shows are a procession of C-list celebrities discussing their picks. Vegas locals are grumbling about the shit show to come on Saturday in the same way that New Yorkers grumble when UN meetings shut down traffic in Manhattan. The Big Fight has the gravity of a black hole, sucking in a city’s worth of bystanders. In the lobby of the MGM yesterday, Showtime was filming a pre-fight interview. Signs were tacked up all around: “By entering this area you are giving full consent to the producers of this program, SHOWTIME NETWORKS... to record and use your voice and/ or likeness in any manner, in any media, throughout the universe in perpetuity.”
In all of time and space, there shall be no escape. The fight is two days away.
[Image via Getty]