“You here for the fight?” said my cab driver, who looked like a less successful Guy Fieri. “I used to work for referee Jay Nady, the highest grossing boxing referee of all time.” He gestured out the window at a stoplight. “See that cab? That’s Jay Nady’s cab company right there. The ones with the ‘A.’ The ‘A’ is for asshole. Fuck that guy.”
When the conversation hit a lull, he made a call on speakerphone. An answering machine picked up. “Thank you for calling [xxx] Gentleman’s Club. Where all your fantasies come true. Visit us online at [xxx.com]. Please leave your message after the tone.”
“Hi. It’s your son. I need to talk to you. Call me.”
On the weekend before the big fight, they announced that the city was running out of water.
The drought has been going on for decades. It’s nothing new. Just a mileage marker on the road to the abyss. Lake Mead sits at a record low level. Engineers pointed out that a teeny bit more of a decline would cause the mighty Hoover Dam to stop working; authorities responded by digging another water pipe, deeper, anticipating more drought ahead.
The city of Las Vegas gets almost all of its water from that drying-up lake, and any smart gambler would bet that it’s only a matter of time before this ungodly oasis of neon dries up right along with that lake and blows away in clouds of dust back into the desert from whence it came.
That doesn’t matter now. The unavoidable doom that sits in this city’s path comes later. The riots in Baltimore, the tear gas clouds, the Nepalese earthquake, the presidential elections... these things are meaningless entities, forms from another world. What matters is the fight. It is fight week. The biggest fight. And here, in Las Vegas, America’s most timeless city, it is time to fucking fight. Almost.
“Thank you for your credential request to attend the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight card May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena,” said the email I got just six days ago. “It is not always possible for the Public Relations teams representing the promoters to provide media access and credentials to all journalists who apply. We are sorry to say that after reviewing the media applications for this event, we are unable to accommodate your request and will not be able to provide you a credential.” This was unfortunate. It could be something sinister—one friend behind the scenes told me that Floyd Mayweather’s people are handling the press credentials, and they hate Deadspin, and had probably frozen us out. Or it could be something mundane, like the fact that thousands of reporters around the world who never cover fights are now clamoring to cover this fight, and some of us are getting cast aside as a result. Either way, it was not too unfortunate. My flight was already booked. My room was already booked. The Biggest Fight of My Lifetime is happening on Saturday and there was simply no way that something as trifling as a total lack of access will stop me from covering it. Baltimore may burn. Nepal may crumble. But here in a doomed and parched metropolis, it is Fight Week.
From the air, Las Vegas is a forest of squat tan-roofed housing development homes dwarfed by the bushy green trees that constitute Nevada’s only shade. These housing developments stretch out in a vast plain, ringed by mountains. These mountains are the border of the real world. Inside of those mountains, real world concerns like politics and jobs and climate change are replaced by fantasy world concerns, like which day party to attend, or which PG-13 rated topless burlesque comedy variety show to go to with all the fellas from the office, or which gambling addiction therapy program to enter. Vegas is indeed “a fertile spot in the desert where water is found,” but I hesitate to call it an “oasis” for the same reason that I hesitate to call the Duck Commander Musical at the Rio a “play.”
I am staying at the Excalibur, the shabbiest and most distasteful of all of the big hotels on the Strip, conveniently located directly across from the MGM Grand, where the fight is being held. The MGM Grand currently has a plush blue and red boxing ring holding a golden lion set up in its large, opulent rotunda of a lobby. The Excalibur has a basement video arcade called the Fun Dungeon, a name that is at least half accurate. The Excalibur’s rooms offer showers, but not bath tubs, which I choose to see as a gracious gesture of concern for water conservation. For a mid-priced Las Vegas room with a view of a fake castle tower and the hallway decorating sensibility of the hotel from The Shining, may I recommend to you: The Excalibur.
Across the street, the MGM Grand is buzzing. Then again, it always is. The TV news warns of dangerous congestion on the Strip on fight night; how this will be distinguishable from every Saturday night on the Vegas Strip remains to be seen. Directly facing the MGM’s lobby is the OFFICIAL FIGHT MERCHANDISE STORE, with all manner of Pacquiao and Mayweather t-shirts ($35) and hats (“$40-NO DISCOUNTS AVAILABLE”) and posters and travel mugs and branded scarves and other detritus available, up to and including a $150,000 original work of art that looks like something a prison inmate spent several years drawing with a pencil.
If you wander deep, deep into the bowels of the MGM Grand, past the table games and the David Copperfield Theatre and the CSI: The Experience tourist attraction, you will come to the entrance to the MGM Grand Garden Arena. This is where the biggest fight of my lifetime so far will be held, this Saturday. The very worst tickets are going for about $3,500. But you can stand here, right outside the entrance, for free, and stare slack-jawed across the rope line and into this chasm of history. Several small clusters of fans were doing just that. Some of them were holding fresh new boxing gloves and Sharpies, as if Floyd Mayweather himself might leap off the Tecate ad on the wall and start signing autographs if only everyone closed their eyes and wished upon a star.
On one side of the arena entrance is the official media room. That is a place for neither me nor the gaping autograph seekers. On the other side of the arena entrance is a Jeff Mitchum Photo Gallery. There you can purchase a big, garish photo of a flower or a fucking moose for more than the price of a ticket to the big fight. That is not for us, either.
For us—for me, and you, and the people trying to scrape together money to order the $100 pay-per-view, and the sad moms sitting in slot machine chairs at 6 o’clock in the morning dreading returning home—is all of the rest of Las Vegas. An endless series of blinking caverns, connected by moving sidewalks, a slow-motion monument to human tranquilization. Trying to be in “the center of it all” in Vegas is a sucker’s game, anyhow. It’s like trying to find the center of the curved surface of space-time. Through every wormhole, a new buffet. To find the center of this town, you don’t have to get past the security guards and enter the exclusive, polished inner sanctum. Anywhere will do. Not in the center of the ring in the center of MGM Grand Garden Arena in the center of the richest boxing match the world has ever seen. Anywhere. Right here, a few hundred paces away, in the MGM Grand food court, where tired middle-aged women in white shirts ceaselessly pick up discarded Nathan’s Hot Dog containers left behind by businessmen in lanyards. The Queens and Kings of Las Vegas.
The fight is three days away.
[Photo via AP]