Fear In Loving And Leaving Las Vegas After De La Hoya Vs. Mayweather

Imagine being a virgin — no, no, not that kind — to the Las Vegas experience.

You were told three weeks prior that you would join some colleagues on a five-day/four-night extravaganza during Sin City’s biggest weekend of the year, which also happened to be the weekend of Cinco de Mayo. You would be introduced to some of the most interesting characters walking God’s green earth. You’d get to see a new city in its most famous element.

Oh, and you’re actually working that weekend, believe it or not.

Just about eight years ago, I had that very experience in Vegas as I watched the city become the center of the sports universe when Floyd Mayweather Jr. took on Oscar de la Hoya in the weekend he made all his own, for better or worse.

At the time, I was writing for a nascent outlet called Sports NY Style. It’s actually a local public access show created by some colleagues working at other local black media outlets. As a recent contributor to the show’s website, I was charged with covering fights on the Showtime card at the Palms Casino Resort the night before the big fight, including bouts featuring future heavyweight title contenders in Eddie Chambers and Chris Arreola. While the assignment in itself was a joy to cover — both fighters were open and honest — the air over the Las Vegas Strip was thick with anxiety for what would take place 24 hours later.

We arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon, starving for a combination of food, action and sleep. In Vegas, I learned that you didn’t have to go very far to find the first two while the sleep part seemed to be optional and fleeting for most. If anything, the first two days were a mix of touring the varied hotels on the Strip, mingling with media personalities from around the country and talking to some of the most passionate boxing fans one can ever come across. Those two days are largely a blur, not because of debauchery — I’m a teetotaler and was strangely feeling jet-lagged — but because there were so many people. Even a New York City native could be amazed by the sheer humanity on the Strip.

In fact, get this: Yours truly was so dazed that on Thursday night while trying to head back to the Luxor, I got lost in New York, New York. It’s an irony that my former colleagues haven’t let me live down.

Everything for me was all about Friday and the lead-up to de la Hoya vs. Mayweather. With incredibly faint hopes that my crew would at least be present for the weigh-in that afternoon, we had soldered on from our rooms at the Luxor and Mandalay Bay toward the epicenter that was the MGM Grand Las Vegas. Considering that the MGM was a half-mile north of our hotels, it was absolutely mind-boggling that what would ideally be a 10-minute walk took one hour. It was as if spectators of the Macy’s annual 4th of July Parade were herded into just three city blocks.

Of course, once inside, we were unable to get our credentials because while the weigh-in was being broadcast around the world on time, the throngs of people trying to get in didn’t help our cause of timely arrival. A major reason for missing out, as we learned the hard way, was that more people just descended into the city.

The Bay Area was in the building.

The eight-seeded Golden State Warriors just beat the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the biggest first-round upset in NBA playoff history the night before. Damn near anyone from Marin City to Milpitas showed up to Vegas while I was asleep. Seas of Warriors jerseys flooded every casino you could think of, and each wearer of those threads had a euphoric grin on his face as if not a damn thing on earth could go wrong. With their arrival, they were “turnt up” before there was such a phrase.

Looking back and thinking of the diversity of the crowd — from de la Hoya supporters from the American Southwest and Mexico to the Money Team acolytes to every fake baller in the history of the world trying to be seen — the Strip must have had its largest crowd in its history at the time.

There was something, or rather someone, intoxicating about the night before the big fight. As most others on the Strip, Roger Mayweather — Floyd’s trainer and uncle, as well as a two-time world champion — was holding court in one of the common meeting places in the MGM Grand. With a drink nearby and a penchant for stories, Roger spoke to just about everyone who came his way. In fact, when the subject of Mike Tyson came up (long before we learned of the recent flap), Roger used me for his demonstration of what made the former heavyweight champion effective in the ring (and what he felt Tyson didn’t do so well).

This easily made up for missing the weigh-in.

Saturday was a day to never forget, just as it will be for those in the vicinity of the MGM Grand tomorrow. As soon as I woke up, I made my way down to the casino level where, lo and behold, the sports books were buzzing with bet placements for the Kentucky Derby. Alcohol makers had their own versions of ring girls giving out samples of any liquor you could think of. One of my colleagues spent a good part of the day — or the entire trip, rather — in whichever swimming pools he could where said ring girls would go.

Because we decided to take red-eye flights back to New York immediately after the end of the fight, we packed our bags and proceeded to the Mandalay Bay, where we watched Smarty Jones win the Derby at one of its bars and the fight in its atrium. With the mass amounts of people at the hotel with the golden façade, we actually lined up for an hour and a half to get into the atrium.

Of all the things that took place during these four days — which included meeting boxers and media personalities — the best conversations I had were in that line. Picture a place where every single person is talking about one thing and feeling incredibly passionate about it. The discussions ranged from the fighters themselves to the sport as a whole, the up-and-comers, the past greats, the socioeconomic factors that keep the sport alive. The long-fermented dream that a good right hand can lead someone out of poverty never died.

The 90-minute wait felt more like nine minutes thanks to those fans.

The fight itself? Depending on your point of view, it was either a complete dud for casual observers, heartbreaking for de la Hoya fans or an affirmation of the brashness of Mayweather’s faithful. At the time, the worst thing that could be said for the undefeated champion was that he was an over-the-top heel. After all, the packed atrium was split between laughter and anger when he appeared onto the screen wearing his infamous “Mayweather Loves Mexico” attire.

However, even with fans of both pugilists jawing at each other in the early rounds of the fight, all was forgotten at the end. Where it was long after midnight back east, it was still Cinco de Mayo on the Strip. Mariachi bands lifted the spirits of the disappointed de la Hoya fans and gave Mayweather backers a soundtrack to their gloating.

Just two weeks prior, I covered the infamous 2007 NFL Draft where America not only watched the draft room uneasiness for Brady Quinn and learned that Michael Vick had met with Roger Goodell while the dog-fighting investigations took place, but had sat through the longest first round in history. The following Sunday, I stood standing-room-only in the press box while covering the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry when it was last worth a damn. Both were exciting in their own rights as media assignments and fan spectacles, yet combined, neither could compare to taking in the buzz of the year’s biggest non-football event.

It’s not a stretch to think that tomorrow has a far different aura than eight years ago. The Oscar de la Hoya who took to the ring that night was a former shell of himself, and the punches that could have landed in his heyday were just too slow for the game’s best defensive fighter. The Floyd Mayweather Jr. that won in 2007 took on all the heat imaginable for his “Money May” persona, but it’s incomparable to the heat that comes from scrutiny of his history with domestic violence. And that’s not the only difference leading into in the most anticipated bout in recent memory. In finally facing Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather himself may not be the same boxer.

None of this takes away from what should be an electric scene in Las Vegas tomorrow night. The one common thread between 2007 and 2015 is the palpable passion of the fans. It was that passion, after all, that has stayed with this Scribe nearly a decade later.

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