By Anthony Gargano
LAS VEGAS (CBS) – At five after five the early morning of Fight Night, the Night Before inside the MGM Grand rages forth still on its first wind. The winding pathways that snake through the casino floor are clogged by vampires.
A roar echoes from inside the cluster of craps tables in the far corner. Slot machines sing like cicadas. The bright, trendy restaurant to your left has no available tables at the moment, it appears, as a ravenous group eye a waiter balancing a tower of shellfish. The dark lounge on your left is overflowing, people lined along the circular railing, forced to hold in hand their beer bottles and tumblers and extra wide Martini glasses in various colors. Though well into the distance, the four-level nightclub that originally began in London delivers a rhythmic thumping that you feel more than hear, nearly muffling the nearby conversation that is a more of a negotiation between two men and two women, each of whom wear tight, rising skirts that accentuate their slim waistlines and freakishly, ample and protruding posteriors.
At some point over the next couple three hours, long after the sun has risen over the desert, the transition from night to morning will take place. The gambling will not cease, but wane a bit, and the smoking and drinking and lusting will shift to the expansive pool area – where all five pools, to be exact, offer a unique setting to lather and lounge in the mist by the cabanas and bathe in the rays. The message is to sweat out Last Night and start all over again. For soon it will be Fight Night, and you’ll need to be fresh and pressed to stroll the crowded corridors with the celebrities and posers and hustlers, all of whom seem to move in slow motion, with each step choreographed. Amid the flash of phone photos, the procession parades by several lounges and the TV chef’s newest restaurant and the other TV chef’s newest eatery and the second Starbucks in the building and the popular LA smoothie joint and the Showtime store until finally reaching the foot of the Grand Garden Arena.
Welcome to Fight Night, a magnificently absurd scene that has occurred during every notable boxing match since the first one for the World Heavyweight championship in 1860, a 37-round bareknuckle event that took place in a muddy field in Farnborough, England, between Tom “The Brighton Boy” Sayers and John “The Benicia Boy” Heenan of California.
On this night, it is perhaps the greatest defensive boxer in the history of the sport, Floyd Mayweather, the darting welterweight, against Robert Guerrero, nicknamed the “Ghost” – and it would be a name proven accurate because he did not appear for much of the fight. Boos would cascade at the end of the bout, because this crowd, like all boxing crowds, demands blood and this fight had all the violence of a good tongue lashing.
But that’s not the point. The sport has endured many pillow fights that fell into the hype graveyard – truthfully the best action between Mayweather-Guerrero took place between their fathers that Thursday before, with Ruben Guerrero wailing, “Wife beater” – but the idea of a big fight is such a wonderful part of our culture, how can you wish it away? It is maddening, devoid of talent depth and sometimes corrupt, but no sport offers the sort of rich texture that boxing does: Halloween meets Mardi Gras.
And when it’s good, it’s great. It’s captivating and compelling, and though it feels like memory keeps the sport on life-support, all it needs is two men. That’s Mayweather’s problem right now, just like it was Roy Jones’, but maybe Canelo Alvarez in September will be the cure.
Or maybe two heavyweights will forego football and basketball and wind up in the same ring before the same cast of characters in some ostentatious desert setting, and it will be captivating and compelling. And Fight Night will, thankfully, survive.