Photos by Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
The writer was standing absent-mindedly at the boarding gate when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He looked up to see Bernard Hopkins, waiting to board the same plane from New York to Las Vegas.
“On to the next stop,” said the writer, like Hopkins moving on from Wladimir Klitschko’s defeat of Bryant Jennings to Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight week.
“People don’t realize the intensity of all this,” said Hopkins – with, as it happens, his trademark intensity. “You’ve got to be in shape just to cover these fights.”
“No kidding,” said the writer, sucking in his gut. There is, of course, no equating the fitness levels required of a professional athlete and of someone who writes about professional athletes for a living, but it’s undeniable that the biggest of fight weeks – and there are none even remotely as big as this one – generate an adrenaline-pumping excitement that can cause a person to sit heavily in the chair of his hotel room at the end of the day and think, “Is it really only Tuesday?”
It normally takes a few days for a fight week to really reach full speed; the final prefight press conference on Wednesday or Thursday might officially kick things off, but that by definition is mainly for the benefit of the media. Not until Friday and the end of the work week does the venue normally become packed and the energy level truly begin to rise.
This is not a normal fight week.
It is indeed only Tuesday, but already it feels as if the volume level has been turned all the way up to 11, following a pair of fan events – one held by Manny Pacquiao at the Mandalay Bay, one by Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand Garden Arena where the fight will take place on Saturday night – that officially kicked off the week’s festivities. They were events that reflected the personalities of their hosts.
Pacquiao’s arrival was preceded by Filipino folk dancing, by singers crooning ballads in English and Tagalog, by – briefly – a dance contest featuring an enthusiastic Filipina and a man wearing a ‘Sarajevo’ T-shirt, by a video of Pacquiao singing the song that he wrote and which will serve as his ringwalk music, and finally by a stirring rendition of the Philippine national anthem. Pacquiao’s emergence from behind a curtain sent the assembled and patient masses into paroxysms of joy; many of Pacquiao’s fans – particularly his compatriots – don’t just love him, they venerate him in a manner that no American athlete can experience.
“Don’t be nervous,” Pacquiao assured them. “I am the one who has to fight on Saturday, and I know I will win.” He walked from one side of the stage to the other, waving to and shaking hands with crowds at either end, and soon he was gone.
A little later, and a short distance north on Las Vegas Boulevard, the MGM Grand Garden Arena was rocking to a different, Mayweather-style tune. The lights were brighter, the hosting – by an enthusiastic Doug E. Fresh – was louder (as was the music). There was, as it turned out, also a dance contest, and one of the fans called up on to the stage was none other than the same Sarajevo-shirt-wearing man from the Pacquiao event, who was either a professional dance contest participant or having the single greatest day of his life.
The event culminated in a way that only a Mayweather event truly can: the Southern University marching band playing while a TMT bus drove in to the arena and toward a red carpet; and as cheerleaders sashayed in front of him, Mayweather led his entourage along that carpet and up on to the stage. He thanked his team, he thanked the fans, and he spent a long time with the assembled media – insisting that, whatever happens on Saturday, he will have just one more fight, in September, and then he will be done.
There were perhaps 4,000 people at the MGM, maybe a smidgen fewer at the Mandalay; in total, a conservative estimate of 6,000 folks who waited and applauded and cheered in support of their respective champions.
And it really is only Tuesday. The fun and games have only just begun.