LAS VEGAS, Nev.—“This man needs no introduction,” said Leonard Ellerbe, longtime member of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s inner circle, before giving a very long introduction, listing off a bill of stats, records, and bona fides of the greatest active boxer. He really didn’t need an introduction, because at this point, we know all about Floyd Mayweather Jr. He’s bested everyone in front of him; he’s a tax dodger with a long history of domestic violence allegations; he’s here in Las Vegas to make a shitload of money.
I suppose he’s here to box as well, although you wouldn’t have really picked that up during the press conference that I and a few hundred bored journalists were attending. A pair of women in beer-company bikinis flanked the stage, smiling without pause for all 30 minutes that the fighters were late. They never flinched. Their brand must have been proud. This arena will host Cirque du Soleil later tonight. But not yet, now it’s time for brands to talk about the EVENT and for their ambassadors to smile. I’m supposed to be sitting next to Darren Rovell but he’s not here. Too bad.
Speaker after speaker stressed what a big EVENT this was. The biggest EVENT of the year. An EVENT that will be enjoyed by people in 200 countries and as many as 220 (there aren’t really that many countries.) “This will be a historical EVENT,” Ellerbe said, then warned fans to “buy early” because Showtime anticipated “overwhelming demand.” A man in a suit told us that EVENT would be distributed with the best technology on the proper amount of platforms for such an EVENT, but also that fans should buy now because of traffic bottlenecks on Saturday. Some guy showed off a big belt with a lot of jewels, the “Money Belt” to be awarded to the winner of EVENT. He held it like a holy book and made sure not to touch the jewels at the center. If there’s a symbol of how ancillary sports are to EVENT, it’s the money belt, a monstrosity that’s both glamorous and horrifying. But hey, Muhammad Ali never won the money belt, so what the fuck do I know.
A faux boxing ring was set up in the southwest corner of the hotel, and fans gathered around as a DJ promised “it” was about to start. “Is it them???” a wayward bro asked. I asked a woman handling a stroller what was going on. “So there’s a fight this weekend, and I think the two guys are coming here?” They were not. It was time for the undercard workout. When a British lady showed up and started skipping rope, fans looked confused but most of them just sort of stood there anyway.
Outside the MGM Grand, a strange thing happened. The sky opened up and it began to rain. It was still infernally hot, only it was also wet now. A golf dad and his wife who were brown bagging Bud Light Limes looked overwhelmed as they crossed over from the Tropicana, maybe to go watch Savannah Marshall smash pads. Vegas in the sun is intolerable but Vegas in the rain is altogether much stranger. There’s a certain honesty to it. Whatever illusions you have about the city or have cast around yourself melt away for a few minutes and Vegas is just another wet city.
An EVENT organizer I met while getting lost inside the Luxor warned me that the worst part of Vegas rain was what came after, and she was right, as the freshly sodden ground brought up the lingering ghosts of oil and garbage that baked into the pavement long ago. A more direct way to put it is that Vegas smelled like shit. The fight was three days away.
“Once we’re all laid, you’re never gonna see me again,” laughed a jolly bro decked out in a shirt matched with the rest of his herd. If Vegas Wednesdays are for families and leather-tanned retirees, Thursdays are when it shifts towards the sleeker and more sinister.
The clientele in town has overnight become much younger and more attractive. Check-in lines have swollen with the early fight crowd. A pair of Irish fans outside the Caesars Palace shops loudly purchased a bag of drugs from a dealer, one of the many who will lock eyes with you as you walk about the Strip and in a quiet yet firm voice and say “cocaine,” more as a statement than a question. Ten bucks will buy you a bootleg EVENT shirt or a TMT hat, which you can buy on any pedestrian bridge in town. You can get your picture taken with a pair of ladies in feathery boob getups outside the Bellagio, one in the colors of the Irish flag, the other in red, white, and blue. You can also enter to win a free ticket promotion run by a jerkoff cam service.
You can tell who wants Conor to win. They’ll be the ones with Irish flags draped on their backs, with “YOU’LL DO NUTTIN’” shirts on. They’re everywhere, and there are only more arriving. You can also easily tell who supports Floyd by the TMT gear that’s become something like ubiquitous around Vegas. They’re quieter, more confident. Their man is going to win EVENT and everyone knows it. That’s hardly even the point. The money is.
At a replica statue outside the Venetian meant to invoke antiquity, a well-dressed husband and wife stopped to chart their course over to the Mirage. “It says something in another language?” she said, peering at a Latin inscription at the base of the statue. “Probably offended someone someday,” he sighed.
EVENT is one day away.