Lots of things are happening in pro boxing especially in Las Vegas including questions about Oscar De La Hoya’s new trainer, press conferences on various upcoming fights and boxers preparing for one of a number of big fights on the periphery.
So I loaded up the car with my war machinery, a tank of gas and a lot of people to call on my cell phone while I drove toward the desert sands of Las Vegas.
This all took place on Thursday and Friday.
Initially, I planned to attend the press conference for Vernon Forrest and Sergio Mora but things popped up at home and it seemed more of a relief to head to the freeway around 1 p.m. It turned out to be a great idea as few semis were on the road. But my car is running ragged.
Instead of bolting through the desert at 90 miles an hour I decided to slip the engine on cruise control as I threaded my way up the I-15 toward Nevada. Fortunately for me, there were Highway Patrol vehicles all along the 245-mile stretch and none were interested in me. I cruised along at 74 mph and spoke to people I needed to reach.
The last time I drove to Vegas I spent half of the trip conversing with Ana Julaton, the talented female boxer from the Bay Area. This time I spoke with my nephew Anthony Flores, who’s also my God son. Time seemed to fly.
By the time I reached Stateline it was close to 3:30 p.m., but once I entered Las Vegas city limits traffic slowed to a stop.
While stuck on the freeway alongside the Mandalay Bay, I called Paul Hernandez, who shoots photos for me and works with me as a business partner. He’s living in Vegas for the meanwhile taking care of the boss’s business.
Once I arrived inside the home there was a young boxing prospect from Florida named Jesse. He’s staying at the house with his wife and two daughters. Jesse stands about 6-feet one inch and is shooting for the junior welterweight division.
He’s a nice young man and his wife too.
After settling in, we decided to go on one of our missions in life: the hunt for the perfect margarita.
We loaded into the SUV and headed toward the Red Rock Casino in Summerlin. Once there we headed to the Rock Bar or something. Margaritas on the rocks without salt are my specialty. Paul takes salt.
They were OK. Good, but no El Cholo margaritas. For those you have to go to Los Angeles on Western Avenue. It’s a big USC haunt but that doesn’t stop me from going there, though I’m a UCLA alumnus.
Back in the Red Rock we looked around and saw one of our buddies who works for Magna Media. He’s a great guy who actually attended the same high school I did Cantwell High in Montebello, California.
Two hours later we returned back to the house and passed by Michael Jackson’s new Vegas home. A pack of little pre-teen girls waited outside in the dark probably hoping to catch a glimpse of the King of Pop.
Inside the house I grabbed a coke, went upstairs to get my war gear and brought down the laptop and notebook to begin another story for The Sweet Science. It’s 11 p.m. and about 102 degrees outside. The ice in the glass melted quickly and made the coke taste like darkened water.
Around 2:30 a.m. after spending all that time getting booted off the Internet because of poor reception, I decided to stop and try again in the morning. The tasted of margarita is still in my mouth despite brushing my teeth twice. I swallowed a bottle of water before collapsing on the bed upstairs. Even with the ceiling fan going around it’s about 95 degrees in the room. It’s difficult to sleep.
Around 9 a.m. Friday I awoke and jumped out of bed. I needed to finish the story before 10 a.m. but reception was still poor. I took a quick shower, ironed some clothes and headed toward the media room at the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas strip.
Walking through the maze of the MGM, I almost literally ran into San Diego boxer Danny Perez. I asked him what he was doing in Vegas and he answered he was fighting on the card. He told me he was a late replacement for Yory Boy Campas against Julio Cesar Garcia.
Perez had been retired for a several years and I had heard he was fighting again. He’s a very good boxer-puncher. Ask Antonio Margarito who beat him twice but was knocked down in the first bout. To this day he claims Perez hit him the hardest. He’s real confident and happy. Bad news for Garcia.
Inside the media room it was already filled with a number of reporters and in the large room radio jocks could be heard shouting in their microphones simultaneously.
Among the boxing writers inside were ESPN’s Dan Rafael, Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Robert Morales, Maxboxing’s Doug Fischer, Yahoo! Writer Kevin Iole, and several prominent reporters and p.r.guys like Mario Serrano and Fred Sternburg. One of the first guys to greet me was HBO’s Tony Walker, who’s become a good friend over the years. Maybe because we’re both big UCLA fans.
After grabbing a couple of cups of Starbuck’s coffee and a croissant, I sat down and finally finished the story that began around 11 p.m. the night before.
While working several boxers arrived inside the huge media room including Argentina’s Jorge Barrios, who had fought a war against Houston’s Rocky Juarez just a week earlier. During that fight Barrios suffered a gruesome slice from a punch on the side of his mouth. Looking at him face to face on Friday, there’s barely any evidence of that bloody gash that forced the doctor to end the fight in Juarez’s favor.
Another fighter that showed up was Steve Forbes who talked to me for a while. I could sense he was in a hurry to train so I asked him if it were OK to visit him at the gym. He agreed. While talking to Forbes I could see Oscar De La Hoya about 50 feet away sitting with Eric Gomez, who does match making for Golden Boy Promotions. I nodded at both of them but they didn’t see.
Also inside the room talking with Golden Boy’s Richard Schaefer was fellow Sweet Science writer Ron Borges along with ESPN’s Rafael. I don’t like group talks so I decided to get Schaefer alone in the future.
Outside of the media room hundreds of fans are gathering to witness the weigh in for the fighters. While typing the story, photographers stormed in the media room talking about Sergio Mora not making weight. Other writers are talking about the weigh ins happening in Biloxi, Miss. where two world title fights are supposed to occur. One will not take place.
Finally I gather all of my gear and head out to the car. As I navigate through the MGM crowd it’s clear that the casino is not as crowded as usual for a big fight card.
Forbes is working out at a training camp near the Palace Station Casino. It’s difficult to find but eventually after exploring the area during rush hour and shouting back at irate drivers who don’t like me slowing down, I found the gym. Paul Hernandez finds the gym about 5 minutes later.
Inside the thin two-story building with a basement gym, Forbes and his team are about to begin work. One member not present is Forbes' trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr., who is in Biloxi with Joan Guzman. Floyd had just called one of the Forbes crew talking about returning to Vegas and forgetting the fight. He was allegedly angry at the whole weight problem. The others in Vegas tell Mayweather to collect his money first.
Forbes is working out with his buddy and sparring partner for a few rounds. The training goes fast. We take plenty of photos and then after he cools out we sat around and talked a bit. Everybody is interested in the De La Hoya fight with Pacquiao, but nobody thinks the Filipino superstar has a chance.
“He’s a great fighter that’s why he’s the pound for pound champion,” said one of Forbe’s guys. “But Oscar is no slouch and he’s way bigger. If Pacquiao can last nine rounds he’s got a chance. But I doubt it goes that long.”
Forbes is always very polite, but honest. When he fought De La Hoya only a few months ago there were many who laughed at the match up. He knew he wasn’t going to win but he was willing to try his best anyway. He did pretty well.
I’ve seen Forbes fight for almost nine years now. I was at his first loss against Cobrita Gonzalez in Coachella under the blistering heat. It was only Gonzalez’s experience that gave him the edge. I was also at the fight where he lost his junior lightweight shot when he couldn’t make the weight to fight David Santos at Pechanga Casino. And finally, I saw De La Hoya use a punishing jab to outscore the much shorter fighter. But I knew from all the years of watching Forbes that he can take a good punch.
After about 30 minutes of talking pure boxing with Forbes and his crew I decided to let him go. He was probably weary from the work out.
A couple hours later Paul, Igor (a writer from Burbank) and I had some dinner at the local café inside the MGM. I was going to return to the house to get some sleep but Paul wants to see if one of the matchmakers arrives. We decide to hang out at the bar by the elevators where most of the casino traffic passes by. We found a table in the middle of the bar and within minutes a few people we know pass by. We’re sitting about 10 feet from Doug Fischer and his friends. We had talked earlier and we’re talking about Buddy McGirt when like magic Buddy McGirt shows up and greets us. Good thing it wasn’t anything bad.
A couple of local boxing guys saw us sitting and sat down with us to talk. One of the guys is Robert Gonzalez, a boxing promoter-slash-manager-matchmaker. As we spoke, Rolando Arrellano the former manager of Fernando Vargas passed by and shook hands. That struck up a conversation about Vargas and the rumor that he was in Vegas. Like magic, here comes Vargas wearing dark shades in the dark room. He’s with his buddy from Oxnard who shakes our hands. Vargas shakes a few hands but clearly wants to be somewhere else. His buddy stays a while talking as Vargas heads to the far corner of the bar.
Next came Zab Judah and his coterie of friends including a striking blonde who looks very familiar but I can’t pinpoint where I’d seen her before. I shrug it off. Zab shakes hands with Gonzalez then spots me and shakes my hand. He has his dark baseball hat on backwards and heads past us to a free table with the girls and his pals. I see him spot Vargas and the two sit down and look like they are trading war stories. When both fighters turned pro they fought for Main Events Promotions.
About 20 minutes later Eric Gomez arrived with Ricky Hatton and crew alongside him, all of them sit down next to our table about 10 feet away. Then most of Hatton’s friends walked away and there was Hatton sitting comfortably without anybody noticing him.
Later, Jin Mosley arrived with one of her friends. She greeted everybody from the boxing world and saw me sitting as she decided to leave. We greeted each other and hugged. She’s a very smart woman and very supportive of her husband Shane Mosley, who is in Big Bear preparing for his upcoming fight with Ricardo Mayorga.
The bar was full of boxing people for the next hour. But I looked at the clock and saw that it was past midnight and there’s a press conference for Hatton who is sitting right next to us, and Paul Malignaggi. We finally go home to sleep. It’s about 80 degrees outside. That’s pretty cool weather for a summer night in Las Vegas. I opened the windows this time. The air conditioning doesn’t seem to work upstairs but the cool air from outside makes it perfect for sleeping. I’m out like the light I just turned off.
Part 2 on Thursday
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV