Las Vegas Fight Journal Pt. 2 (The Fight)

BY David A. Avila ON September 16, 2008
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It’s Saturday and that means it’s the day of the two big fights on the Golden Boy Promotions card including Juan Manuel Marquez-Joel Casamayor and Sergio Mora-Vernon Forrest.

There’s nothing like getting up knowing that a big fight card awaits.

Fight day in Las Vegas always results in a hurricane of activity and for me it means getting a good start, packing my bags and saying goodbye to my hosts because right after the fight I head immediately back to California.

I packed my bags, got my notes together and said thanks to my hosts then loaded up everything in my car. It’s become a Las Vegas ritual for me that first began in 1994 when I covered my first boxing card in the gambling Mecca. A lot of things have changed in Las Vegas but not the magnetic hold that boxing holds over its fans.

The first item of the day will be covering the press conference for Paul Malignaggi, the IBF junior welterweight titleholder, and Ricky Hatton, the Ring Magazine junior welterweight titleholder. It’s scheduled for 10 a.m. but we get there early for the breakfast that is planned.

Any time there is free food, especially if it’s good food, you can bet there will be hordes of media in attendance. So I know it’s important to arrive early to get a good seat for the press conference.

I’ve got my laptop slung over my shoulder and head toward the credential desk to pick up my badge. You can’t get in the arena or media room without it. I’ve been doing this for so long that the woman at the desk begins hunting for my badge immediately before I hand her my driver’s license. She’s a very pleasant woman and always has something kind to say.

While getting my badge I spot Malignaggi heading out of a door that leads to private rooms on the bottom floor. He’s surrounded by a small group of his friends and heads toward the media room located about 300 yards away from the credential desk.

After I sign a list proving that I picked up my credential, I put the chain through the badge and then around my neck. I look around to see if I spot anybody walking in the massive MGM Grand who I might know. Nobody seems around.

As I approach the media room it’s obvious that the place is humming. Inside there are reporters, photographers and public relations people moving back and forth. It’s about 9:45 a.m. but since there is food arriving there are people already entrenched with a hungry look in their eyes. You can include me. One thing I love is breakfast food. The MGM always makes great scrambled eggs, bacon and has the Starbucks coffee heated up.

Inside I take a seat toward the end of the second row. I could have taken a seat on the first row but the photographers need those spots for their pics. I hook up my laptop to a power source and head for the food. While in line I see one of the Tecate girls who is helping promote the beer. Tecate is also one of the sponsors of the fight card and a favorite beer of mine whenever I do toss one down, which is seldom. This girl is actually from Tecate, a small border town southeast of San Diego. She’s the only girl I’ve met from that beer company that is actually from Tecate and she is very pleasant. We talk a little about which she is experiencing at the fight promotions.

Malignaggi passes by and spots me. We shake hands and greet each other. I met the Brooklyn boxer about a year ago during another boxing card. I was invited to a private dinner with Bob Arum and sat on the same table with the Top Rank boss, Lou DiBella and Malignaggi. I brought along Elena “Baby Doll” Reid to the dinner for company and to introduce her to the promoters. Female boxers can’t buy publicity for some unknown reason. That night I got to know both Malignaggi and DiBella. I had never really talked to them before. One question I had asked was if Malignaggi would ever fight in Las Vegas. It always puzzled me why a guy with that much charisma and talent wasn’t fighting in one of the showbiz capitals of the world.

Most people know Malignaggi by his Brooklyn persona. But speaking one-on-one it’s easy to see he’s a sincere person with an immense love for boxing. People from California are put off by the “Brooklyn thing.” It’s totally the opposite of what guys from East L.A. are taught. In Brooklyn it’s acceptable to talk trash, in East L.A. you’ll get shot for that. It’s a sub-cultural difference but one of the reasons that Southern Californians usually do not like Brooklyn fighters.

Now Malignaggi may say a thing or two but he never starts trash talking unless someone else begins it. Otherwise he’s a pretty humble guy with speed galore. He reminds me of my nephew Giovanni Flores, who is good at everything he does and talks fast like Malignaggi too.

I sat down and began to enjoy my breakfast. A few of my boxing fraternity sat down around me and we began to talk about things going on in Biloxi. About 20 feet in front of me Malignaggi is speaking to one of the reporters. We could hear the conversation and one of the comments he made prompted me to laugh. He’s a natural salesman. Lou DiBella saw me chuckling and walks over to tell me, “Paulie is a great promoter isn’t he?”

I agreed.

One of the Golden Boy people announced that the press conference was about to begin and that Hatton was on his way. Reporters began filtering to the rows of seats and tables ready to listen to the two fighters. Hatton is still not there.

Ten minutes later another announcement arrives that informs the press that Hatton will not be arriving. Apparently he’s not feeling well and begged off. The press conference begins with Malignaggi and his people and a lone representative of Hatton.

After the initial introductions up comes Malignaggi in a gray t-shirt and real short hair.

Malignaggi first greets the media room in Spanish. This causes murmurs in the crowd because many of the boxing reporters are from Mexico, there to cover the Marquez-Casamayor fight.

“You didn’t think I could speak Spanish,” said Malignaggi, looking the crowd over.

The junior welterweight champion from New York carries the press conference single-handedly and makes a few comments. Everybody is satisfied despite the absence of Hatton. Both junior welterweights will fight in this same casino come November. If it’s like Hatton’s last visit, expect 20,000 Brits to invade Las Vegas once again. That was probably the most memorable fight card I’d ever witnessed.

In the midst of an interview I motion to Malignaggi if we can interview him on video when he has the opportunity. He nods his head. After several interviews pass, it’s our turn. I ask him to do it in Spanish for our La Prensa newspaper readers. He agrees but warns us that his Spanish isn’t very good, but passable. The New Yorker gives a great interview in Spanish and talks about how he picked up the language. He also speaks Italian.

While we interviewed him many of the Mexican journalists overhear our stuff. By the time we finish, about two-dozen reporters from Mexico gathered around eager to speak to Malignaggi. He’s won over the Mexican reporters.

I sat back down in front my computer to begin one of the stories I need to finish before Sunday night. I have a lunch party to attend on Sunday and know I won’t be able to do it unless I knock off one story. It’s difficult because while I’m typing many of my boxing friends come up and talk. Not that I don’t want to talk to these guys, but I want to finish at least one piece before tomorrow. I stop typing to converse with my boxing buddies like Big Joe Miranda (he’s 6-6”), German Villasenor, Paul, Igor, Mario Serrano and a few others. All of these guys are real boxing guys who’ve been covering the scene for more than a few years now. The conversation ranges from Margarito to De La Hoya to the fights later in the day. Most of the guys feel Marquez is the favorite but he’s a huge 3-1 favorite. I can’t see Casamayor being that big an underdog. In fact, I feel the slick Cuban could be too strong for Marquez. As we all know by now, Marquez proved me wrong. He was magnificent, but it wasn’t easy.

We argue back and forth about the odds. Just last July I felt the same about Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto. The Puerto Rican great was a 3-1 favorite at Caesars Palace and I thought that was incredible too. I tabbed Margarito for that fight because of his size and monster-like ability.

Odds are funny things. They can be dead on or real bad. I remember a few years back when Israel Vazquez was a 4-1 underdog against Oscar Larios in their third match. I couldn’t believe the odds. That night, Vazquez annihilated Larios in two. So much for the odds makers being dead on.

It happens. They can’t always be right and neither can I or anybody else.

Around 3 p.m. as I finally finish one story, I look up at the massive screen and see that the fight card has begun. I gather my gear and head out. I don’t like to miss any of the fights, even the prelims. To me, the prelims are just as important as the main events. These are guys or girls giving their hearts out and I should be there covering it. You never know who will be the next big star, and aside from that, it’s just disrespectful to ignore the four, six and eight rounders. This is their big moment too.

Inside the arena I’m greeted by a young Mexican fan with his girl, he recognizes me from one of the countdown shows. He tells me I’m on one of the promos for the fight that are playing in the hotel rooms. I didn’t even know.

After finding my seat, I look around to see who is in the press rows and only spot Graham Houston, a great writer from Canada, and there is another reporter from Mexico. That’s about it. A few moments after settling in I spot Ron Borges who is preparing in front of a camera. I didn’t know he was going to be doing the analysis and color commentary for the pay-per-view show. He’s a former beat writer for the Boston Globe and now works for the Sweet Science. He knows his stuff.

For the first four fights there aren’t many people in the arena, maybe a few thousand scattered. In press row only Doug Fischer, and Roberto Morales have arrived. The rest of the press are probably still eating lunch. When the first pay-per-view fight begins with Victor Ortiz the rest of the boxing press begins to arrive, but not all. They won’t be coming until the semi main event between Mora and Forrest.

It’s sad, but true. Most of the boxing reporters only like to cover the major marquee events. There are tons of writers who seldom attend a club show or the prelims. It’s unfathomable for me to understand how anyone can cover the sport without attending club shows or prelims. They’re the foundation for pro boxing. Oh well.

One thing I notice is the lack of East Coast sportswriters in the arena. Maybe they’re at the Biloxi fight card? There are some pretty good writers from that area not present including Tim Smith of the New York Daily News, George Willis from the New York Post, Keith Idec from Jersey and Franklin McNeil from New Jersey. Dan Rafael from D.C. is present.

The West Coast reporter clan is in full force with Bill Dwyre from the L.A. Times in attendance and a number of other writers. In the past 10 years the Internet boxing web sites have grown in number and they’re all here.

I’ll skip the analysis of the pay-per-view fight card but throw in one comment: the fight card turned out to be very entertaining. Mexico City’s Juan Manuel Marquez closed the show with a bang and had the crowd cheering madly.

It took me about an hour to write two deadline stories: one for the Riverside Press-Enterprise and another for The Sweet Science. I was the second to the last writer to leave the arena as about 100 men and women began tearing it down all around me. Dwyre from the Times was the last to leave.

I walked to the media room to see if I could catch any of the post fight press conference. Oscar De La Hoya is speaking to the hundreds inside and I pick a spot to the side of the massive stage where the fighters and promoters are sitting behind mikes.

CEO Richard Schaefer spots me and comes over. I ask him about Oscar’s training situation and he tells me what’s going on. Leading the group of candidates to train Oscar is Nacho Beristain who is standing right behind him talking with some other people. He also mentions Rudy Perez, the former trainer of Marco Antonio Barrera. Perez helped Israel Vazquez beat Rafael Marquez twice. Another mentioned is Emanuel Steward, who formerly trained Oscar back in the 90s for one fight.

I asked Schaefer if they are considering Roger Mayweather?

“Oddly enough we are,” said Schaefer, adding that he’s more of a long shot because, “Oscar might be fighting Floyd Mayweather next year.”

Yes, Mayweather is unretiring.

Schaefer says that Oscar doesn’t want to be involved in more Mayweather controversy and will probably go back to Floyd Mayweather Sr. after the fight with Manny Pacquiao is over on Dec. 6

While talking to Schaefer somebody taps me on the back. It’s Raul Jaimes, Oscar’s good buddy and spokesman. He tells me that an old friend of mine from City Hall said to tell me hi. He quizzes me on who it is? I answer Antonio Villaraigosa? It is. I’ve known Antonio since my days in UCLA. We never really hung out together during those days, but I knew him and current state Senator Gilbert Cedillo and current L.A. City Councilman Eddie Reyes during my UCLA days.

I told Raul Jaimes that it would have been hard to imagine back then when we were always starving and never had a dollar that we would be doing what we love. They loved politics and I loved boxing. He laughed.

I shook hands with everybody I could find and headed out the media room. It was time to return to California.

On Sunday, I only had two stories to write instead of three.

The ride back was slow though few cars were on the road. I stopped in Baker to pick up something to eat, but nothing was open except for the Mad Greek and it was too crowded. I decided to go to one of those gas station convenience stores. Inside a few people milled around. I grabbed some chips, a coke and headed back into my car. While driving out of the lonely parking lot I spotted fellow boxing writer Robert Morales. We chatted a few minutes and off into the night I drove. I returned home about 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

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