It’s Friday in Las Vegas and after picking up Liz Parr and Francisco Salazar we all head to the MGM Grand to grab our credentials and head into the media room.
The entire MGM is a madhouse.
Inside the media room is equally chaotic as hundreds of reporters, photographers, camera people, hotel personnel, radio jockeys, television producers, promoters, fighters and the general hangeroners float, collide and gab with each other in a messy and predictable pot.
Most of the boxing writers and photographers know each other well. If they’ve been in the business for more than five years they’re all part of the small but furious boxing fraternity that hashes out the 411 on the business of the manly art.
Once inside I spot at least 200 people I know, some already engrossed in some kind of conversation, others eating, and still others pounding out deadline stories.
Ahh, home again.
Across the room I see Ronan Keenan who is sitting near some other friends. Most everybody has friends and sometimes it feels like the people in the room are the real heart and soul of boxing. Not all sleep, drink, eat and breathe boxing, but for those that occasionally just cover the big mega fights, there are 20 who others who put in 20 times more than the seasonal writers who come in once in a while.
Big Joe Miranda is there with a couple of guys from Canada who made the trip. Robert Morales of the LA Daily News and Long Beach Press-Telegram is also in the front row sitting next to Lance Pugmire of the LA Times. Near them are the New York writers Tim Smith and George Willis. The gang’s all here.
Some of us had planned to go to a Mexican super market to catch Julio Cesar Chavez sign autographs but it’s slated at the same time as the weigh in. Inside the Garden Arena there are already 8,000 lunatic fans of Puerto Rican and Filipino descent waiting for their heroes.
We decide to stay for the weigh-in.
While waiting for one of the reporters to get a credential, four of us are standing outside the media room that is right next to the entranceway to the Garden Arena. As we standing waiting for our comrade a small Latino man dressed in a dark green shirt, some brown pants and wearing a hat is passing behind us. I reach out my hand and say “Roberto!” shake his hand and he continues on to the media center. The others ask me who was that?
“That was Roberto Duran!” I say in amazement.
“He looked like some construction guy,” said Parr. “That was the great Roberto Duran? The guy I’m going to name my first child after?”
Parr says her husband wants to name their first son Duran after the great lightweight who many call the greatest lightweight to ever lace up gloves.
One time when I was in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, Roger Mayweather and I discussed boxing in general and when it came to naming the some of the greatest the uncle and trainer of Floyd Mayweather Jr. was quick to call Duran one of the greatest. We talked about Duran and some of the other great lightweights including Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. who fought Roger and also some others.
How great was Duran?
About 30 years ago when my great grandfather Battling Ortega was alive, we watched a fight featuring Duran and I can’t remember who else.
My great grandfather had fought more than a dozen world champions from lightweight to light heavyweight and always claimed all of the guys in the modern era couldn’t fight a lick.
He used to say that when promoters asked him if he wouldn’t mind fighting a middleweight though he was a lightweight his answer was always “I DON’T GIVE A SH--. And he was true to his word. One day it would be a lightweight, the next week a welterweight and who knows what the following month. He would fight anybody who asked him to fight.
So when he would see one of the modern fighters (at that time during the late 1970s), he would look at the fighters and poo poo them and their lack of aggression.
But when he saw Roberto Duran on television, he froze. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the man called “Manos de Piedra.” When the fight eventually ended by vicious knockout, all Battling Ortega could say was “He can fight.”
Now Battling Ortega had fought the great Benny Leonard and always claimed Leonard was the greatest he had ever seen. Then he saw Duran and had muttered that guy is pretty good too.
Weigh-in, Mexican food and Z Gorres
After both Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto weighed in as the fans screamed their cheers and stomped their plastic sound sticks, everybody headed back into the media room.
A fight card was being held at the House of Blues inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
As a boxing writer I feel it is my duty to cover as many boxing cards as possible so we furious six head to Rigos Tacos on Valley View first to get some Mexican food before going to the fights.
It was my first time going to Rigos Tacos. The food was very good. It was Ronan Keenan’s first time ever tasting Mexican food. He’s a little hesitant to try it because of fear of burning his mouth. But he eats sopes and survives the ordeal. The rest of us gorge on the food then head off to the Mandalay Bay.
Inside the House of Blues we find our seats. Z Gorres is fighting Luis Melendez and it’s in the 11th round. One round later the talented Filipino contender is dropped with a single left cross with 30 seconds left in the 12th round. He beats the count and dances away the remaining seconds. The judges ruled him the winner by unanimous decision. He trots around the ring with the Filipino flag. Then he stops, begins to turn and leave, but collapses and his handlers hold him up. A stretcher comes in seconds and the wonderful boxer is carried out. It looks bad. We hear later that he’s already being operated on for a brain hemorrhage. Everyone seems to sigh silently at the news.
I’ve seen Z Gorres fight at least four times in person. One thing I know is that he never quits and never gives in. Hopefully the Filipino fighter survives intact. His boxing career is over, but I just hope he survives to be among us again. I’ve seen too many brave boxers die in my years of covering professional boxing. It’s the one bad thing I see about this beautiful sport. Death hovers above the sport like an angry cloud.