Las Vegas again! And another big fight. The road to Las Vegas began on Thursday around 2:30 p.m. Usually I depart from the sleepy town of Riverside around 10:30 p.m. That seems to be the optimum time to leave. But this day the period after lunch seemed better. It’s a drive I’ve made perhaps 200 times or more. Probably more. The desert scenery I pass has become so familiar I can easily estimate if I’m 35 minutes or 45 minutes away from Barstow, Baker or the blazing towering casinos of Las Vegas, the once-thriving casino capital that has seen a downturn like the rest of the world. In a good year drives to Las Vegas can be as plentiful as twice a month. Not this year. It’s more like six times a year. Even the drive through the desert seems emptier now. No overbearing SUVs, four-wheel drive trucks or RV’s to deal with nowadays. It’s kind of sad for Vegas, but good for making time in less than three hours.

I arrived in two hours and 50 minutes and head directly into my hotel to check in. Even that can be done in 15 minutes if you arrive at the correct time. Passing by the 215 freeway it’s apparent that even the traditional rush hour crush has been affected. I easily make it to the proper exit and boom, I’m off. Top Rank planned a dinner for reporters and p.r. extraordinaire Bill Caplan made an explicit plea for me to attend the function at the Italian eatery Lupos. It’s right next door to the Rum Jungle inside the fabulous Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. It’s my favorite casino. The now departed TV series Las Vegas used it early on for some of its inside and outside scenes. Even before the TV series I loved the place; it just has that something that others don’t possess. Accompanying me is Uppercut Magazine writer Elizabeth Q. Parr. We check through the window to see if anyone is inside and not a soul is familiar so we walk on. Near one of the coffee joints I see Sergio Diaz, who manages Antonio Margarito and a few other fighters. He’s one his cell phone but walks over to shake hands with us. As we stand and talk a few more people I recognize walk over and we chat. I see Ricardo Jimenez, one of the Top Rank p.r. guys and he hands me and Liz an invitation for the dinner. After a few more people walk into the restaurant we decide to follow. I introduce Liz to a few of the boxing people inside. One of the first guys I spot is Derrick Harmon, a former light heavyweight contender who fought Roy Jones Jr. when he was at his prime. He even gave Jones a pretty good tussle. He was that good. Now Liz Parr probably doesn’t look like a boxing person and certainly not like a boxing writer. She has more of a super model look with her long black hair and slim figure. But little does anyone know she probably knows more about the sport of boxing than 98 percent of the boxing writers.

Parr was a former amateur boxing standout who won U.S. National titles as a welterweight and junior welterweight in five consecutive years. When discovering that girls would not be included in the 2008 Olympics she turned professional. But the problem is when you win five National titles nobody wants to fight you. Freddie Roach, yes that Freddie Roach, was training her but even he was unable to convince promoters to get her fights, so she quit after two years with only one fight and of course that was by knockout. There’s a kind of funny story about how Roach met Parr. I was visiting the Wild Card Boxing gym several years ago when I spotted Liz and her husband Yas Parr inside the crowded gym. I had never met her husband so she introduced us. Yas is from England and is a strength and conditioning coach of the highest degree. After the introduction I asked Liz if Freddie Roach was training her. She said they hadn’t been introduced yet so I walked over to Freddie. We first said hello and I asked him if he had met Liz. He said no and added that he had heard she was pretty good. Then he asked “If she’s so good why didn’t she win any National titles?” I answered “she won five of them Freddy.” Roach quickly walked over to her and introduced himself. For more than a year he trained the tall 135-pounder and refined her skills. She’s probably one of the best, if not the best, female prizefighter in the world. That’s my opinion but I stand by it. I once saw her fight in a tournament final. Her opponent begged off so she was offered a fight with the middleweight finalist whose opponent had begged off. Liz agreed with no hesitation and polished off the middleweight in nine seconds flat. It’s still a Blue and Gold tournament record. After two years of inactivity she hung up her gloves. She’s only 25 but she decided the world of female prizefighting is not for her. But she still loves the sport and knows boxing like few others. That’s why she’s writing about boxing. And she’s pretty good. Uppercut Magazine has a very good weapon in Parr.

For three hours we sit and eat dinner with one of my TSS cohorts Ronan Keenan of Dublin, Ireland, Jeff Fahey of the Las Vegas Sun, Chris Cozzone of and his wife, and Alexandra Calva of Tecate. It was a great dinner but I wasn’t hungry much. Of course most of the conversation opened with “who do you pick?” My answer is always the same: “Pacquiao by knockout, before the end of the 12th round.” It’s funny because when they first announced the fight that’s exactly what I thought and never wavered from that prediction. I usually never go on record because in the past it hurt me when I needed to interview fighters later on. Most of the elite fighters know me so I can’t really make a prediction without it getting back to me. I was interviewed for a TV commercial and they asked me to comment on the fight so I did. But when they edited the piece they made it seem like I predicted Cotto. I guess they liked what I said about Cotto’s tools and made it seem like I felt he would win. Hey. If I’m going on record I want it to be correct so I proceeded to go on record: Pacquiao by knockout before the end of the 12th. It became a mantra that repeated probably 50 times in three days.

It was a long dinner and after both Liz and Ronan accompanied me to the Tuscany where we met TSS photographer Paul Hernandez and writer Francisco Salazar. We talk a bit and Salazar wants to go gamble. He doesn’t often get Vegas assignments so when he arrives he likes to gamble. Ronan and I talk while the others gamble. Ronan is an excellent writer who trains and fights in amateur boxing. He’s a few inches taller than my six feet but weighs only 168 pounds. Tomorrow truly begins the madness of a big fight weekend. We decide to turn in.