Boxing’s back off the canvass with the billion dollar fight of the century — and that’s bad news for the upstart UFC bidding to muscle in on the money.
The MGM Grand is a place that lives up to its name in the, well, grand scheme of things. It’s shaped a little bit like a slightly broken off Brigid’s Cross, admittedly the unholiest one imaginable. But it’s all gold and glitz on the inside, all angles and outcroppings on the outside.
As day turns to night in the City of Sin, the casino’s emerald facade and roaring giant golden lion statue, all gleaming in the gloaming, are a sight to behold. It’s right what they say. Everyone really should see Las Vegas before they die. The key part, we suppose, is to make sure both don’t happen at the same time in this capital of excess.
The MGM Grand is made for advertising. All through the day but more noticeably at night, its towers are emblazoned with whatever attractions (more accurately, distractions) they’re peddling. David Copperfield, Cirque du Soleil, Metallica (no, seriously), Bette Midler. They cater for all tastes, bad ones most of all. Copperfield’s face spans about four storeys and at a very rough amateur estimate about 24 hotel rooms. Think of that. Some poor souls save up for years, make it all the way to the desert, check in and find their balcony doubles up as an illusionist’s nostril.
But even Copperfield has had to do a disappearing act this week as the place prepped for the big one. The Fight of the Century takes place in the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena tonight and the world will watch on as Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao touch gloves. The venue has been plastered inside and out in promotional artwork featuring two of the finest fighters of this or any generation. On the towers and facades, windows, doors, ceilings, the sides of slot machines, the blackjack tables, Pacquiao and Mayweather’s faces are omnipresent. It has taken time to get here but this massive prizefight is not shy about letting you know it’s finally arrived.
Pacquiao and Mayweather have been fighting professionally for about 20 years apiece, they’ve both been champions for more than a decade and for a long time, too long, they’ve toyed with fighting one another. They fiddled with minor details while the sport apparently burned.
There’s no denying in the six years since Mayweather v Pacquiao was first mooted and then dashed, Ultimate Fighting Championship has landed crippling blows on boxing. Since the turn of the decade, the brash young upstart of the combat sports world has had the run of the place. And how it has ran. It has raced from quirky to colossal in the blink of a swollen eye, stealing TV viewers, sponsors, dollars and even young hopefuls from boxing.
Ireland has firmly bought into the appeal of the octagon but then given our national sport is none of the big four but, in fact, bandwagon jumping, that should be little surprise. Yet Conor McGregor’s showmanship, among many other alluring factors, has helped Dana White and his colleagues to conquer many foreign lands. Boxing was able to put up precious little in the way of defence.
Until this year.
When Pacquiao and Mayweather came face-to-face for the first time ever at a Miami Heat basketball game in late January, the wheels were in motion. In the three intervening months, boxing has slowly, steadily but surely puffed out its chest again. Record pay-per-view figures, unprecedented sponsorship revenues, ticket prices rocketing past the three-bed semi bracket, an avalanche of global interest. It would seem almost undeniable that absence — or the absence of a compelling superfight — has made the public’s heart grow fonder for boxing.
The UFC, the brash young upstart, has been put in its place, sent to the naughty step. Its next marquee show, UFC 187, takes place at the very same MGM Grand on May 23 but there is currently just one giant banner to let you know about it and it’s all but hidden from view, pointing away from the Strip next to a pedestrian overpass.
In this of all weeks, the UFC would have hoped to fight fire with fire. Instead they’ve been desperately trying to put out one of their own. The UFC 187 main event was to feature light heavyweight champion Jon ‘Bones’ Jones defending his title against Anthony Johnson. But Jones’ name and face have been swiftly removed from the aforementioned poster after he was stripped of his title and suspended from the sport.
One of UFC’s finest practitioners and the current pound-for-pound king, Jones was arrested over a hit-and-run incident in New Mexico that left a pregnant woman with a broken arm and wrist. Jones had already failed a drugs test in January testing positive for a byproduct of cocaine. This all comes hot on the heels of Anderson Silva, widely acknowledged as the UFC’s greatest of all time, failing his own drug test for steroids. It all adds up to a significant moment of crisis for the sport. The UFC can roll out all the fly-on-the-wall McGregor documentaries they want. They can push female champ and bona fide poster girl Ronda Rousey into another raft of Hollywood and WrestleMania cameos while they’re at it. But there is no getting away from the fact that they are facing a much greater image problem than a poster being hidden from public view in Vegas.
McGregor is as skilled a publicist as he is a fighter, quite brilliant at both. But even he has his off days. As MayPac mayhem went into overdrive he tried to bring the spotlight back to his own employers, who must now be desperately counting the days until his July title fight with Jose Aldo — also here at the MGM Grand — rolls around.
“If you put me face-to-face with Floyd Mayweather, I would kill him in less than 30 seconds,” McGregor said. “It would take me less than 30 seconds to wrap around him like a boa constrictor and strangle him.”
It was a pointless, juvenile jab too many and badly missed the mark as Mayweather responded witheringly. “I don’t take that dude seriously. He’s just trying to get himself some publicity,” he said, before swiftly moving to more important matters.
Like his Fight of the Century. The emerald towers of the MGM Grand tell the story.
On so many fronts the upstart firmly put in its place.
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