Ringside in Vegas, as Pretty Boy stops Hit Man

2007-12-15 00:00

IT’S not often that I succumb to the green-eyed monster that is envy, but I have to concede that this time round I was borderline-insanely jealous of my younger brother Michael.

You see, last weekend Mike and his wife Christina went to see Floyd “Pretty-Boy” Mayweather stop Ricky “Hitman” Hatton in what was billed “The Fight of the Century” at the fabled MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Now anyone who grew up with me will know the fascination I had with boxing from the time I saw a magazine that featured KZN’s Maxwell Malinga on the cover.

Mike and Christina live in the UK, which probably helped a bit in getting to Vegas, but throughout the fight I scanned the TV as the cameramen’s lenses frequently washed over the thousands of British fans. Alas, I didn’t see them, but the fact they were there gave the fight added spice for me.

At least Mike’s e-mail, which came from an exhausted traveller, painted part of the picture of an adventure I would give a lot to experience. So it’s over to Mike:

When I was in my mid-teens, I once went with my eldest brother, Graham, to the Alexandra Road Police Station for a bout of sparring with his mate Graham Blom. Holding up those gloves and trying to dodge the deafening thuds, which I am sure were just light taps from Blom, made me realise what these guys were made of, and that I was not cut out for a boxing career.

Why then this particular fight in Vegas? Well, I guess the interest surrounding these two fighters had been immense, particularly as they had 80 unbeaten fights between them. Both are at their peak, aged 29 and 30, with the outcome of this bout ending up with only one unbeaten fighter. Mayweather, the favourite, originates from the ghettos of middle America with a penchant for bling and a loud mouth, while Hatton hails from a suburb of Manchester and enjoys nothing more than a quiet pint down at his local and a takeaway with his mates Wayne and Colleen Rooney at their house.

A group of work colleagues in London had decided to go to the fight when it was announced. A bright idea was conceived to buy the plane tickets, book the hotel rooms and get tickets, in that order. One of the crew had close “connections” with a promoter who had access to the Hatton camp. The flight and hotel bookings went through smoothly, the fight tickets were sold out in three minutes. I managed to get two by complete luck while the other eight guys in our party could only get the live telecast tickets for the screening of the fight at one of the adjacent MGM conference halls. The “connection” tickets never materialised as the promoter realised he could sell his $500 tickets for $1500 on e-bay, not a bad number when you have 50 odd tickets in hand.

About 20 000 Hatton fans made the trip to Las Vegas. I began to realise the full impact of this on our connecting flight from New York’s JFK to Vegas. Of the 150 or so passengers, over 100 were boxing fans, excitedly breaking out in song at every opportunity. A chap in the seat behind me lent over on hearing my accent and said he had flown Cape Town-London-New York-Las Vegas to see the fight.

Vegas was as I remembered it [Mike and Christina were married there with an Elvis impersonator to serenade them] bright, brash, loud and buzzing with excitement. Fight fans were everywhere, mingling with the Rodeo World Cup, the Spice Girls, Celine Dion and Sir Tom Jones fans. No one stood out, however, as much as the Hatton supporters. It was like being at King’s Park an hour before a Springbok Test against New Zealand with no Kiwi supporters, although this was 24 hours before the fight actually started.

Ricky’s fans broke into song at every opportunity to the chorus of the classic Christmas song Winter Wonderland with a few word changes: “There’s only ooooooone Ricky Hatton, singing a song, walking along, walking in a Hatton wonderland.”

The MGM main arena holds a crowd capacity of 16 500 and it soon became apparent that 80% of the ticket holders were Hatton fans. Between rounds of the fights on the undercard, Hatton and Mayweather were shown getting ready in their changerooms — to huge roars and songs for Hatton and loud booing for Mayweather.

The legendary perma-tanned MC, Michael Buffer (63), who starred in Rocky as himself and who has trademarked the catchphrase “Let’s get ready to ruuuuumble,” got proceedings under way.

The fight was on!

Even though Mayweather was picking Hatton off, there was a feeling that the Hit Man could still do it. In the sixth round a point was deducted from Hatton for rough tactics as he hit Mayweather on the back of the head after forcing him through the ropes.

The crowd booed the referee, calling him a w**ker and a cheat. But the courageous Hatton’s assaults were met with accurate, straight punches that knocked his head back.

The eighth and ninth rounds see Hatton’s fans urging him on, hoping for miracles. Next round, a rapid Mayweather combination finishes the fight.

It was a great spectacle, an event that I or anyone else who attended will never forget. At 9 am the Hatton fans were still singing, but not long afterwards it was back to reality.

I was glad that I had hung up my gloves as a 14-year-old. Boxing is better left to the likes of Pretty Boy and the Hit Man — gladiators of the highest order.

•Mike Cook is a civil engineer in London.

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