LAS VEGAS — The MGM Grand Garden Arena last Saturday, January 19, collided for attention. The flashing lights raced on and off, bizarrely beautiful. The place magnified with frenzied electricity with the blinding lights, as it was meant to confuse you, make you think there is no time in this city — no night, day or future.
It was noisy and chaotic like everyone was on fire and had ADD — amped up with enthusiasm, beer, and alcohol — all for the senator-boxer, who as always, is the better fighter.
By the time the fight rolled over into the 5th round, passions were so inflamed, that everyone was ready to explode like a punctured powder keg. Thousands of Pacquiao fans chanted (including neutral fans) until the ground rumbled like there was a big earthquake.
So what did you miss if you watched the fight on TV, instead of being there to see it “live?”
You missed the exhilaration produced by many things: the crowd of 13,205 brought to its feet, the roaring of spectators, seeing sights that few others have seen, and the pleasure of watching the drama, sharing part of the victory.
You missed the strong the tension among the thousands looking at the fighters through a raw nerve.
What else did you miss watching inside your room?
Little things and big things — the colorful crowd, the quiet gladiatorial violence boxing fans have mastered in brutal perfection, in the midst of sound bites into rhetoric about people who bring boxing game disrepute. Then there’s the unstoppable collective roar for every victorious gesture of the champ, forming a slow whistling moan then boomed, relentless.
We also saw the overabundance of Filipinos that cheered for the champ, including a number of international celebrities. However, viewers probably saw celebrity occupants of the ringside better than we did, and the expression of Philippine public officials as they strutted in affectionate amusement at seeing the champ’s wife in an exalted position.
“I thought I was in the Philippines,” Pacquiao commented during the post-fight press conference, as he thanked everyone, especially Filipinos, Americans, and Latinos.
You also missed the overall cultural aridity, melting in flamboyance, extravaganza and vigor; the irreverence condoned all over the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Like in every fight, voices soared, building the crowd into a hysterical frenzy. It was national pride for that little big Filipino, to see him come so far. His victories are a source of extreme national pride because we all knew he was not just fighting for himself, he was fighting for a nation.
I remember the early interviews I had with the champ – at the beginning, and later bouts that brought the sports world to a standstill — Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley and Mayweather. As he reflected, “What I have done in boxing, I never expected that, titles in eight divisions.”
But that was a long, long, very long time ago. No one can forget the moments that that led to here.
The Greyhound bus he took from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2001. The random meeting with Freddie Roach at Wild Card. Their decision to work together – a choice that changed the history of boxing. The mile Pacquiao walked down Sunset Boulevard to the gym each day.
The pronunciation of his name, scribbling it out phonetically on a piece of paper – Pa-key-yow.
He remembered his first title defense in the U.S., on a Mayweather undercard, of all undercards. He remembered the night he fought in front of Mike Tyson in Memphis. He watched Tyson from the stands as he knocked out his opponent, where excited fans spilled beer all down his back.
In 2106, Nike dropped Pacquiao when he made a comment that gay people were “worse than animals.” At the same time, he was banned by The Grove, a popular mall in Los Angeles, and HBO called his statements “deplorable” and “offensive.”
At Wild Card, only the loyalists remained, only the true confidants that have been with Pacquiao since he arrived in California in 2001; Like Roach and head of security, Rob Peters; and Pacquiao’s best friend, Buboy and brother Bobby. They watched him spin through the same routing, the stretching, the mitt work, the heavy bag, the speed bag. They ate with him at Nat’s, the Thai restaurant that Pacquiao still frequents near the gym.
He was not bothered by celebrity criticism. He was booed in San Antonio, the night he fought Marco Antonio Barrera for the first time in 2003. It has never happened before and when he got out, the crowd was yelling “boo, boo,” but he did not throw a punch, as he knew what it was to not have even a single fan.
The post-fight press con
The press center or bullpen is bright and large, and well-planned. Some correspondents looked more intelligent while some ravaged by others like a bad fairy in a ballet or a pained frog. This is usually when you’re with established reporters of the international scene.
It was always a rousing and dramatic session. Mercifully, Bob Arum, who is still astonishingly handsome, moderates. If you need a quotable item, reporters from prominent papers readily obliged; but the disturbing thing about the press center was that it made no statement whatsoever. In its opacity and constriction, it could not even act as a reflector of thought. Although presumably inside this room, the spirit of man will be both represented and worshipped as always.
Like Pacquiao’s fans, 300 or so international reporters held their breath as they wait for the champ’s state of health after the fight. When he emerged with a drop-dead gorgeous, all he really has to do is grin, and we were all his hands.
Long after the score has lost importance, we will remember what the bout was like. We will remember how the adventure had been —the feelings, courage, grace, adversary, fatigue, and challenge. Who can forget all of these? That wasn’t viewing — that was total involvement.
E-mail Mylah at firstname.lastname@example.org