Time flies, and last week’s festivities at the MGM Grand brought home a sudden realization that Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s master class on Saturday night came 10 years and one day after my first credentialed fight.
There were a fair few differences between that first fight and my latest: In 2003, my credential was red (signifying I rated only a bleacher seat) instead of ringside green, my affiliation was merely "freelance," and in the identifying photo my mouth was smiling and my hair wasn’t gray. But there were similarities, too: Both bouts were at the MGM, both involved the most popular boxer in the world at the time and both were the culmination of weeks of hype and publicity.
My memories of that first fight are as fresh as though it had been fought 10 months, rather than 10 years, ago, and the passage of time has spawned reflections on the numerous notable memories from a decade of being paid to watch fights.
So here’s a list of my top 10 (12, actually, because I kind of cheated) ringside recollections -- not necessarily the best fights (although some of them were terrific) but what, for me personally, have been my most memorable ringside experiences so far.
Shane Mosley W12 Oscar De La Hoya -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Sept. 13, 2003
Not exactly a ringside recollection, as I watched proceedings from the auxiliary section, but this was the first of what -- although I had no way of knowing it at the time -- would turn out to be more than a decade of professional prizefights for which I was credentialed.
From my seat in the bleachers, I thought the Golden Boy had eked out a decision in a good fight; most of those ringside, where the power of Mosley’s blows were more telling, seemed to agree with the official verdict. Personally, I most remember the thrill of experiencing my inaugural big-fight atmosphere, and the strange feeling of anticlimax on Sunday morning when it was all over.
Antonio Tarver TKO2 Roy Jones Jr. -- Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, May 15, 2004
The defining moment of postfight shock and awe. Jones had looked mortal in the first encounter between the two men, but that had widely been attributed to his struggles returning to 175 pounds after his brief and successful excursion to heavyweight. But Tarver had his number, and when he landed the big punch that marked the end of Jones’ era of dominance, the crowd responded with an initial roar, followed by a stunned silence, culminating in 12,000 people reaching simultaneously for their cellphones to tell friends, “Holy ****, Roy Jones just got knocked out!”
Diego Corrales TK10 Jose Luis Castillo -- Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, May 7, 2005
Even if this fight had been a dud, it would for me have been memorable: The previous night, the Boxing Writers Association of America's annual dinner had concluded with one of the finest gatherings of past and present champions to stand on one stage; and Gordon Absher, then the Mandalay Bay’s PR guru, had indulged my literary bent by seating me next to the great Budd Schulberg on fight night. Seriously, how could it possibly get any better? Then Corrales and Castillo started throwing punches, and the 4,000 or so souls in the arena became bound together in witnessing one of the very greatest professional prizefights ever -- a fight that effectively ruined both the combatants while leaving an indelible memory on everyone fortunate enough to be there.
Manny Pacquiao TK10 Erik Morales -- Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Jan. 21, 2006
Manny Pacquiao KO3 Erik Morales -- Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nov. 18, 2006
For reasons I can’t quite remember, but presumably related to a lack of money, I watched the first tilt between these two on TV in my cabin in Alaska. The indelible memory of their second contest, apart from Pacquiao turning around a fight he was losing and storming to a stoppage win, was the unrelenting volume inside the arena, as rival Mexican and Filipino fight fans shouted themselves hoarse. I imagined it was like sticking your head next to a jet engine. The third was much the same, and at the end of that contest the feeling was of one man reaching the end of his career and another about to launch his into the stratosphere.
Floyd Mayweather TKO10 Ricky Hatton -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Dec. 8, 2007
Ah, the Brits. My people. So very many of them, so very drunk, and singing so very loudly. For a week, Las Vegas became Manchester with better weather and colder beer, as Hatton’s fans sang constantly to remind themselves how many Ricky Hattons there are; and even when that one Ricky Hatton was stopped in the 10th round, they sang and drank some more.
Antonio Margarito TKO11 Miguel Cotto -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, July 26, 2008
Miguel Cotto TKO10 Antonio Margarito -- Madison Square Garden, New York, Dec. 3, 2011
During the buildup to the first fight, I was convinced that Cotto was on the verge of breaking through to the next level, to the very top echelons of pound-for-pound lists. And for much of the early going, the Puerto Rican appeared vastly superior to his opponent in every way, until Margarito ground him down and stopped him in what became a truly violent brawl. The suspicions that emerged afterward, following Margarito’s suspension for alleged handwrap tampering, led to a febrile atmosphere in New York three years later. The fact that Margarito was essentially a one-eyed man being served up for punishment concerned the Puerto Ricans in the arena not one bit, and the guttural roar when Cotto glared at his beaten foe segued into dancing on Seventh Avenue afterward.
Manny Pacquiao W12 Joshua Clottey -- Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas, March 13, 2010
The fight itself was kinda meh. Clottey spent most of his time impersonating a turtle as Pacquiao bang-bang-banged away. But there was a real sense of occasion about it all: Jerry Jones, Cowboys Stadium, that scoreboard … One can only wonder how immense it all would have been had the man across the ring been, as originally intended, not Joshua Clottey but Floyd Mayweather.
Lamont Peterson W12 Amir Khan -- Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., Dec. 10, 2011.
For all but seven of the nearly 20 years I’ve been in the United States, I’ve lived in the District of Columbia or its northern Virginia suburbs, so to have an HBO fight in what is effectively my hometown, and with a hometown fighter -- a hometown fighter who had grown up sleeping on the streets near the arena where he was now fighting, even –- scoring an upset win over a big star, with a fevered crowd screaming “D.C., D.C., D.C.” … it was all very cool, even if a pair of point deductions by an over-officious referee (to say nothing of the later revelations of Peterson’s synthetic testosterone intake) fouled the punch bowl.
Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Dec. 8, 2012
If much of the world greeted the buildup to their fourth encounter with a comparative shrug, the predominantly Mexican crowd viewed it with eager anticipation, desperate for Marquez to finally secure the official victory they felt he had three times been unjustly denied. It did not matter to them that Marquez entered the ring looking like the Incredible Hulk; they wanted a win, and when it came -– with Pacquiao dropping face-first like a stone -- the tide of emotion that crashed through the arena was a mixture of delirious joy and inconsolable grief, with the fevered wailing of a distraught Jinkee Pacquiao a powerful reminder of the realities of what is at stake when two men enter the ring.
Floyd Mayweather W12 Canelo Alvarez -- MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Sept. 14, 2013
From the massive throng that spilled out of the MGM Grand lobby to watch the fighters’ arrivals on Tuesday, to the crowd that stood three-deep to catch a glimpse of even the undercard fighters working out the next day, to the incomparable weigh-in experience in front of 12,200 fans -- and, of course, the enthusiastic but ultimately futile cries of “si se puede” and “Ca-ne-lo” during the main event -- this was, from beginning to end, almost certainly the most intense big fight week I’ve yet experienced.
Note to the “this was boxing’s last big fight” crowd: At the time of my first fight, nobody would have predicted that in 10 years’ time, Mayweather Jr. would be the man carrying the sport on his back, as De La Hoya did before him, as Mike Tyson did before him. Someone out there is boxing’s next big superstar. He may already be on HBO, he may be fighting undercard six-rounders, he may not yet have turned pro. But when he hits the highest heights, his biggest fights will be true events, just as much as Mayweather’s are now. And if I’m fortunate, I’ll be there covering them.