Of all the signs that the stuttering economy has hit Las Vegas especially hard, nothing -- not the stalled building projects along the Strip, the relatively cheap room rates, or reports of rock-bottom house prices -- struck home with the small coterie of out-of-town journalists attending Saturday's Juan Manuel Lopez-Rafael Marquez bout at the MGM Grand more than one jarring observation.
The casino cafe is no longer open 24/7, and it is a struggle to find a drink much later than 1 a.m. on a weeknight. For Sin City, that's a major revelation.
Happy as the MGM and Mandalay Bay undoubtedly are to be hosting three fight cards in relatively quick succession in November and December, there's no doubt that their coffers -- and those of the town as a whole -- would have gratefully swelled with the income that would be generated by a truly major contest. One featuring, say, Manny Pacquiao.
But once Pacquiao elected to fight Antonio Margarito, the Mexican -- suspended by the state of California for the Great Doctored Handwraps Scandal of 2009 -- had to apply to the Nevada State Athletic Commission for a license. And Nevada, resisting the lure of riches that always accompany a Pacquiao fight, sent him back to California. When California refused to reinstate him, Texas gratefully swooped and so now, for the second time this year, Pacquiao fights in the Lone Star State, in the stadium that Jerry built.
For Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the chance to address the media on a topic other than his struggling football team will doubtless be a relief. For the boxing public, too, it provides a welcome opportunity -- one so often denied when the largest events land in Las Vegas casinos -- to buy relatively affordable tickets and watch the event in person. If a fight with Joshua Clottey, little known and with no great fan base to speak of, could lure more than 50,000 people to Cowboys Stadium, a contest against Mexico's Margarito, who brings controversy and popularity alike, should easily exceed the 60,000 tentatively predicted, particularly on the back of another installment of HBO's "24/7."
It doesn't hurt either that Pacquiao has been virtually unmissable: Dueting with Will Ferrell, stumping for Harry Reid, profiled on "60 Minutes," featured on the cover of the American Airlines in-flight magazine, the subject of a new biography by Time magazine's Gary Andrew Poole.
The question, of course, is whether this has all been too much, whether Pacquiao, whose life is famously a constant whirl of distraction, has this time had to contend with one distraction too many. While some have questioned the validity of the sounds of concern that have been emanating from Camp Pacquiao, wondering whether they are in fact the drumbeat of a hype machine, they were very real; and although they have abated since Pacman arrived in Los Angeles, they have not entirely disappeared.
For while Pacquiao's edges in skill and, especially, speed are significant, so too is the size advantage enjoyed by Margarito. Add to that the fact that the reason the fight is here in Dallas and not Las Vegas is that one of the combatants has become a boxing pariah. As a result, there is a sense that Margarito is a man on a mission, possessed with the desire to clear his name and validate his career, and that as a result this contest could be a classic case of an underdog with everything to prove against a favorite with everything to lose.
In other words, what initially was widely viewed as a somewhat distasteful circus may actually turn out to be a real fight.