LAS VEGAS — Buzz is a funny thing.
Boxing isn’t often at the forefront of modern sports culture and, even with the occasional exception (largely including Floyd Mayweather) in recent years, prominent fights often fall into the niche of die-hard fans and Saturday night thrill-seekers. The Nov. 2 fight between Canelo Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev was no different, with some level of anticipation in the sporting consciousness but far from prominent placement on standard, wide-ranging sports media platforms.
In Las Vegas, though, things are just different and, on Saturday, that theme was magnified.
For two-plus decades, I’ve been a closet boxing fan. Would I consider myself a full-blown die-hard that can discuss the nuances of every weight class and legitimate contender? No, but dating back to the early-to-mid 1990’s, I’ve found a way to take in a lot of action in the ring. My dad is likely to blame for this, with early exposure to HBO’s Boxing After Dark when it felt “cool” to stay up late and an occasionally magical cable box that would illuminate pay-per-view matches, albeit with squiggly lines permeating the view on a semi-regular basis.
As an adult, that quiet boxing admiration only grew, organizing match-watching parties in high school and college to lower costs of the PPV buys. Still, the full fight experience eluded me, with close traveling misses keeping me away from Las Vegas, MSG and other marquee venues when top-tier fights rolled through. In fact, I had never attended a boxing match of any magnitude, despite watching hundreds in my three-plus decades of life on Earth. Then, Nov. 2 happened.
With the backdrop of only passing interest for most sports fans across the country, Las Vegas brings an entirely different atmosphere on a fight weekend. For reference, I had experienced similar, but not identical, pre-fight experiences for the UFC in the desert, with fans of particular fighters simply overtaking full blocks of Las Vegas Boulevard on fight night. This time around, the MGM Grand Garden Arena was the site of Canelo-Kovalev and, well, the scene didn’t disappoint.
Candidly, there wasn’t the city-wide feel of fights like Mayweather-Pacquiao (at least from what I could gather) but, around the MGM, the fever pitch began early. Patrons had trouble moving through the concourses, stopping in clumps around celebrities like boxing star Daniel Jacobs and generally congregating in the way that people do before a massive event. Was this that different from a big game in another sport? Not so much, but the elements make the scene more poignant, from jam-packed blackjack tables to every restaurant under the sun. Oh, and there are plenty of people not headed to the fight that are just taking in the typical sights and sounds of a Saturday night in what Michael Buffer refers to as the “entertainment capital of the world.”
Once inside, the undercard got things going, with Seniesa Estrada facing off with Marlen Esparza in a memorable fight for the vacant WBA interim women’s flyweight title. In on-brand boxing fashion, that match was draped in the controversy of an accidental head-butt, though the next match had no such uncertainty, with Ryan Garcia annihilating Romero Duno in a first-round knockout. There was an extended break between the women’s flyweight match and the Garcia match but that was nothing compared to what would happen next, when an otherwise “typical” night of boxing in Sin City became anything but that.