Sin City's infamous gambling strip has already witnessed cheap shots, ruthless low blows, even gouging — over prices — and the opening bell of Saturday's long-awaited mega-fight hasn't even clanged yet.
This high-stakes desert oasis was pulsating with anticipation in the days before Floyd Mayweather Jr. was to fight Manny Pacquiao, a matchup expected to bring the biggest payday in sports history. The pair will share $400 million, with undefeated Mayweather getting the bigger cut. (His nickname isn't "Money" for nothing.)
The much-ballyhooed bout could bring 200,000 fans to Las Vegas and weekend visitor totals could top 325,000, on par with New Year's, the strip's biggest annual draw. Tourism officials say occupancy for the city's 150,000 hotel rooms will approach 100% — within days after the fight was announced, online searches for rooms soared 1,000%.
Betting on the fight could reach $100 million, just a little less than the Super Bowl's take of $116 million, sports books here say.
All week, taxis, buses and billboards along the strip hawked "Fight Weekend" concerts and drink specials. The casinos trumpeted various parties hosted by hip-hop stars like Puff Daddy, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z and even pop star Justin Bieber. Everybody, it seems, wanted in on the action.
Inside the lobby of the MGM Grand, the site of the bout, scores of fans lined up each day to snap selfies in front of a mock boxing ring, with an emblem of the casino-hotel's signature lion crouched in the center. Couples went nose-to-nose for faux pre-fight stare-down photos. People leaned in for close shots of the boxing floor. A security guard was on hand in case someone tried to climb into the ring.
Still, visitors were shocked at the cost of actually witnessing the fight.
New Jersey resident Kevin Coulbourne admitted that this would be the closest he would get to the real event. "I'm going to be watching it at home on the big screen, so I can see every bit of it," the 57-year-old said.
Inside the MGM gift store, Florida resident Rick Sanders was buying a $50 Mayweather T-shirt. But fight tickets? Those were out of his league. "That's 10% of my annual salary," he said.
Along with the excitement came tension.
It's no secret that the two boxing camps detest each other; the sniping started even before Pacquiao arrived from Los Angeles on Monday in a 100-car caravan.
On Tuesday, the fighters threw pep rallies at different hotels — each attended by thousands of fans — events that displayed their contrasting styles. At the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the boxers will square off, Mayweather arrived inside the building in a black-and-white Mercedes van with a TMT ("The Money Team") logo.
Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, who has feuded with MGM officials since a dispute over signage at an earlier event here, called any would-be MGM rally "a waste of time."
So, over at the Mandalay Bay convention center Tuesday, Pacquiao was cheered on by an international crowd that included a sea of Filipinos. The Philippines congressman, who may one day run for president, raised his hands to the crowd like a candidate on the stump.
Newspaper columnists have traded pre-fight gossip — on how Mayweather has patched relations with his mercurial father and how he will wear a $25,000 mouthpiece with pieces of a $100 bill in the center.
Pacquiao has chosen a slickly-produced ballad for his fight entrance, called "I Fight for the Filipino People." Even the identity of the ring referee — veteran Kenny Bayless — and the three judges made headlines.
Only 500 tickets in the 16,000-seat arena were available to the public; the rest were mostly in the hands of the fighters and MGM for friends, family, cronies, celebrities, high-rollers and the like. Those few up for grabs went for up to $7,500 apiece and sold out in two minutes. Black-market resale could fetch $100,000 apiece for ringside seats.
One fan explained on social media why he avoided the ticket-buying spasm: "We figured retirement was more important than an hour of 'Look at me.'"
The day before weigh-in at prize fights is traditionally free to the public. Not Friday's. Tickets sold for $10 and went for as much as $700 via online scalpers.
Another 50,000 tickets to watch the fight on closed-circuit TV in several strip casinos sold out at $150 each. Pay-per-view profits could also set a record.
"The tickets for this fight are the hottest thing I've ever seen," former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman said. "I've never received so many calls from the political and entertainment world wanting to score tickets."
The weekend has also brought fans for Saturday's Kentucky Derby. The mammoth National Hardware Show kicks off Monday, followed by Cinco de Mayo festivities on Tuesday.
It all presented an opportunity for local businesses to up the ante on visitors.
Hotel room rates skyrocketed — tripling even at the less-coveted properties. Rooms at the MGM Grand, the site of the fight, approached $1,800 a night for the weekend. Off-strip rooms are also at a premium: The Fairfield Inn listed fight weekend rooms starting at $369 per night. Rooms in Primm and Jean southwest of the city — where accommodations can go for as low as $39 — sold for $180 a night.
"It's a supply-and-demand issue," said Jeremy Handel, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "Businesses are looking at what they feel is appropriate price-wise."
Las Vegas police are prepared for chaos: Traffic at the Strip's south end could gridlock and MGM officials warned anyone without a fight ticket or hotel reservation to stay away.
Security officials plan crowd control measures to avoid any repeat of violence. At the 2007 NBA All-Star game here, when hundreds of fans were arrested after a handful of shootings. A prize fight last May saw 60 people injured in a stampede triggered by a loud noise mistaken for gunfire.
Mayweather has long said that this fight isn't about the money, but about his legacy.
Roy Harper doesn't buy that for one minute. As he sold fight mementos out of a temporary tent downtown, the Dallas resident said of course it's about the money.
"The money is what makes everything gel," he said. "And when they fight the rematch, that means even more money."
He turned to a customer: "What can I sell you guys today?"
Times staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.