For boxing weirdness, you can't beat Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Last year, boxing promoter Bob Arum took a Manny Pacquiao fight to China and its rich casinos.

Wednesday, he lashed out at the go-to boxing site in Las Vegas, the MGM Grand and its massive Garden Arena, with such vitriol that you might assume Top Rank Promotions and its large stable of name fighters won’t be back there.

Arum, furious that the bulk of the signage in the MGM Grand was not for his Saturday night headliner between Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, but for the May 3 battle between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Marco Maidana, was asked if this was it for him and the MGM.

“Never say never,” he said. “But think about it. Why would I come back here after what they have done?”

Any erosion of major fights from the MGM — it will still get some from other promoters, of course — would bring an erosion of the wonderfully crazy moments that boxing has brought to this city for so many years.

Ah, where to start?

In 2004, after his fighter, Erik Morales, had lost a second straight close and controversial decision to Marco Antonio Barrera, Arum stood before the gathered press and proclaimed, “I’m sick of this [bleep].”

In 1993, in the midst of an outdoor fight at Caesars Palace in which Evander Holyfield was in the process of bloodying Riddick Bowe in a heavyweight title fight, a man in a flying fan flew from above and into the ring. Both fighters, as stunned as the crowd, stopped to gawk as James Jarrett Miller landed and got tangled in the ropes.

Bowe’s corner didn’t gawk. With their fighter standing in the middle of the ring, his face a mess, they attended instead to Fan Man by beating the tar out of him.

In May 2007, superstar Oscar De La Hoya, in the twilight of a Golden Boy career, attracted a record 2.4 million buys for a match against Mayweather. The eventual total pay-per-view revenue was $136 million.

Amid the usual bizarre in that one was that, for a while, De La Hoya was going to be trained by Mayweather’s father, Floyd Sr. That disintegrated into some name-calling and outrageous money demands — what else, this is boxing — and eventually, De La Hoya hired Freddie Roach and lost a split decision.

Just 19 months later, a fast-rising Pacquiao was given a shot at the Golden Boy, who clearly and deservedly was on a Farewell Tour. This time, Roach was Pacquiao’s trainer. After Pacquiao dominated and destroyed De La Hoya, who then retired from the ring, the Golden Boy acknowledged to Roach himself what the veteran trainer had been saying all along.

“You are right, Freddie,” De La Hoya said. “I haven’t got it anymore.”

Then there was the September 2011 fight between Mayweather and Victor Ortiz. Ortiz, clearly in over his head, head-butted Mayweather in the fourth round and referee Joe Cortez stopped the action and deducted a point from Ortiz.

Ortiz, apparently feeling guilty, went to Mayweather in his corner during the delay and not only hugged him, but kissed him on the cheek.

Then Cortez got them back together in the ring, had them touch gloves and Ortiz, apparently thinking this allowed him a moment to collect himself, stood with his hands down. Mayweather, clearly not taking the hug and kiss to heart, clocked him with a left hook that knocked him back. Ortiz looked to Cortez for help, or to protest. But in a flash, Mayweather had finished him with a right hand that left Ortiz down, out and not to be heard from since.

In the ring after that one, veteran journalist and broadcaster Larry Merchant interviewed Mayweather on HBO and over the PA system. Mayweather snarled at Merchant that he didn’t know anything about boxing. Merchant, 80, snarled back that, if he were 50 years younger, “I’d kick your ass.”

None of this can top, however, the events of June 28, 1997, at the MGM Grand.

Mike Tyson was struggling, then got desperate in his fight against Holyfield, and in a clinch, bit part of Holyfield’s ear off. When he did it again, he was disqualified and all hell broke loose in Las Vegas.

At one point, shots allegedly rang out and they closed down the MGM Grand casino. Yellow tape all around. Police entered the media room to announce that, but soon, casino executives returned to say that the sounds heard had been breaking champagne bottles on the hard floor in the hotel lobby.

Yellow tape around an entire casino for breaking champagne bottles? The gathered media was skeptical. It is like that.

There were reports of gunshots and popping noises late into the evening in the parking garage, but no official admission of guns being fired ever surfaced.

For two reporters, Norm Frauenheim of the Arizona Republic and Tim Kawakami of the Los Angeles Times, something was even more memorable than the gunshots.

Long after the fight ended, a security guard approached the pair and held out a cocktail napkin. On it, he said, was one of the pieces of Holyfield’s ear that he had found. He said he was going to deliver it to the hospital, where they had taken Holyfield.

Later, they learned that the security guard had set out, but somehow lost the piece of the ear in the cab en route.

“I saw Holyfield the other day,” Frauenheim said Saturday, “and I saw that little jagged edge where the piece of his ear is missing.

“And I couldn’t help but think of that piece, still in some Las Vegas cab.”

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World