"It's not fake like wrestling is fake, right?”
A week before the so-called “Fight of the Century” between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, I realized that I knew less than even I thought I did about boxing. “They're actually hitting each other?" I asked my editor.
The fact that I wasn’t a boxing fan, or really a sports fan at all, was part of the plan in the first place: I would tag along to Las Vegas and experience the fight firsthand. Full disclosure: I’ll watch the Super Bowl and March Madness, if it’s already on. And I like going to sports games for beer and hotdogs and the general revelry. But I don’t follow teams or know which sport plays in which season. I don’t know athletes' names or stats. I don’t care.
And after I got the MayPac assignment, I started to feel guilty. Because anytime my trip to Vegas would come up in conversation, it would go something like this:
“You’re going to the Mayweather fight?!” someone with a vested interest in boxing, or at least in “historic” sporting events, would say.
“Yeah, I guess,” I would say back.
“That’s so cool! Are you excited?”
“I think so?”
It wasn’t that I was oblivious to the fact that people were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to something I got the opportunity to attend, as credentialed media, for free -- or that the people I was having these conversations with would gladly take my place to attend. I felt bad about that. I was excited, sure, but it’s just not something I’m necessarily into.
What I am into is movies.
I’ve seen countless sports movies where I’ve become completely invested. I’ve clapped in movie theaters when a movie athlete makes a big play in a movie sports match. I’ve cried when the underdog wins or achieves his dreams. (To be fair though, I cry during every movie.) I figured this was how I would trick myself into caring about boxing. I’m already excited for that boxing movie with Jake Gyllenhaal -- mostly because I love Jake Gyllenhaal -- so maybe I was already halfway there. I just needed to learn the basics and find someone to root for.
So I learned what I could. Before, I knew the gist of boxing and I had heard of Mayweather, in so much as he might be illiterate and 50 Cent challenged him to read a single page out of a Harry Potter book that one time.
But I wanted to take this assignment seriously(ish), so I studied the rules and the terminology -- I know the 10-point must system now, and can tell you at least a handful of things that are illegal in the ring -- and I learned why the MayPac fight was such a big deal. I found out that yes, they are actually hitting each other.
Mostly I learned this: Floyd Mayweather is an accused serial abuser with a long history of domestic violence allegations – and one conviction. As reported by Deadspin, accusations against Mayweather extend “over a dozen years and includes at least seven separate physical assaults on five different women that resulted in arrest or citation.” He spent two months in jail after he put the mother of three of his children in the hospital with a concussion. His 10-year-old son was the one who had to call 911. When confronted with this information on CNN’s Unguarded, Mayweather said, “[There’s] no pictures. Just hearsay and allegations.”
I don’t necessarily have a problem with the violence in boxing -- though I don’t have any desire to see someone’s bloody, f**ked up face after getting uppercut, and I think a whole sport centered around two macho dudes punching each other is a little on the nose. I even went to one of my buddy’s MMA cage fights last year and I hooted and hollered and bro-cheered every time he punched someone. But my friend does not hit his girlfriends IRL. For Mayweather, you can’t separate the person from the sport.
This isn’t an otherwise pacifistic person getting into the ring and unleashing the devil inside him in a situation where it’s not only acceptable, it’s encouraged. I’d argue this isn’t even a Chris Brown or Woody Allen deal, where some people argue they can separate the person from the art, that they can appreciate the work without justifying what the artist does. Mayweather is a violent person at home who gets paid millions of dollars to use that same violence for sport.
Then there’s his garden-variety misogyny, like the time he tried to publicly shame his ex-girlfriend by revealing via Instagram that she had had an abortion. Meanwhile, Pacquiao uses his political power as a congressman in the Philippines to oppose abortion, as well as contraception and family planning options for women, safe sex education, and gay rights.
There may be a lesser of the two evils, but why should I choose? I pick neither. So I don’t have my sympathetic lead for my “Fight of the Century” movie. Maybe I’m the underdog here, someone who knew little about boxing, but by the end of the weekend, would find that I’d become a true fan. Maybe I could get caught up in the excitement of the weekend, and that would be enough.
The first thing I heard when I got to Vegas was that there were protests.
My stepmom was watching Kathie Lee and Hoda and said people were protesting Mayweather outside the MGM. There was no way I was going to be able to ignore the facts about Mayweather -- as easy as that seemed to be for many mainstream news outlets -- so I was actually excited at the prospect of seeing people protesting. I love a worthy moment of outrage! Women get treated like an afterthought in society -- that’s when they’re not actively being oppressed -- so a protest would serve as a small but necessary reminder of reality in a city where Mayweather and Pacquiao were constantly watching over you from 100-foot tall LCD screens no matter where you happened to be on the Strip.
But when my taxi pulled up in the circle drive of the hulking green MGM Grand, I just saw more taxis. And people everywhere -- waiting in the endless line for a taxi, or rolling their suitcases into the lobby, wearing their hats that said “TMT” (The Money Team) or “TBE” (The Best Ever -- apparently Mayweather loves an acronym) or their PacMan shirts. But nobody was picketing.
The lobby itself was an altar to worship the fight: A miniature boxing ring with the gold lion MGM mascot statue inside was set up in the center, causing a gridlock of traffic as selfie stick-wielding fans posed for a picture alongside it. A gift shop specializing in overpriced posters and T-shirts and other fight swag. And one of the entrance walls had been fashioned into a shrine to Mayweather’s past victories, his championship belts laid out with care and his entrance outfits framed and hung up to ogle over.
If there were people protesting the fight, I can only assume it was a silent protest.
Before I left for the trip, my boss casually warned me that someone had pulled out a gun in the hotel lobby after the Mayweather fight the year before. And in the cab I took from the Las Vegas airport, my driver told me about a special orientation of sorts his company had mandated before the weekend. He showed me an incident form with room to report details of any alteraction with or between passengers in the taxi. On the other side of the form you could circle a photo of a gun, with the option to choose among a couple dozen different types of AK-47s and sawed off shotguns and Glocks and pistols.
But there were no gun incidents this year. And I only saw police make one arrest, which is probably a good night for Vegas whether there’s a fight or not.
Friday afternoon was the official weigh-in before the fight. My press credential allowed me to wander around the floor of the MGM arena hours before Mayweather and Pacquiao had to walk onstage and weigh less than 147 pounds. I saw the actual ring they would fight in the next night, smaller in person like I would learn everything was -- the fighters included. Anytime you see something in real life that you’ve seen on TV is a cool feeling, though. So I worked with that.
Doug E. Fresh -- yes, that Doug E. Fresh from the ‘90s, and for millennials, the Doug E. Fresh who inspired the dougie -- played emcee, passing the hours until the weigh ins by interviewing fans. There were more than a handful of people from the U.K. who said they’d come just for the fight.
I tried to think if there was something I loved enough to fly halfway across the world to see. Maybe if Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj did a one-night-only On the Run-type tour together. But even then, I’d probably just watch the clips on YouTube. That wasn’t a good sign for my underdog story -- maybe I’m actually deficient in that type of passion.
But for all intents and purposes, I was beginning to enjoy the fight festivities. I love a big spectacle, so I wandered the arena, telling myself I was excited about the things I was seeing. “You think the lighting is cool.” “Look how many people there are. There are so many people here.” Fake it till you make it. And it was working.
Two things still bothered me:
1. Hip hop duo Rae Sremmurd performed (they sing that song “No Flex Zone,” though the volume in the area was more like “NO FLEX ZONE!!!!!”) and I instantly regretted not having earplugs, which the ET producer had suggested I bring. But that’s my fault. The music was so loud that the water in my water bottle was vibrating like in Jurassic Park. And a woman sitting in front of me had her baby there, without earplugs or anything to protect her little baby ears. Take your baby outside. Your baby does not want to hear Rae Sremmurd.
2. I watched a nervous kid, maybe 10 years old, tell Doug E. Fresh that he was rooting for Pacquiao but thought Mayweather would win. And he got booed. By grown men.
But here is one thing that pleasantly surprised me: Booing of a preteen aside, everyone seemed to get along with each other, on both sides of the welterweight aisle. Everything was in good fun -- the trash talk and competition always came with a smile -- and there was none of the inter-fandom drama I was expecting.
By the time the stands had filled for the weigh in, I was into it. Having offered up tickets to fans for cheap (many of which were resold online for 10 times that price to other fans), everyone at the event was as easily excited as I’d thought I should be all along. The cheering was loud -- not as loud as I had imagined, which was underwhelming, but only in the same way that everything in Vegas is a little underwhelming compared to what you’d envisioned. And everyone was so passionate, even though all that happened was two adults standing on a scale. I bought it. I just will never understand it – not just because it’s so uninteresting, but because the idea of standing on a scale in front of 20,000 people is my nightmare.
I was letting other’s excitement -- the people waiting in hour-long lines to place their bets on the fight, the groups of frat boys leading chants as they walked through the casino -- get me excited. The weekend seemed to be building towards something.
With only minutes left until the fight on Saturday night, I stood in one of the dark tunnels leading into the arena. I’d spent the last hour watching celebrities flood inside -- Hollywood celebrities, the type that I recognized.
You know what kind of celebrities go to a boxing weigh in? Yeah, me neither. It was a veritable who’s who of who’s that. The only celebrity I’d recognized on Friday (other than Doug E. Fresh, because he introduced himself) was Mike Tyson -- because everyone recognizes Mike Tyson. Another man was momentarily rushed by selfie-seeking fans and news crews, but I didn’t know who it was until I saw his ear. It was Evander Holyfield. Awkward?
But the actual fight brought out my kind of famous: Bradley Cooper, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Christian Bale, Miss Tina Knowles. These are the type of stars I’m comfortable around -- in the sense that they exist in their world, and I exist in a slightly overlapping world because of my job, but whatever. They all talked about how excited they were for the fight. Drew Barrymore was "[*Drew Barrymore voice*] VE-RY excited" for the fight.
If I could get psyched about the weigh in -- where, I remind you, men in boxers literally just got weighed -- then surely I was more excited about the fight than Claire Danes, right?
There was already a noticeable difference in the cheering from the day before – but not in a good way. It seemed like there was less excited cheering in the first few minutes of the fight than at the weigh in, though it was somewhat hard to decipher below the booming, “LETS GET READY TO RUUUUUUUMBLE.”
Then the fight started. And then it was over. Very quickly, and at the same time, not fast enough. Because it was so boring.
For three rounds, I thought I was watching something intense. I knew the rules. I knew which shots were earning Mayweather points, and which of Pacquiao’s looked like they would earn points, but weren’t actual hits. I understood the strategy Pacquiao had trying to run Mayweather into a corner, and why Mayweather was letting him do it -- and he definitely was letting Pacquiao do it. I didn’t need anything explained to me -- if anything, I was explaining things to people around me.
I was waiting for Pacquiao to make a move and try to knock Mayweather out in the last round or two, when he was already losing and had nothing left to lose. I was waiting for Mayweather to get too cocky and try to K.O. his biggest competition. As a guy who’d known nothing about boxing a mere week ago, the fact that I even knew enough to think thoughts like that was nothing short of a complete goddamned miracle.
Instead, those first three rounds repeated themselves to slightly less interesting effect four times over. It felt like the fight, and the whole weekend, was building to something...and then it just didn’t. I didn’t even say “OH SH*T” once when someone got hit hard.
I was let down by the boxing, but more so with myself for not enjoying watching it.
Until I realized that no one cared.
The tunnels were flooded with people as soon as the bell dinged the final round. Bye Tom Brady! Bye Nicki Minaj! Bye Drew Barrymore! The people who were “so excited” for the fight didn’t even stay long enough to definitively find out who won the “Fight of the Century.”
Here’s where I have an amazing sidebar: In that sea of celebrities leaving as quickly as possible, I saw Beyoncé. “Do you see a tall, bald man down the hallway?” my coworker asked as we waded through the crowd.
“Yes.” I responded.
“Is he walking towards us?”
“That’s Beyoncé’s bodyguard.”
Like I didn’t know that. Any Beyhive member worth their “Get Me Bodied (Extended Version)” choreography knows Julius.
Now, when I said that I saw Beyoncé, I should have said that I shared the same hallway as Beyoncé, less than five feet away from her as she walked past me. I was #breathless. I felt something in those six seconds in Beyoncé’s presence that I hadn’t truly felt the entire weekend.
Maybe it’s simply because it was a boring fight -- everyone says Mayweather is a boring fighter. (Even I am telling people that Mayweather is a boring fighter, because I’m a boxing expert now and who’s going to tell me I’m not?) Maybe boxing shouldn’t be real. Maybe they should fake it like wrestling, because, if we’ve learned one thing from reality TV, it’s that people don’t care if it’s real, as long as there is drama.
I didn’t enjoy the MayPac fight because it wasn’t entertaining, and even if it had been entertaining,. I don’t think bad people should be paid millions of dollars for half an hour of punching each other. By the end of the night, I felt beat down -- is that flip to say? -- from trying so hard to force myself to care. If this was a movie, I would have been bored watching myself. The underdog would have slunk back to his sad corner, and no one would have noticed.
But at least there would have been a Beyoncé cameo, and Beyoncé as an actress is something I know I care about. Have you seen Obsessed? Go see Obsessed. It’s the movie where Beyoncé yells things like, “You think I’m crazy? I’LL SHOW YOU CRAZY.” Beyoncé headbutts Ali Larter.
It’s fake, but that’s one fight I was happy I saw.
If you still want to know more about the MayPac fight, find out here: