Dreamin’ in Nevada

Photo courtesy of HBO.com

Photo courtesy of HBO.com

 

“It’s the story of big dreaming in Nevada. Big dreams for cream. The mirage inside the desert lights that beam. For dollar signs for green.”

 

Maybe it’s the anticipation of a great time in a city where just about everything is readily available. Or maybe it’s just the end of long drive but once you see the skyline of Las Vegas after a four-plus-hour trek from Los Angeles, there’s a relieving adrenaline rush that hits you. It wasn’t my first time in Sin City but it was my introduction to covering a boxing match there. A setting in which many of the most memorable fights have taken place, I went into it knowing I wasn’t going to catch a highly-anticipated event but the excitement was undeniable.

 

With the skyline approaching on the final stretch of the I-15, Vegas addresses you with billboard after billboard of prospecting riches, cheap meals and DJs you’ve never heard of. While on the home stretch, memories both good and bad of my past experiences in this Godforsaken place run through my head. Still, I’m excited because I’m on the brink of seeing Sergey Kovalev fight for the first time after following his media events for the weeks leading up to Saturday night (and I also like to gamble).

 

“Have a ball when we’re dreaming in Nevada. As sure as someone’s winning, no one wins at all. It ain’t always what it seems.”

 

The trance is quickly snapped once reality struck uopn entering my room. Motel 6 isn’t exactly an atmosphere that accents the Las Vegas lifestyle but I wasn’t here to get caught up in the riff-raff. Driving in the morning of the fight, I also had very little time to get caught up in it. I have still yet to shake off the paranoid uncertainty that my name won’t be on the credential list, knowing I’m still relatively fresh as a media member, and the fact that I tend to believe I have bad luck.

 

That perception quickly changed, however, after picking up my credential and having some success at the craps table immediately afterward at the Mandalay Bay Casino. Once I found my seat in the Mandalay Bay Events Center, I started to realize this bad luck I thought I had was nothing more than a misconception. As each undercard fight came and went, the likes of ESPN’s Dan Rafael and Yahoo! Sports’ Kevin Iole took their seats in the same row I was sitting. I could even smell the make-up that was being applied on HBO’s Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Bernard Hopkins before their broadcast started. For a guy who was just writing solely for his personal blog at home not too long ago, I took satisfaction in realizing that maybe I’m not that unlucky at all.

 

Just before the television fights were about to start, Lampley started walking toward me with a glow on his face that was beaming through his make-up. As he shuffled between the chairs in the row in front of me, I kind of panicked, thinking he may say something to me. He came over to talk to my contemporary at UCNlive.com, Steve Kim, who was sitting right next to me. I wanted so badly to scoot my chair closer so I could clearly hear what they were talking about. Once I heard Lamps say, “GGG,” loud enough to hear, it wasn’t hard to figure out what they were talking about. Just hours before, it was announced that WBA middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin would face IBF counterpart David Lemieux in a unification bout on HBO Pay-Per-View on Oct. 17. It’s not so often when fights that make sense happen in boxing so, with the news, Jim’s glowing look at press row made a lot more sense.

 

“Where you can lay some action on your favorite fighter. But if your guy don’t win, you don’t get paid. And if the fix was in it, does not matter. ‘Cause that’s the way those fights go in Nevada.”

 

You know it’s game time once Michael Buffer steps into the ring to introduce fighters. It’s also a sign for when the HBO co-feature about to begin and, on this night, it involved Haitian-Canadian Jean Pascal versus a relatively unknown Cuban, Yunieski Gonzlalez. I mentioned to Steve that I had a strange feeling that the Cuban had a real shot at the upset and also disclosed that I had placed a small wager on the 4-to-1 underdog. “Alright, Yunieski; let’s see what you got,” said Steve and I responded, “Biggest fight of his life,” right before the opening bell sounded.

 

The Cuban didn’t disappoint. Gonzalez came forward and threw bombs at Pascal. Pascal was reeling to start and, because he was trying to duck and dodge Gonzalez so often, much of the damage he sustained came to the back of the head. Eventually, Gonzalez started to land flush and a mist of perspiration was coupled with a loud thud that woke up the crowd. While Gonzalez initiated the brawl, Pascal fought off his back foot for much of the fight. Other than a few middle rounds, he didn’t look all that great. “He isn’t fighting like your typical Cuban,” I told Steve, who smirked. “This is a Cuban you can root for,” I followed, knowing K9 doesn’t care for the likes of Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, whom, I, on the other hand, adore. I scored the fight 96-94 in favor of Gonzalez and I felt like I was being generous to Pascal with that score.

 

I couldn’t help but feel bad for Yunieski Gonzalez. Never have I seen such heartbreak in the ring played out in front of me. Even in a gladiator sport, his emotions, that came flowing with tears, weren’t embarrassing. He rose to the occasion on the biggest stage and his performance was now overshadowed by a disputed decision, given to the guy with a “name.” HBO Vice President Peter Nelson asked everyone at press row for their scores and I didn’t hear one media member score the bout for Pascal. Very few fighters get a chance to perform on an HBO stage and Gonzalez left his family in Cuba years ago to ultimately get to one. Now he’s left with a result that doesn’t truly signify his performance. There wasn’t much outrage from me with the ending and, even more disappointing of the decision was the fact that all this truly didn’t come with a surprise. That’s the sad part. Hopefully a rematch is put in place because it would be deserved.

 

“In the red, the white and blue for green, they dream.”

 

The “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” theme music came on after the ring cleared out for the main event. Nadjib Mohammedi was making his way to the ring and he was, ironically, going in to face one of boxing’s real terminators. Although it wasn’t a large crowd, by any means, Kovalev walked out to a roar with a Russian techno song that sounded like it belonged to a “Blade” soundtrack. It was only his second fight in Vegas ever and the first since becoming a world titleholder.

 

Kovalev took care of a meager mandatory opponent in the fashion we all expected. Once Mohammedi felt the wrath of a clean right hand from Kovalev in the second round, you knew it was over. After the first knockdown in the same round, Kovalev could be seen practically begging the Frenchman to get up and keep fighting. He did but only for a few more minutes as Kovalev sealed Nadjib’s fate with a right/left combo that left him squinting his left eye after the thumb of Sergey’s glove caught him in a bad spot. After deciding to stand on his feet near the count of 10, referee Kenny Bayless rightfully waved off the contest in the third round. Mohammedi didn’t dispute it as he walked back to his corner, still trying to see. He was overmatched and Bad Left Hook’s James Foley capped the fight off with my favorite tweet of the evening.

 

In my piece leading up to the fight, “Kovalev-Mohammedi: Hurry up and wait,” I pointed out Sergey’s current situation leading up to this fight and now we must wait. In the post-fight press conference, it was announced that Kovalev will fight in his home country of Russia later this year and the wait of a big fight will also continue afterward.

 

The presser was highlighted by the disappointment of Gonzalez and his team. Promoter Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing was disgusted with the decision and said it was one of the worst he’s ever seen. Many fans approached Gonzalez, assuring him that they thought he won the fight and it seemed like he was delighted to have received such a reception. Still, after a flash of a smirk from all the compliments, he had a somber look on his face, knowing none of this will change a thing. Pascal wasn’t there to give his thoughts on the fight as he was sent to the hospital because of an apparent hand injury he suffered in the third round (according to his team). Not a very good look, if you ask me.

 

What was a good look was seeing young boxers hang around the presser. Junior welterweight prospect Joel Diaz Jr. and young heavyweight Cassius Chaney weren’t obligated to be there but they seemingly wanted us media to remember their faces. Diaz, son of the famed trainer, had a really good performance, knocking down Alejandro Rodriguez three times en route to a fourth round TKO victory. Chaney, who just made his pro debut this year, knocked out Edward Ramirez in about a minute’s time. Chaney is a big kid at 6-foot-6 and his huge afro is at its peak, nearing seven feet. I talked to him for a minute and made sure to compliment his hair. The effort alone, to hang around hints that these guys really do care, was enough to warrant a paragraph in my experience.

 

“Don’t get caught in dollar slots and scratching wins your life begins and extra change should change communities. Not feed stupidity. There’s a thin line between addiction and having a good time. Know when to quit – uh – and that’s it.”

 

I hung around with Steve after the fight on the Mandalay Bay casino floor and got to see Buddy McGirt and Zab Judah in the process as they chatted with him. At dinner, I had the pleasure of meeting a longtime Twitter follower Evan Korn, whose detailed knowledge of past fights and fighters both amazed me and diluted my own recollections of the sport. Of course, our boxing conversation ended with talking about the greatness of Twitter legend James Bagg Jr., whose jokes about the sport make boring nights of boxing bearable.

 

I broke off on my own after Steve called it a night. In hindsight, I probably should have as well. My most successful Vegas trip in terms of gambling happened at the Rio years ago. I figured, why not give it a try before heading back to Motel 6 and letting the party die down there before my return? I only gamble with money I’m willing to lose and I can tell you that doesn’t change anything. Countless well drinks and a couple hundred bucks later, I was inebriated and annoyed with my cab driver, who couldn’t figure out which Motel 6 I was talking about. The morning after, I was reminded why I don’t really drink anymore and I spent the entire next day writing this piece hungover at the nearest sports book, while in need of its Wi-Fi. If only the hangover from gambling had a similar physical effect.

 

The drive home always seems longer on the way back. Vegas wishes you goodbye with billboard after billboard of personal injury lawyers trying to convince you that you’re the victim but I doubt I have a viable case against the Rio.

 

This piece is inspired by “In Nevada” by Abstract Rude and Tribe Unique.

 

 

You can reach Michael Baca II at michael.baca@ucnlive.com, follow him at twitter.com/wotbboxing and visit him at his blog, writeonthebutton.squarespace.com.

 

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