Fear and nachos in Las Vegas


FROM THE ARCHIVE: THE IRISH TIMES, MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15th, 1999: TOM HUMPHRIESsamples the unique atmosphere of the gambling mecca as Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield meet in the Thomas Mack Arena for their world heavyweight unification bout

FIGHT DAY. Hours to kill. Sweet to be savvy. Take $40. Unwanted money. Leave room. Walk to slot machine. Pull lever 160 times. Lose 25 cents each time. Sense that big win is due.

Return to room. Take $60. Run back to machine. Pull lever 100 times. Notice that woman beside me is talking to her machine. Pat my machine furtively. Pull lever 140 more times. Lose 240 straight times. Leave for fight. Pulling Vegas by the tail. Oh, yeah.

Arrive at Thomas Mack Arena. Sweating. Bump into Steve Collins. More sweat. Have written so many mean things about Collins’ hypnosis caper versus Eubank. Mean columns about Collins flood into brain. Oh Lordee. Expect punch on nose. Eyes water pre-emptively. Plan to faint if he moves a muscle.

Celtic Warrior very forgiving. No. Celtic Warrior thinks I am just another Paddy in the sun. Self plays role of Another Paddy in The Sun with admirable verve. Friendly chat ensues. Nose unpunched. Good. Better than winning money on slots.

The Thomas Mack Arena. Everybody has a credential. If you go to a fight in Vegas without dangling a credential you can’t look yourself in the mirror for the shame of it. Press credentials. Hotel credentials. Shuttle bus credentials. International House of Pancakes credentials. People walk around ogling each other’s chests. Insight: this is what it feels like to be woman of notable bosom.

Seat is not good. Sweat and blood from fighters will not reach notebook. Too near fight fans for journalistic self-esteem. Grumble with other hacks. Discuss precise meaning of the word ringside. Bloody Don King. Too much to bear. Wander back to press room to eat Bloody Don King’s Bloody Complimentary Nachos.

Stick credential inside shirt in case of second Celtic Warrior sighting.

Nacho overdose. Take walk. Concourse is unpleasant. Lots of Brits. Long day for them. Three thousand of same were in the Tropicana at 6am to watch the soccer at $30 a throw. Easy to see how they spent the rest of the day. Lots of middle-aged fat guys, too. No necks, chunky jewellery and blonde girlfriends. It’s true. Women don’t go just for good looks.

Outside, the limo drivers are hanging around in huge, gossipy herds. The stretch limos from the New York New York Hotel are the vivid yellow of New York taxis. They look like the long dribble of nacho cheese on my T-shirt. The limos are the only cool thing in town. Even the drivers lounging on their hoods look cooler than their colleagues.

Take credential out to hide nacho cheese stain. Turn credential backwards.

Just in case.

From steps of Thomas Mack Centre the world is visible. The Eiffel Tower. The Chrysler Building. A Pyramid. Imperial Rome. Venice. Monte Carlo. A volcano. A Treasure Island. Any wonder this is the home of boxing? The planning regulations were drafted by the same guy who did the boxing regulations.

The Undercard. Why do they have undercards? Nobody cares. It’s like presenting some folk dances before the main event in a strip club. The undercard evaporates too quickly.

People tumbling every time you look. This could create a vacuum in the schedule. Don King abhors a vacuum. Somebody thinks quickly. Ricky Martin is played very loud.

The ring announcer isn’t the Le-hets Get Ready to RUHUUUUMMMMMMM-BELLLL guy. Politics or a sore throat. The new guy is understated. Maybe the Let’s Get Ready guy scares Lennox Lewis. Anyway, the new guy announces the night’s attending celebrities. Starts with the day-time soap stars and works up to Michael Douglas. Catherine Zeta Jones gets the biggest cheer. If it all goes pear-shaped for CZJ, she’ll always have work as a round card girl.

Round card girls are the new rock and roll. How artfully they display their vital information. How admirable that they have held out against being replaced by computers. When the round card girls need to get into the ring, a guy with a tux helps them up. With his foot he presses the second lowest ring rope. Suave. The girl stoops in. The guy winks to the guys below. They can see her knickers. Smiles all round.

LENNOX Lewis arrives stripped for work. A firework goes off. Holyfield arrives in bishop’s purple. Another firework. We wait for the God Is My Pal act from Holyfield. Am sick to death of sporting Christians. Plan to yell to Evander, “There is no bloody God, Evander.”

Remember lucky escape with Celtic Warrior. Opt not to push luck by shouting. Reflect that if there is a God, he probably doesn’t handle sports matters personally. As in a newspaper, God would farm that business out to a wholly-owned subsidiary. Staffed by culchies, if the Dubs’ luck is anything to go by. Memo: ask Evander for number of God’s Sports Subsidiary. Send number to Mick McCarthy.

Ring is filled with more people than is legally permissible. This is the top tier of credentialed society. The Brahmins. The Cayman Island Account Club. The Into the Ring Before the Fight Credential Elite.

They all stand squashed together in the ring looking out at us. The Brits chant “You fat bastard, you fat bastard” at Don King. If a bomb went off in the ring right now the rest of us would all be killed by jewellery shrapnel. Somebody whispers: Cops! Run! Ring clears in an instant.

Bell rings. Fight starts. Lewis uses tried and trusted tactic. Stands there looking like a cow in a field. Holyfield plays the role of an irate goat. Butts Lewis. Runs at Lewis. Scampers back again. In seventh round Lewis and Holyfield stand toe to toe and slug each other. Reminds one of boxing.

The fight finishes. Everyone says Holyfield has done enough. Judges give it big time to Lewis. Everyone shrugs. Holyfield just not Y2K compatible. Everyone heads for press conference in case Holyfield retires.

Taxi to hotel. Drive along Strip. Engage driver in banter about fight. “What fight?”, says driver. Vegas is filled with 225,000 delegates to something called COMDEX. Jackson Browne is playing New Year’s at the Mandalay Bay. People are wondering what Mad Mike Tyson versus Lennox Lewis would be like. And how Don King will get a part of it.

Hotel Room. E-mail to Mick McCarthy: Mick, it’s www.godsodds.com or 1-800 M-I-R-A-C-L-E.