Wednesday, April 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- Who: Manny Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs) vs. Ricky Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs)
- When: Saturday, May 2
- Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
- Tickets: $150 to $1,000, mgmgrand.com
- TV: HBO Pay-Per-View, $49.95
Twilight on Hollywood Boulevard, and Bob Arum was in rare form.
Arum, well into his fifth decade of promoting boxing matches, clambered onto a makeshift outdoor stage in front of the Roosevelt Hotel, which hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929 but tonight was honoring a couple of matinee idols named Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton.
Arum grabbed a microphone, which cut in and out as he spoke. It didn’t matter. Snippets of Arum’s speech boomed down the red carpet and across the street, where fight fans and curiosity seekers gathered on the sidewalk behind metal barriers at shops with names like Hollywood Souvenirs and Star Magnet.
“Great fight” ... “Manny Pacquiao” ... “Pound for pound” ... “Las Vegas!”
Half a block away, in the midst of a crush of cameras and microphones, Al Bernstein granted an interview to a guy holding what looked like a home-video camcorder. Two years ago, Bernstein said, he would have predicted a victory for Hatton. Now he understands why Pacquiao is favored to win.
Arum, meanwhile, must have been addressing the pay-per-view price, encouraging fans to pool resources.
“Have some pizza” ... “Tacos” ... “Make a night of it!”
Pacquiao and Hatton clash May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a junior welterweight fight widely regarded as the most highly anticipated boxing match of the year. Pacquiao will be in the ring for the first time since winning big fights in three weight classes a year ago, beating Juan Manuel Marquez, David Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya. Hatton has lost just once in 46 pro fights, to Floyd Mayweather Jr., at the time boxing’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter — a mythical yet coveted title now held by Pacquiao.
Each fighter is guaranteed a base salary of about $12 million.
Monday’s old-fashioned red-carpet event marked the lone joint appearance in the U.S. by the fighters before fight week in Las Vegas.
It was a hit.
As Arum made his way down the red carpet, an especially vocal segment of the crowd shouted, “Bob, Bob,” as if they were paparazzi stalking a starlet. Arum veered off the carpet, stepping across stars honoring Randy Quaid, Nancy Sinatra and Brian Grazer before stopping right on top of Eddie Murphy to greet the fans. He shook hands, posed for photos and autographed boxing gloves as they were thrust toward him. To his credit, he ignored a beefy guy who demanded, “Bob, sign my chest!”
After sunset on Hollywood Boulevard, Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, took the stage.
“Yeah, I have a prediction,” he said. “Manny’s going to kick his (behind).”
The remark elicited a series of honks from eastbound traffic.
Roach offered a few details about Pacquiao’s training camp. It seems Pacquiao had just knocked out two sparring partners, so two new ones had been scheduled to replace them.
Floyd Mayweather Sr., who trains Hatton, was next. He cracked wise about “smoking a Roach,” opening a can of Raid, and half a dozen other bad puns on his counterpart’s name.
Mickey Rourke, sporting a geisha-girl hairdo, lent some modern-day Hollywood glamour, or something, to the proceedings.
“It’s almost a fight I don’t want to see because I like both guys so much,” Rourke said. “You never know what Manny is going to throw next because Manny doesn’t know what he’s going to throw next.
“Both guys have a huge heart, they are dedicated to the sport and they come to fight. It’s the kind of fight boxing needs.”
Darkness now on Hollywood Boulevard, and the man of the hour has arrived. Pacquiao came onto the stage wearing a suit, his trademark bright smile and, in a minor upset, with Mark Wahlberg by his side.
The emcee’s opening question: How do you feel? Manny: “Good.” Follow-up question: How good? Manny: “Very good.” This seemingly uninspired exchange was more than enough for Pacquiao’s notoriously rabid fans, who started to break down the barriers and cross the boulevard in clumps of humanity, like college basketball fans storming the court.
The red-carpet portion of the evening having concluded, the party moved into a cramped, crowded, impromptu mosh pit of a hotel ballroom.
Arum unveiled a garish trophy, more than 5 feet high, to be presented to the trainer of the winning fighter. Videos, set to rock music, showed highlights from the past fights of Pacquiao and Hatton. Members of the media scarfed bottles of that beer that’s sponsoring the fight and cans of that energy drink that’s sponsoring the fight.
Mayweather read an R-rated poem in which he predicted victory for Hatton. Pacquiao smiled graciously. Roach grimaced.
Pacquiao, who insists on the presence of a crucifix on the wall of any gym he trains in, reminded everyone that only God knows who will win May 2.
More than three hours after the red-carpet festivities began, organizers, citing curfews, began trying to shoo people from the ballroom.
Someone was loading the gaudy trainers’ trophy into an SUV in the valet line, carefully, as if it were a wedding cake, presumably to whisk it away for safekeeping until fight night.
Hatton was still holding court with a table full of stragglers, talking about how he owns boxing’s 140-pound division and how he’s not about to cede it to anyone, not even the consensus best all-around fighter in the sport.
If they weren’t too hopped up on beer or wine or taurine or ginseng, anyone leaving through the lobby of the Roosevelt might have noticed a tasteful display of art books along the wall, including one about Andy Warhol titled “Giant Size” ... which aptly describes the Pacquiao-Hatton fight and, 4 1/2 weeks out, the level of energy surrounding it.