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November 21, 2019

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De La Hoya-Pacquiao:

Nothing quite like buildup to a fight

Hype before a slugfest spurs an emotional excitement unmatched by other spectacles

Pacquiao-De La Hoya Media Day

Steve Marcus

Boxers Oscar De La Hoya, left, and Manny Pacquiao pose during a news conference at the MGM Grand Wednesday, December 3, 2008. De La Hoya and Pacquiao will meet for a 12-round welterweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.

If You Go

  • Who: Oscar De La Hoya vs. Manny Pacquiao
  • When: Saturday
  • Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
  • Tickets: $150-$1,500, (The original allotment of tickets sold out less than two hours after going on sale in September. A limited number of seats became available last week after a reconfiguration of the arena.)
  • Closed circuit: MGM Grand Conference Center, $60-$100
  • TV: Pay per view, $54.95

It was on a big boxing night, however, when Caesars shone brightest. The sun would finally set and the celebrities would be preening for the cameras on the way to their $1,000 ringside seats, and Debbie Munch, the resort’s longtime publicist, would be running around the press room in her sneakers making sure you had what you needed and that the pretzel bowl was full, because at Caesars, the pretzel bowl was always full.

Then the buzz would begin, and it would get louder and louder and louder, like locusts assembling on the eve of a plague. The fighters would make their way from the back lot, where the dressing cubicles were, usually with the hoods of their robes drawn tight and their arms outstretched, resting on the shoulders of a trainer or a cut man or a member of their “entourage,” which is what boxing people call a posse.

Then the buzz would turn into electricity that you could cut with a chain saw, because a knife wouldn’t do the job on a night where Leonard or Hearns or Hagler had his game face on.

And even though you had seen it all, you wished there were telephones at ringside, or that cell phones had been invented, so you could call your buddies who were watching on closed circuit TV in a movie theater and brag about where you were and what you were doing at that very moment.

That was what I wrote a couple of years ago about what it was like on a big fight night at Caesars Palace.

They don’t do big fights at Caesars anymore; they do them at the MGM Grand. But what I said stands. It’s as true today as it was then.

There’s nothing like a big fight to get one’s blood pumping.

Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao won’t start trading leather and assorted bodily fluids for another day and half and my corpuscles are simmering.

If this one isn’t for all the marbles, it’s for most of ’em — the pay per view alone costs $54.95.

In the pantheon of sporting events that come with a buildup, nothing quite matches a boxing megafight. True, it’s not often the fight itself lives up to the weeks and months of hype that precede it. But just the possibility that it might is enough to make one’s knees knock in giddy anticipation.

Ali vs. Frazier III, 1975: That would explain the knot on my left knee.

Hagler vs. Hearns, 1985: That would explain the one on the right.

Here are some other sporting events that, combined with their buildups, have been known to raise a few hairs on the backs of necks:

Super Bowl

The Super Bowl has only a two-week buildup, which is good. Any more than that and the country would burst like an overinflated tire.

Speaking of overinflated tires, only one offensive lineman per team should be allowed to interview another offensive lineman on Super Bowl media day — unless the O-lineman is Conrad Dobler.

This is why the Super Bowl isn’t quite as good as a big fight — the news conference stinks, compared with that of a big fight, where either the fighters will call each other names, their entourages will get into a fight or promoter Bob Arum will take a jab at somebody, usually a member of the Back East boxing press or a Republican. Or all three. Plus, a guy named Crocodile is liable to show up and shout cryptic expressions such as “Pound for Pound!” or “Urban Warfare!”

The best the NFL has been able to come up with — Jim McMahon’s moon and Deion Sanders’ bling.

But in years in which the Stones or Springsteen play at halftime or Janet Jackson exposes a body part, I’d call it pretty much even.

BCS championship game

College football’s title game has the necessary buildup — five or six weeks, depending on whether the participants have to play a conference championship game beforehand — and inherent controversy that makes the buildup more compelling.

But in college football, the controversy usually isn’t generated by one of the participants. It’s generated by the school that got jobbed by the BCS computers. That’s why a big fight is better. Other than when Mitch “Blood” Williams would show up and clamor for a rematch with Mike Tyson, nobody at ringside or watching at home on pay per view is upset with the matchup.

Two other fundamental problems with the BCS championship game. It doesn’t have a cool name, like “the Super Bowl” or “The Thrilla in Manila.” Plus, it’s played on a school night. You can’t have friends over and drink lots of beer on a school night because in the real world, there are no tutors to do your work the next day.

Final Four

Unlike the other events mentioned here, there’s not a manufactured buildup to the college basketball championship. It goes straight from the regionals to a giant football arena that must be converted into a basketball field house by the following weekend.

But the first three weekends of the NCAA Tournament are a natural buildup of sorts. It’s different from the NBA playoffs and the NHL playoffs because people don’t surreptitiously fill out brackets for the NBA playoffs and the NHL playoffs at the office when they should be working. Plus, the NBA and NHL playoffs don’t have Gonzaga.

However, most everybody agrees that the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament is more interesting than the Final Four, if for no other reason than that’s the last time brackets are still alive.

That’s why a big fight is better. Nobody thinks the undercard is better than the main event.

Indianapolis 500

The start of the Indy 500 is the closest thing I’ve experienced to the start of a big fight.

By that time, the cars have been on the track for a month trying to break the sound barrier and/or the Turn 4 wall. But most of the time, it’s only one car on the track at a time.

You should see the mayhem that ensues when 33 of them are trying to do it at the same time.

When they say “(Ladies and) Gentlemen, start your engines,” and the field roars into view for the first time, you almost have to cross your legs to prevent an accident on the backstretch that has nothing to do with the race cars.

But after the race starts, unless you are one of those guys who changes his own oil and owns a matching set of socket wrenches, the rest of the race can be pretty monotonous.

Plus, there hasn’t been a yellow flag in a big fight since Fan Man crashed into the ring at Holyfield vs. Bowe II at Caesars Palace.

World Cup

The World Cup is played only once every four years, which makes it very special. Nearly 27 billion watched the most recent World Cup on TV, which makes it very, very, very special. More people watch the World Cup than watch the Olympics. But the World Cup is a soccer tournament, which means the majority of Americans don’t care much — not even when that announcer is crying “G-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-L!” on Telemundo.

A lot of people on this side of the pond don’t care for soccer, because the players are foreign and their names are hard to pronounce. Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje, Drazen Petrovic, Peja Stojakovic, Mehmet Okur ... wait a minute. Those are from NBA rosters, not World Cup rosters.

Anyway, a lot of people on this side of the pond don’t care for soccer because there aren’t enough goals, not enough action.

That’s why a big fight is better. Unless it’s Floyd Mayweather vs. Oscar De La Hoya. There wasn’t much action in that one, either.

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