Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The scene in the lobby of the MGM Grand Tuesday resembled one of the Las Vegas Strip property’s popular nightclubs.
A disc jockey was stationed near the back of the lobby playing trendy music, dancers performed to a scripted routine and roughly 1,000 patrons jammed into the small area, several documenting the afternoon with pictures and video from their smartphones.
The excitement was generated to welcome boxers Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley for their welterweight title fight Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. In what has become a fight-week tradition, the fighters arrived separately on charter buses, walking past screaming supporters and into a make-shift ring in the center of the lobby.
They signed a few autographs, posed for photos and smiled to acknowledge the madness from the crowd. When Pacquiao, who is arguably boxing’s most popular fighter, entered the lobby, fans immediately started chanting, “Manny, Manny,” in helping create an energetic buzz.
Las Vegas resident Mike Mendoza, 36, was so determined to secure a prime spot he arrived at 9:30 a.m., more than two hours before the fighters were scheduled to arrive. Like a majority of the crowd, Mendoza was there to get a glimpse of Pacquiao — he also had on a Manny Pacquiao shirt and carried a bag of souvenirs with hopes of an autograph.
“I’m here to see Manny Pacquiao and support him. I’m pretty sure he’s who a majority of the people here are cheering for,” said Mendoza, who, like Pacquiao, is from the Philippines.
The “arrivals” concept dates back to an Oscar De La Hoya fight in late 1990s when his handlers from Top Rank Promotions developed the idea to further spike interest in the card, said Bob Arum, the CEO of Top Rank Promotions, which also promotes Pacquiao.
The arrivals, which typical occur on Tuesdays during fight week, give news outlets another reason to report on the fight earlier in the week, which Arum recognized was a great promotional tool. Over the years, it has blossomed into an anticipated event where crowds have become so large security ropes off a passageway for fighters to make their way through the mayhem.
And, unlike buying a ticket to the fight or ordering the pay-per-view, Tuesday’s event was free.
“It is part of the buildup of the fight. This has become tradition. It is great,” Arum said.
Whether fans scheduled their day around the festivities or stumbled upon it while vacationing, being part of the week's fight hype appeared to be memorable. The eight-division champion Pacquiao, who was low-key for most of the event, went around to each side of the ring waving to fans and smiling for photos.
“I like to give a good show to the people and make people happy,” Pacquiao told a group of reporters after the arrivals. “I always pray this fight will be a good fight and people will be satisfied.”
A Pacquiao weekend brings in millions of dollars to the Las Vegas economy with several in the service industry — everyone from waiters to taxi drivers — enjoying a spike in their tips.
At the MGM, a video board in the lobby near the registration desk had a continuous Twitter feed with the hashtag #PacBradley. In the casino, the layout for several table games had a picture of both fighters, and outside the casino, vendors were selling fight T-shirts.
While this seems overboard for one fighter, it pales in comparison to the reception Pacquiao receives in his native Philippines. Freddie Roach, his hall-of-fame trainer, is often along for the ride in getting a firsthand view of the insane support for his fighter.
“He is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world,” Roach said. “He is the most fun fighter to watch in the world.”
For Mendoza, the day included capturing some video on his phone and plenty of stories to tell his friends. He been attending Pacquiao’s arrivals and weigh-ins since “before he was good.”
“We are out here to support the Philippines' community,” he said. “It’s big to have someone out there representing our culture. He is someone to look up to. Everyone has their idols, and for me, I look up to Manny Pacquiao.”
Added Arum: “He is larger than life. For me, he is the Philippine version of Muhammad Ali.”