Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 | 12:01 a.m.
Before bell dings kicked off the main event on Saturday night in Las Vegas, a crew rag-wiped blood from the ropes that had splattered during a brutal boxing undercard.
The patient crowd stood waiting, and erupted when a man waved the red, blue white and gold flag of the Philippines. Singers belted anthems, the fighters made their entrance amid laser lighting and loud explosions.
Adrien Broner’s team chose a modern hip-hop medley, while Manny Pacquiao’s settled for “Eye of the Tiger.”
In the end, the fight went the distance and Pacquiao, a senator in the Philippines and boxing legend, emerged victorious in a unanimous decision, surely pleasing his fans, which made up most of the sold-out crowd. Included among the 13,025 who showed to the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday, were many who traveled exclusively for the fight.
Clenching his left fist and flashing a smile, Ben Malcontento posed with a model atop a replica ring outside the venue. The fight was his and his friends’ main reason for their three-day trip to Las Vegas from the Philippines.
Back home, Pacquiao fights are national events, Malcontento said. And had he stayed there, he would have join his country men and women and watched on TV. “It is always an excitement.”
This wasn’t his first time on the Strip, but it was the first time the 50-year-old was seeing the Filipino boxer in person, Malcontento said. And he was hoping for a knockout, he said right before he entered the arena.
“Full-blooded Filipino” and Seattle resident, Reuben Atienza, wore Pacquiao’s logo on a T-shirt and a ballcap. He grasped the Philippines flag, appearing excited before he joined the fans inside the arena, which included his wife and cousin.
“I can’t wait,” he said.
Unlike Malcontento, Atienza, 42, had experienced Pacquiao fight nights in Las Vegas, but never in person, always opting out for closed circuit broadcasts from MGM properties.
“We miss these kind of evenings,” said Atienza, reminiscing about the boxer’s last fight in Las Vegas more than two years ago. “I’m expecting to see a rejuvenated Pacquiao, showing that 40 isn’t 40 anymore.”
It’s not only Pacquiao’s boxing skills Atienza admires.
“He’s stayed always even; always the same love for the people. For the most part, he’s a brutal fighter in the ring, but a giving person outside.”
At home, in Cincinnati, Ohio — Broner’s hometown — Rico Gonzalez throws boxing watch parties for several dozen friends and family.
But he doesn’t cheer for his hometown star, and on Saturday he flashed his fists when asked about the fight. “Manny all the way, baby. Come on!”
What about Broner? “He’s nothing like Pac Man,” said Gonzalez, using Pacquiao’s nickname.
Thinking about the fight, the 43-year-old Filipino said he was hopeful, but cautious.
“What I feel versus what I hope: I hope he knocks him out in three, but I think it might go the distance.”
Local music producer, Eddie Fuse, said he was cheering for Broner. “It’s for the hood,” he said before entering the arena.
“I want to see what he’s going to do, man, I want to see if he’s going to get to the next level...you know what the next level is: (Floyd) Mayweather.”
That fight may have to wait.
Fight night in Las Vegas veteran and Michigan resident, Dwayne Hall, 50, said the pay-per-view event fell on his brother’s birthday, so they decided to make the trip to party and catch it live.
Although he’s a regular at Floyd Mayweather fights, Hall, who sipped on a blue slush drink, said he wanted Pacquiao to knock out Broner in the fifth round.
“I think it’s going to be a good turn out and a good match,” he said.
During the fight, the multitude stood, grunted, yelled and repeatedly chanted “Manny.”
When Pacquiao stun Broner in the seventh and ninth rounds, the noise in the arena was ear piercing. The bout ended and the fighters embraced. Pacquiao in his soft-voice said that his “journey will still continue.”
Asked about his future, he said he was happy as a senator, and that he’s willing to fight Mayweather if the Las Vegas boxer returns from retirement. “I’m so happy that my fans and the Filipino people who came here live (to watch) my fight,” Pacquiao said.
His fanbase will likely have cross-country and cross-continent trips in their future plans.