Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pacquiao and Hatton Light Up a Dim Las Vegas


Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton are genuine 'A-listers' on the Las Vegas strip. In a city that has been beaten down by the world's economic malaise, the appearance of the pair is a welcome sight.

Nearly two percent of all homes in Las Vegas are in foreclosure, the unemployment rate in Nevada is over ten percent, visits to the city are way down, and some of the companies that own the mammoth casinos along Las Vegas Boulevard South have filed for bankruptcy protection.

But a representative of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority believes that this weekend's big fight at the MGM Grand is just the type of shot in the arm the city has been needing. Sure, Wayne Newton, Lance Burton and the Blue Man Group all do their part, but there is nothing like a big fight to motivate fans to travel to "Sin City" in the post Tyson and post De La Hoya era.

“People here who are older than me can talk about the days of Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and 'Sugar' Ray Leonard and the times that established Las Vegas as a destination for boxing,” said the representative. “But in this new generation without De La Hoya it is Ricky Hatton. This is his fifth fight here that has helped to define Las Vegas as the sports and entertainment capital of the world – so we love him for that.”

Over 35,000 Brits made the trek to Las Vegas to watch Hatton face Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in 2007. Despite the credit crunch and recession, 20,000 are expected for this weekend's fight against Pacquiao. In modern times, or any time for that matter, there have been few fighters in boxing history that have been able to mobilize the masses like Hatton can.


Hatton is making another appearance in Las Vegas and he is happy to be fighting where all the big names of the past have made their mark.

“You know, Ricky Hatton has been the catalyst for a whole new group of British people that have visited Las Vegas,” said an employee from the mayor's office.

“People come here, they go back home and tell their friends that there is lots of things to do in Las Vegas besides see Ricky Hatton. So for our city, he has been great.”

But all the credit for the big crowd this weekend that has seen the fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena be a sold out show, cannot go solely to Ricky Hatton.

Manny Pacquiao from the Philippines, universally regarded as the world's best pound-for-pound boxer, has a large and devoted following of his own. On Tuesday afternoon, Pacquiao made his “grand arrival” in the lobby of the MGM Grand and he was mobbed by a throng of supporters and well-wishers. The crowd was deemed uncontrollable and because of a lack of security, Pacquiao was immediately escorted away from the over-enthusiastic throng of people.

The little Filipino spitfire is riding the crest of a virtual tidal wave of popularity since he vanquished Oscar De La Hoya in December in the same ring where he will meet Hatton. Pacquiao is making his tenth appearance in the city and will be paid $12 million for the fight whereas Hatton will pick up $8 million for his efforts. Both men have incentives built into their contracts that will see them earn even more if the pay-per view revenues meet expectations.


Pacquiao and Hatton have their hands raised by actor Mickey Rourke who was once a boxer himself and was recently nominated for an Academy Award.

Pacquiao has begun to transcend the sport in the manner that few fighters have. Feature profiles devoted to him on ESPN and CNN, endorsement contracts with several multi-national corporations and a brief meeting this week with former President Clinton in Las Vegas are all testament to his surging popularity.

Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, says that if his man defeats Hatton on Saturday night that, “He then becomes the biggest draw and the biggest attraction in the sport. Everyone who fights Manny Pacquiao, even now, has to be considered the B-side and as the opponent.”

While boxing has always been considered a global sport, that notion is amplified with this match-up that really, for the first time, pits two fighters from countries other than the United States into a high profile pay-per view event. One million PPV buys are expected, more than 15,000 will fill the arena and several thousand more seats have been added for pay-per view at casinos throughout Las Vegas.

Pacquiao can boast that on the nights he fights that crime in his native Philippines is non-existent as criminals become fans and congregate around television sets to see him. When Hatton faced Mayweather, Jr. over one million British fans tuned in to see him – at 4 a.m. local time.


When Pacquiao arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday, he was mobbed by his fans and had to be escorted from the scene by his promoter Bob Arum.

Richard Sturm, President of MGM Grand Entertainment and Sports, says that each man's popularity is key to building an event that causes Las Vegas to become a destination point for people from around the world.

“There has been a tremendous support for both men here in the city,” said Sturm on Tuesday. “But I don't think I've ever seen a group of people that have more fun than the Brits. They come here and they sing and dance and stay up all night. It's probably the only time the MGM ran out of beer is when Ricky Hatton fought Floyd Mayweather, Jr.”

So for those that had thoughts of pounding the final nail in the sport's coffin and were prepared to begin heaping dirt on what they call a “dying sport” - think again. Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton have flipped the switch in Vegas and the lights are burning bright.


April 2009

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