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Sports

There is No Romance in the Build-Up to Mayweather-Pacquiao

VICE reports from Las Vegas as the "Fight of the Century" draws near.
May 2, 2015, 7:26pm

Photo via Flickr user James Marvin Phelps

About 6:30 EST. Friday morning. John F. Kennedy International Airport. Plane leaving for Las Vegas. Rows of guys in fur-lined hoodies, guys with emphatic opinions on protein, guys hitting on flight attendants. "You're from Brooklyn? My cousin's from Brooklyn. You have nice eyes anyone ever told you you have nice eyes?" Guys in jogging pants, guys with man-buns, guys on their way to the pool at Mandalay Bay. Not literally, not yet, but in a way, they have been on this plane, on a beach chair, with #thasquad, on the edge of that water, their entire lives. Guys wearing The Money Team (TMT) apparel, not necessarily because it's an implicit endorsement of Floyd Mayweather, but because it's an endorsement of WEALTH, of AWESOME, of brash indignity, in the context of an undefeated black man fighting a Filipino man who speaks broken English and speaks of God like God sketched his body and soul with a pencil. The TMT logo is inescapable. On everyone's backs and heads. It is the idea that we can all participate; we can all be noticed and recognized. That people can hear the noises we make.

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A little after 11 AM, PST. Las Vegas Boulevard now. Dicks driving yellow Porsches. Dicks driving red Vipers. Dicks driving silver Mustangs. Guys whose entire survival depends on finding Wet Seal, on looking at themselves in the elevator ceiling mirrors, skin stretched so tightly over shoulder muscles it looks as though their arms will tear open like boiled hot dogs. They are not here for Mayweather-Pacquiao, they are here because a Thing Is Happening. An "of the Century." The fight is the amplifier. The excuse. The fuse. It is the rumbling volcano for the village to dance and chant around. A semi-circle of news vans idles at every hotel entrance, cameramen leaning against the doors, waiting for something to happen, waiting to get the hell out of there.

Inside the Excalibur Hotel a half-dozen women with asses that defy known geometry, wearing shorts, theoretically, walk through smoky rows of slot machines. Men sitting at the slot machines stop and watch with what looks like actual, biological hunger in their eyes.

The fight is not something that has engulfed a city, a consciousness, a sport. It is a lingering fog.

Noon. MGM Grand media tent. A half-dozen tables covered with chafing dishes, prepped with hot water, stacks and stacks of paper no one will ever read. Media members hunched and disinterested, compulsively checking their phones or indulging questions from bored casino employees about whether they've ever met Geraldo Rivera. Security workers lingering outside on concrete sidewalks, under the one bush that protects them from a Nevada heat that seems like it is beaming from eight different suns in the sky, and each one is closer to the ground than the penthouse suites.

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Nothing seems imminent. The fight feels like A Moment only because we have been told so relentlessly it is A Moment. It is a moment in hospice care. It feels like a reenactment of a moment that only happened in our imaginations, a fight that should have happened years ago. It is fuel to keep this machine pumping, a Las Vegas economy built on billboard hype and make-believe and what-ifs. There are people who don't want to be here, behind Shake Shack counters or in the basement of a Marshalls, selling dreams and Belverdere and discounted v-necks to people who only think they want to be here, in fantasies, winning eight grand and buying her a Cartier bracelet and her loving him forever. Catching it on the river. A tenth-round Pacquiao knockout. The reality is that you're broke, you're hungry, Pacquiao's lost a step, and checkout is in three hours.

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Pacquiao and Mayweather's faces are on card table felt, on the sides of buildings, on room keys and t-shirts. Two homeless men drinking Four Loko, half-conscious and lying on their sides, babble the fighters' names. You are meant to feel like this event is the synthesis of all American obsessions. Of big dumb spectacle, FINALITY and gavel-slamming decisions. Chest puffing, dick grabbing, boasts and condemnations, Main Events, worth-the-waits, comic book movie theatrics, loud mouths and peoples champs, stacks of cash, Jay-Z in a white tuxedo, Beyoncé pretending to look amused, aggression, Summer is here written in big puffy sky-writer letters. It isn't. The fight is not something that has engulfed a city, a consciousness, a sport. It is a lingering fog. A thing that is there, like the heat, and eventually you learn to forget about it all together.

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Almost 3 PM, PST. MGM Grand Arena. Pacquiao-Mayweather weigh-in. Thousands howl from the stands like they are about to witness a beheading. Doug E. Fresh is on stage talking about Mayweather. "Even if you're a hater, you can't deny the skills." Mayweather walks through a narrow aisle between the people in the stands, and the congregated media in the center of the arena. In this moment it appears as though everyone who has ever lived is holding up a cellphone. There are more cellphones in this room than there are cellphones in the rest of the universe. Larry Merchant is standing behind me, tiny and proper and wearing a seersucker blazer and a hat covering his fluffy white hair. "We didn't have all these." He says, to no one in particular. He is talking about the phones, probably, but he is also sort of talking about this fucked-up relentless hysteria over everything. He is talking about the boxing that used to be, and the boxing there is now, the valley in between, and the old men like him trying to cross it. He is telling you that here is Bigness masquerading as Drama. Here is Viral disguised as Lore. Page Views as Mythology. Every girl in the stands looks like Farrah from Teen Mom; every guy looks like a piece of scorched bologna with gelled hair. There is no romance, no Frank Sinatra with his tie undone here.

Pacquiao puts on a shirt that says "Jesus is the name of the Lord" on the front, and "All glory and honor belongs to God" on the back. The crowd detonates at every mention of "god" and "fans," and boos at every sight of Mayweather, wired to blow at the slightest mention of something incendiary. But there is nothing. Pacquiao is aloof and distracted with the personality of a tired lamb, and Mayweather has not glared or nodded or licked his lips without it being calculated weeks in advance, after careful consultation with his Money Team and crowd sourced hashtags. His jacket and logo are red white and blue, filled with stars and stripes. He sells himself as a symbol of a sort of empty excess; a loudness, a remorseless, money thirsty goliath who sees American largesse as a brand, a jersey to wear, not a flag to salute.

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You start to understand that men mostly fall into two categories: men who give several fucks; men who give no fucks.

A little after 1 AM, PST, Saturday. The Palazzo Hotel. Lavo nightclub. Upstairs. Diddy's party. Girls in every alcove, in stairwells and corridors, on couches, against walls. Girls who look like they want a husband, girls who want you not to tell their husbands, girls who could burn your brains with one look from across the bar. Girls who don't even care that you are alive in the first place. Girls who would divorce you via Snapchat. Girls with fake-gold necklaces and pictures of themselves as their phone backgrounds. Girls texting unsaved numbers "I have five girls what r u doing??"

Wrinkly, tanned men with receding hairlines in Armani Exchange t-shirts and driving loafers, drinking Dom Perignon from the bottle, mumbling through the verses, waiting for the chorus, waiting for it to be loud enough that he can tell her he didn't hear her, so he can lean in with his hand on her lower back and his cheek against hers. Middle-aged men who dance like they are being chased by hornets. And then there are men standing motionless, near the bar, in the corner, men whose faces at every moment of every song looks like some combination of "constipated," "mugshot," and "opiate high." Puffed and taught, necks arched at the perfect degree, rearranging their feet as crowds approach so no one scuffs their shoes. You start to understand that men mostly fall into two categories: men who give several fucks; men who give no fucks.

A tall man next to the DJ pours a bottle of Ciroc vodka into a small glass. Something goes wrong; he has poured too much. There is no room for orange juice. Tall man improvises, pours the orange juice directly into the bottle of Ciroc. Tall man morphs into the sunglasses emoji and disappears into the dark.

The DJ plays "Shoulder Lean," "Through the Wire," "Lucifer," Drake songs. Every Drake song. You realize that in a club full of white women teetering in stilettos, a Drake chorus is practically seismic. The DJ yells at the club to make some fucking noise for Fight Weekend. The crowd sort of does, or maybe it doesn't, it's hard to tell. They're drunk. They're in Vegas. No one ever seems to need more reason than that.

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