Like I did in March, when Manny Pacquiao performed at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas against Joshua Clottey, I made the trek back to the Lone Star State as the “Pac-Man” faced Antonio Margarito this past weekend for the vacant WBC junior middleweight title. As always, it was a lot of fun covering fights from a non-casino setting. I can't lie; I've had enough of the stale and sterile promotions that take place in Las Vegas. To me, there is nothing better than seeing boxing on a big stage in large metropolitan cities. I think it's one of the keys in rebuilding this sport: getting it back to masses and showcasing it to the mainstream.
As many of you have requested, here is what took place in the life of one boxing scribe on fight day.
9:36 AM: I wake up after what was a rather late night of drinking at the Texas Station, which is located inside the designated fight hotel, the Gaylord Texan. This hotel proves that they actually do things bigger in Texas. It's not just a hotel but a small city. And the Texas Station is basically where everyone in town for the fight congregates and hangs out. The last thing I remember from the night before is walking to the room of Matt Swider-Man and running into Jorge Arce and his promoter, Fernando Beltran, who were feeling pretty good, if you catch my drift.
“Travieso” states to me he wants Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. He says he'd even face him in Puerto Rico, if need be, and I don't think that was the alcohol talking.
As I wake up, I have my breakfast- a protein bar and watch ESPN's “College GameDay” while I check the internet.
10:10 AM: Since this is a big fight tonight, I would be wearing a suit (yes, I do own more than just shorts and sandals) and I went on YouTube and typed in “How to tie a tie” and went back to this clip I came upon a couple of weeks ago:
A couple of weeks ago as I was feeling a bit under the weather, I spent a late Saturday night just practicing this over and over. Now, at first I tried to do a “double Windsor” and nearly mangled this poor tie. Hey, before I do trigonometry, I guess I gotta master algebra. So I just brushed up a bit on my technique.
Hey, you know it's a big fight night when Steve Kim sports a tie.
10:23 AM: I do a radio interview with Mark Willard of ESPN Los Angeles, talking about the night’s bouts. Much of the talk centers on the huge disparity in weight and the unfortunate mocking of Freddie Roach's Parkinson's Syndrome by Antonio Margarito and members of his camp. I go on the record by saying that Pacquiao would win by decision but in a fight where he would have to work real hard to get his hand raised.
10:51 AM: I got to Matt's room; he's bunking with his brother, Brian, and Allan, the guy from England who I met back in March. He's a printer by trade and he travels the world going to prizefights. He was at the Juan Manuel Lopez-Rafael Marquez fight last week at the MGM Grand. I go over there to watch the Miami-Georgia Tech game on ESPN3.com on their laptop.
As I'm walking over there, I see Brian going over to the Gaylord Texan fitness center, which has been teeming with boxers and people in the industry the past few days. I'm proud to say that on Thursday and Friday, I was able to get some decent exercise in. Hey, with all the drinking that was bound to happen, I had to clear my conscience just a little bit. But Brian is a fitness freak and he has the body of a professional middleweight.
11:01 AM: Allan is on the bed and just bored to death with this silly American football we're watching on the laptop and the Iowa-Northwestern game on the tube. Meanwhile, we munch on Banana Nut Cheerios.
11:47 AM: I do my second radio interview of the day with Tyrone Johnson of ESPN Atlantic City, a big boxing fan, who admits that, after having trepidation over this bout, he is actually excited about it now. As I converse with Tyrone, a Miami touchdown is overturned via replay, erasing a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
12:38 PM: The Hurricanes are up 14-3 at halftime and I head back to my room on the other side of town and, as you walk through the vast Gaylord Texan, you are struck by all the Christmas decorations that have just been put up. And a large gathering of kids and their parents are here to look at the big Christmas tree and take pics with Santa. Uh, seriously, it's not even a week from Thanksgiving and there is red and green all over the place and candy canes and big ornaments. I see veteran ref Raul Caiz, who is seated on the bench and tell him, "Raul, they love their Christmas here, don't they?" He chuckles in agreement.
As I hit the elevator, I see Brandon Rios. It's been a tough week for “Bam Bam” from all the deserved heat he took for making fun of Roach's physical condition to not making weight they day before and having to fork over about eight grand to Omri Lowther to make the fight a go. He is headed up to his room and I think he was with his family. Seeing him here throughout the week, you can tell that all the scrutiny he was placed under had gotten to him a bit.
2:27 PM: By this time, I've gotten all “Fresh Kim Ice” (with a very respectable “four-in-hand” knot) and I'm back in Swider's room. We finish up watching “24/7” on the computer and Northwestern pulling the upset of Iowa and we are out the door. We first go to the local Hooters to pick up our order of 150 wings. Then later on, at Tom Thumb, we grab sandwiches, paper plates and napkins. Brian uses his Tom Thumb savings card, the second time he's done so. The first time was back in March, when we were here for Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey.
Folks, we are ready to tailgate.
On the ride up there, Ernest Gabion of Everlast and Boxingscene.com has joined us and we start to see the beautiful country side of Texas. Only there's one problem; it doesn't look all that familiar. It turns out that Brian, who is driving, did a Roy Riegels and went the wrong way. Well, that's the great thing about leaving as early as we did; we were still in no rush (the card didn't begin till five, with the televised portion of the card starting at eight, locally).
3:34 PM: We hit Silver Lot 4 and pay 50 bucks for parking. Yes, 50 bucks. Make no doubt about it; Jerry Jones is going to make his money back on this billion-dollar facility. But hey, you can't beat the location; it's right across the street from the stadium. We quickly set up, unloading all our food and beverages, which includes sweet tea vodka (which will be mixed with lemonade). This is tailgating and the only thing missing was a TV in which to watch all the college football games that are taking place.
Soon, we are joined by Gus, a fan who has flown in from Chicago for this fight. We offer he and his friend our drinks but he's quite content with his own 12-pack of Tecate Light. Also, Anthony, who has become a staple of our Texas trips and is always good for supplying either ice and/or alcohol, is parked next to us. He comes with his girlfriend.
“Big” Mike, who rode with us, makes the concoction of the sweet tea vodka and lemonade. I have to say, not only does it taste good, you get a good buzz going on too. I enjoyed more than one of these.
4:27 PM: Ernie has to cover the non-televised portion of the undercard, so, he, Mike and I go down to the media will call area to grab our credentials. On the way up there, we see the Margarito bus pull up (more on that later). Mike, who is a field producer for ESPN, is a huge Cowboy fans but he had never even gone to the old Cowboys home field and this was his first look at “Jerry's World.” Like anyone else who sees this place for the first time, he is in awe- and that's just from walking the perimeter of it.
We get our credentials and we head inside. Mike is blown away. Seriously, till you see this joint in person, it's hard to comprehend just the enormity of it. As we walk down to the arena level in the bowels of the arena, I see members of Teams Margarito and Rios trying to get into the dressing room. As I shake a few hands, Rios steps up and asks me, "Hey, did you rent that suit?" I reply to him, "No, but this tie is a clip-on." Everyone laughs and, as we walk away, he says, "Hey, your ass looks sexy." I thank him and tell him I've been hitting the squat rack extra hard recently.
We get down to press row and I sit down to see Rashad Holloway take on Dennis Laurente. Holloway is best known for being a sparring partner of Pacquiao and a regular member of the Wild Card Boxing Club. He battles hard but loses a tough eight-round verdict to the aggressive Filipino. Honestly, I thought it was a good call. Holloway just didn't seem to have strong legs in this fight and was backed up throughout.
Mike and I decide to get back to the tailgate (that's the great thing about the plastic around our neck; we get to come in and out as we please). But before we leave, we walk through this big sports bar that has flat screens all over of various games. We decide to watch one drive of Auburn-Georgia, which, at that juncture, is 35-31 Auburn. Let's be honest; how many more times will we get a chance to see Cameron Newton? Mike is in awe; he tells me, "I might just stay in here till the main event." I can't blame him; that place is plush.
Anyway, Newton puts on a Heisman Trophy-defining drive in leading the Tigers to a TD. Soon, we are back at the tailgate.
6:02 PM: As the sun has set, it has gotten really cold. I'm glad I'm wearing my suit; shorts and sandals wouldn't have cut it on this evening. We are joined by Natasha (a regular member of Wild Card) and her friend Gloria, who beat me at pool a night earlier. Hey, Minnesota Fats, I'm not. Later on, Alex, a close friend of Sergio Diaz, the manager of Margarito, and his wife stop by. The wife had just flown in that hour and she needed a place to store her luggage, which we put in the front side of our ride.
Alex, who came on the Margarito bus, tells me, "Hey, it was funny; we saw you guys earlier near the bus and Brandon Rios saw you and said, 'Hey, is that Steve Kim in a suit?! He must've rented that.' We were all cracking up."
Rios is not a bad guy; he's made some mistakes recently but honestly, folks, he's really harmless. The shame of this whole sordid ordeal that dominated the talk leading up to the fight is that Roach had told me how much he liked and respected Rios' style in the ring.
I grab a few more wings and another drink or two and soon, it's time to cover a fight.
8:08 PM: Rios leads off the HBO PPV broadcast. He had problems making weight but that hasn't curtailed his aggressive style and he just does what he does from the very onset.
8:22 PM: Both Margarito and Pacquiao are shown on that humongous big-screen, with mixed receptions for both fighters. Unlike Clottey, Margarito has an actual fan-base that has shown up to the proceedings.
8:25 PM: Rios stops Lowther in five, capping off what had to be among the most contentious weeks of his life. Hopefully, he learns from this. With great opportunity, also comes an expectation to conduct yourself in a certain manner.
8:37 PM: In the ring now are Guillermo Rigondeaux and Ricardo Cordoba. A few minutes later, I finally get my laptop up and running. A bunch of writers are having problems getting connected, for whatever reason. Maybe Wade Phillips was in charge of the internet connection?
8:49 PM: Rigondeaux is talented, no doubt, but that doesn't equate to him being entertaining. He was a great amateur. Problem is, he's still a great amateur. And right now, early on, he is stinking it out. Swider texts me, “Rigondeaux is the human beer line.” He scores a fourth-round knockdown but the all-too familiar pattern emerges shortly thereafter.
8:59 PM: Ernie, who is seated a row or two behind me, tweets that the Cuban is “Rigondull.” For me, he is the human restroom break. I'm sorry but while some might consider him a star, as of now, the only thing I'd consider for him is a raft back to Castro (who might reject him, based on this performance).
9:21 PM: This fight mercifully ends with Rigondeaux winning a split decision and a title belt. But really, who wants to see him again? Good thing he's not with Al Haymon or he'd be an HBO staple in 2011. As the scorecards are read, you hear boos.
9:35 PM: The welterweight bout begins between Mike Jones and Jesus Soto-Karass, both of whom had some problems making the 147-pound limit. Jones was in the fitness center of the hotel for about two hours on Thursday working to shed a few pounds and Soto-Karass, being who he is, missed the weight on Friday afternoon.
Jones is a big, athletic looking welter and, after a good first stanza (which had more action than all of the previous bouts), Jones hurts his Mexican foe in the second and desperately tries to finish him. When he can't, the fight changes and it seems to be Soto-Karass in charge. Honestly, Jones looked like a guy trying to end it early because he knew he didn't have much in reserve. And the rest of the fight sees Soto-Karass steadily coming forward and digging to the body. Jones, who Bob Arum has been trumpeting as a future star, looks like a guy who has outgrown this division. As I watch this, I wonder what Andre Berto is thinking.
10:15 PM: After ten spirited rounds, just about everyone has Soto-Karass winning this fight. The consensus is that the Mexican won six or seven rounds against the contender from Philly. Yet, when the scores are read (94-94, 95-94 and 97-93), two are in favor or Jones. This decision is booed lustily. I look up at the ring and Joe Goossen, who trained Soto-Karass, is hunched over on the ropes in disbelief. I feel ya', Joe.
10:24 PM: Now, this is why we’re here. The crowd has settled in and the anticipation is palpable. This is why I love this job. Moments like this. Some were against the idea of Pacquiao facing Margarito. I never was. I like fights between boxers who throw punches and are active. Margarito might be outgunned but, unlike Clottey, he will actually try and win.
And for this event, Top Rank spent some money and really Europe'd the introductions with video montages and an appearance by Nelly, along with all the other bells and whistles. Yeah, some may not like Nelly (after all, this is 2010, not 2001) but guess what? I think this is a step in the right direction. This is the entertainment business and the promoters out here in America have fallen waaaay behind their European counterparts in giving the fans a show.
Margarito comes in to Mexican music. Pacquiao comes out to “You're the Best Around” from the “Karate Kid” soundtrack (which, for my money, is among the best ever) Somewhere, Mr. Miyagi gives his approval.
11:43 PM: It's over and, in what was another masterpiece by Pacquiao, he simply swarmed the game Margarito. He wins by the scores of 120-108, 118-110 and 119-109. It was a one-sided yet entertaining fight- which seems to be a specialty of this Filipino congressman. I'll say it right now; I don't know where he ranks all-time (I think he's creeping into the top ten but I like to really judge fighters from a historical perspective after they are done with their careers) but, in my opinion, he's the greatest blend of speed and power I have ever witnessed.
Pacquiao has the hand-speed of Meldrick Taylor with the heavy-handedness of Aaron Pryor. And his boxing IQ has risen exponentially in the past few years under the tutelage of Roach. His toughness and grit are also underrated. He gave up 18 pounds on fight night, took some tough body shots from the “Tijuana Tornado” and would always have an answer in kind. For every shot Margarito would throw, he would get side-stepped and hit with two-fisted volleys.
Pacquiao isn't only the best fighter in the sport; he's also its most important natural resource by far. The announced attendance on Saturday night was a rather disappointing 41,734. But even with that, he has fought in front of over 90,000 live patrons in two fights, an amazing feat in this day and age. Anyone who believes boxing is dead wasn't there in Dallas this week.
Max Kellerman of HBO asked the obligatory question about a face-off with Floyd Mayweather. Honestly, until this fight is made, can we just table this discussion? I'm not sure- nor is anyone else- of Mayweather's legal status or future plans in the ring. But I know this; as long as Pacquiao is around, boxing will always have a night or two when it is as relevant as any sport in the world. We should enjoy him while we can.
He's 2-0 in Cowboys Stadium this year, meaning that he has two more victories in that building than the Cowboys themselves do, thus far in the 2010 season.
12:10 AM: Wow, it's cold out here, as I head back to our parking spot. My phone died hours earlier and I just assumed we'd all congregate back here. As we wait for the lot to clear out, we eat very cold wings and consume even colder beers. Everyone is impressed by Pacquiao; how could they not be? But the question is, if not Mayweather, who's next? We all go thumbs down on Shane Mosley (I mean, look at his last two bouts). Allan and I like the idea of Sergio Martinez, if he beats Paul Williams this weekend at a catchweight of 155 for the middleweight title. I even like the idea of the winner of the Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander fight. I'd love to see him face a young, fresh fighter and I think Bradley's speed and smarts would give Pacquiao a new puzzle to solve. And Alexander is a southpaw and skilled.
1:35 AM: Back at the Texas Station and there are various luminaries from boxing eating there, from Miguel Cotto and his crew, Laurence Cole (who ref'd the night’s main event), to the guys at Hennessey Sports (my guys, Jason and Adam) and Mario Lopez and his girl, Courtney Mazza. They make me promise that I will watch their show on VH-1, “Saved by the Baby.” I'll see if I can find a spot for it in my rotation. It'll be tough though.
2:15- 3:01 AM: We got up to Swider’s room- last call in Texas is at 1:30- but we have more than a few beers left. Matt has a flight that leaves at six in the morning, so his brother has to take him to the airport at four. Brian has about a three-hour drive back to College Station, where he works at Texas A&M.
We watch highlights of the college games and clips of the fight we just attended. I have an afternoon flight but I'm feeling pretty tired. I decide to head back to my room after I say my good-byes to everyone.
Another fun time was had by all. Can't wait to do it again.
According to Sergio Diaz, Margarito is still at the hospital and will go through surgery on his fractured right orbital bone on Tuesday, as they wait for the swelling to go down...OK, will David Haye dare step in the ring with a Klitschko in 2011 or will it be more of the same?...So did the Cowboys fire Wade Phillips too late?...And were the 49ers playing the wrong Smith at QB the whole time?...Isn't it great to have the fights back?...I'll say it right now; if I had my way (and I don't), Stephen Morris is to Jacory Harris what Ken Dorsey was to Kenny Kelly back in the day at Miami...BTW, great seeing all the fans out in Texas; you guys are great....