EIGHT years ago, while in Las Vegas for a fight that never happened, I stood dumbfounded as a woman laughed in my face after I had asked her what I thought at the time was a valid question. It was a question that had been on my mind as I did laps of the ghastly Miracle Mile shopping mall and a question, having found no answers myself, I felt could be answered by someone more familiar with the locale and its amenities. “Excuse me,” I said to the woman working in a clothes shop. “Do you happen to know where I might be able to find a bookstore?”
It was then, following an intense bout of laughter, the woman reminded me that we were in Las Vegas. She said, after that, “This is no place for books, honey. In fact, this is not even a place for grown-ups.”
That line struck me as odd at the time, for I had been told Vegas was essentially “Disneyland for grown-ups”, yet I would of course come to understand, having returned to the place since, that there are different types of grown-ups in the world and that only a certain type tends to frequent and enjoy the Vegas strip. As well as back then strike me as odd, that comment of hers stuck with me and now, as I find myself in Vegas once again to report on the brilliant welterweight fight between Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, I can’t help but view the fight, much like a bookstore, as something of an anomaly in this town.
It is not the first great fight between Americans to be held here, of course. That’s not it. But there is something most definitely understated and intelligent about this fight and its participants that feels wholly out of place in a place like Vegas. For one, neither of the two men involved happen to be particularly flashy or outspoken or even that interested in flogging the fight in a way considered the norm these days; that is, by fabricating animosity, doing something ridiculous at a press conference, or just refusing to shut up. They are instead both content in the knowledge that their unbelievable skills, their combined pro record of 67-0, and the anticipation that has for years followed this fight like a starving dog will be enough to capture the imagination of the public, both in Vegas and elsewhere.
Whether that is the case or not, who really cares? For every person who tweets that the fight isn’t trending, or hasn’t delivered enough juicy pre-fight angles, there will be someone else who is reminded of a time, a much purer time, when superfights used to be a lot like this one: the anticipation, the slow build, the comfort of knowing you are about to witness quality without the need for any bells and whistles, hashtags, or pre-fight machinations.
This is not a fight, in other words, for the content fiends and the children eager for a snappy news line, a bit of banter, or their hand to be held as they are talked through the finer points of what it is they are looking at. Rather, this is a fight for the grown-ups. It is a fight for the people who know and appreciate exactly what it is they are watching and, as with any great song, understand the power of its silence and how often this silence is an earned silence and how an earned silence is normally a sure-fire sign of confidence and substance. Indeed, when talking about Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, this undoubtedly applies. For despite their many achievements, never have either of them been great talkers and never have either of them been especially marketable. What you get in place of that is a brand of honesty unusual in today’s boxing world. They say what is on their mind and have no designs on selling their brand, or their next fight, or a future career in punditry. Instead, so true is their self-belief, they just give it to you straight, as well as slowly, as if to ensure you can properly hear and are paying attention to each word they say.
Everything about this fight has a refreshing slowness to it, in fact. The way it came together, following years of their careers running parallel, has been slow, often frustratingly so, and even the rise to this kind of stage – headlining in Las Vegas – has for both been slow for numerous reasons. It is refreshing, however, because now that they are here, and now that it has arrived, we can be sure that due to this slowness and due to what some might call perfectionism we are receiving something on Saturday that has been well-cooked and well-prepared. Moreover, in a world in which everything seems to be moving too fast, being cooked too quickly, and being prepared by amateur chefs, the idea of having a meal like this, even if we have been waiting and impatiently sighing at our table for a little too long, is a meal most welcome.
In many ways, the restaurant in which it will be served, Las Vegas, seems almost unworthy of a fight this good; this genuine. In a place largely comprising fake bodies and fake landmarks, a fight this good between two quiet men might be a riddle too hard to decipher and digest for some. It might pale in comparison to previous superfights that better embraced the Las Vegas spirit and its questionable set of values. But that’s just fine.
Ahead of coming here, I packed three books this time, so afraid was I of repeating past mistakes. In one of these books, Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard, Bernhard writes, on the subject of everything being ridiculous, “You must suddenly turn the whole world into a caricature… we only control what we ultimately find ridiculous, only if we find the world and life upon it ridiculous can we get any further, there is no other, no better, method.”
There is certainly something ridiculous about Las Vegas, that goes without saying. To simply navigate this town, and retain some semblance of sanity, one must try to see it as a caricature at all times. Mind you, this becomes considerably easier when the experience is rooted in something truthful and real, as is the case with Errol Spence and Terence Crawford. Which is perhaps why, despite the chaos of everybody running around this week trying to be first rather than the best, the more seasoned will be able to find solace in the fact that, by the end of it all, the volume will be lowered, the lights will be dimmed, and the cream, as always, will rise to the top. For in life it is only when you slow down and take a look around that you can see both the ridiculousness of everything and also, if you look hard enough, the beauty.