THIS morning on the Las Vegas Strip I found myself walking behind Elvis Presley on a mobility scooter and, rather than it striking me as unusual, I thought back to earlier in the week when Northampton’s Kieron Conway told me his dream has always been to box here due to its Elvis connection.
This was not, I’m fairly certain of it, the kind of Elvis connection Conway was hoping to experience, but it was nonetheless an image indicative of all Vegas has to offer in 2022. Indeed, had I asked the man on the scooter for his name, he would have no doubt called himself Elvis with a straight face and, in turn, asked if I wanted to pay for a picture with him. I would then have said, “No, absolutely not,” but would have still had to accept the fact that here, where nothing seems real, his answer to my initial question was no less permissible than had he spun around and called himself Randy, or Bill, or Todd.
That is the unspoken rule here in the desert, this place in which everything is fake: the people, the monuments, the fun. It is here, day after day, men and women will giddily arrive in their droves, especially on tent-pole weekends (like Mexican Independence weekend), and show up either pre-packaged stupid or with every intention of becoming stupid during the course of their stay. Man or woman, they waddle in ready to suspend their disbelief and will both believe anything and eat anything on the condition it makes them feel good, becoming slaves to the illusion, seduced by a world outside the real one they have left behind.
Watching this transformation unfold on a fight week is a somewhat surreal experience. Moreover, doing so sober is akin to stalking the grounds of Disneyland without a child. The sense of discomfort is much the same, as is the sense of being horribly out of place, unmoored, marooned, lost. You soon have to accept that to endure this experience drink and drugs are perhaps the only options.
In fact, stick around in Las Vegas long enough and you will, rest assured, lose either your money, your mind, or any remaining faith you have in the human race. Like a telegraphed magic trick, the place gets worse the more times you see it. Though blinded at first by all the lights, and the sheer size and scope of it all, you will in time likely come to realise everything you are able to touch disappears the moment you do – poof! – and that those taking photographs of the “sights” will later look at those same photographs only to see nothing, nothing at all, in the background. (If some Native Americans believe that a photograph of a person steals one’s soul, here, in Vegas, the souls of all who have ever stopped to take a picture of the “Eiffel Tower” line the streets.)
Everything, it seems, is designed to seduce you and siphon every last dollar and shred of dignity, from the aircon in the casinos, which offers relief from the heat outside and carries the smell of a perfume sold only in strip clubs, to the wandering monk selling beaded bracelets and the half-naked showgirls in feathered headgear offering something different than what it is they are actually advertising.
An interesting scheme, that one, it was also this morning, when crossing a bridge for a change of scenery, I saw two of these feathered showgirls accost an old man and his wife, doing so in the hope they would request a photo for money. The man accosted, of course, could see no issue with such a proposition, and, to his relief, the man’s wife, too, was seemingly the right amount of hungover to acquiesce and allow her man to fulfill this most harmless of fantasies.
It was then at that point, with the transaction in full swing, it dawned on me that many of the men I had seen posing with these feathered showgirls throughout the week had all looked the same: pink face, grey moustache, belly hanging over cargo shorts and a T-shirt purchased back when they were young and in better shape. Easy to spot, they all looked like they had either stolen their wife, eaten a previous wife, beaten a previous wife, or had now moved on to their second, third or fourth wife.
I could tell that some of these wives needed to drink to dull the senses and numb the pain, while others, those from places more exotic than here, sported a permanent look of fear on their face, their only consolation the fact they spoke little English and therefore communication with their captor, or husband, would forever be limited.
Whatever the arrangement, the older men were without doubt the prime targets of these feathered showgirls, particularly if they walked alone and, better yet, exuded a certain loneliness or desperation. They would, on the whole, tend to offer less resistance than their younger, choosier counterparts and, even if accompanied by a woman, it was often the woman, eager to inject life into their stale relationship, who would encourage her man to go ahead and “treat yourself”.
It’s a strategy as old as time, of course, a version of which exists even in boxing, a sport where still it pays to be young, and sexy, and desirable. There, no different than on the Vegas Strip, the cash cow – for example, this weekend Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez – will deliberately target their prey and exploit any perceived weakness, both at the negotiating table and then, once the deal is done, on fight night. Meanwhile, the target, in this case Gennadiy Golovkin, will be given a wide berth until he is good and ready; meaning, old enough to offer little resistance; meaning, unable to walk past the pretty boxer with all the feathers without turning his head.
Earlier in the week I collected my fight week credential from the old wedding chapel inside the MGM Grand and was reminded that people get married here. It was a sobering thought, as sobering as any other this week, and would resonate even more because on the flight over I had spent five of its ten hours watching Scenes from a Marriage, a TV series based on the Ingmar Bergman series of the same name. The original, a groundbreaking piece of television, and far superior to the one I watched on Monday, was apparently responsible for a rise in divorce rates (from 2% to 3.3%) in Sweden at the time of its release in 1973, so harsh were its truths, so eye-opening was the message and reality it presented on screen.
The reality, which neither version of Scenes would shirk, was this: marriage is not only hard but maybe, in some instances, the beginning of the end. There are, it strived to remind us, as many downs as ups in any typical marriage and a lot of the downward pressure a married couple will feel sadly comes from the institution itself rather than any real, tangible problem between them. Yet what Scenes also managed to communicate and show was that there are, in even the worst marriages, occasional moments of light through the darkest of times. It is these moments of light, otherwise known as hope, which represent the reasons why many people give it a go, or simply try, whether their marriage is ultimately planned and thought out, or, if taking place in the MGM Grand chapel, owing more to sheer spontaneity and an overactive imagination.
It’s as heartening as it is scary, that thought. For, in the end, despite the warnings, these people believe their love is strong enough. They believe they will somehow be different from all the others. They believe in each other. They believe in hope. Which is what, in a Vegas sense, people come here full of. They come here with hope that their fortunes will change. They come here with hope that their lives will change. They come here with hope that it will be better than it was the last time.
Even Gennadiy Golovkin for that matter, a boxer good enough to not have to rely on blind, ignorant hope, arrived in Las Vegas this week willing to let bygones be bygones and try again, though aware the house, should it come to that, will still probably favour his opponent on Saturday night. Their marriage, it’s true, is one of the more complicated ones in boxing, in many ways one-sided, and yet Golovkin, in spite of its countless red flags, has fallen once again for the Vegas illusion; that is, a belief that here the slate is always wiped clean and you can, if in need of a fresh start, be anyone you want to be. Yes, even Elvis on a mobility scooter.