THOUGH typically good at avoiding eye contact on the Las Vegas strip, I happened to fail on this mission when approaching two Jehovah’s Witnesses standing outside a Shake Shack as a man nearby tried to sell me a CD of his rap music and a woman oohed and aahed as she hopped barefoot on a scorching hot pavement. She smiled at me, this Witness, shielded from the sun and protected from the 45-degree heat by an umbrella, and on her board I read the words “Find Family Happiness”. I wasn’t sure in that moment who felt more out of place: me or her. I worried, too, that she had seen something in me and thought I needed saving.
In truth, an assumption like that would have been a fair one. Save me, I would have said, from the heat, first and foremost. Give me your umbrella and save me from the sun. Then, following that, I may well have asked her for some literature, if just to have something to read, and ignored completely the number of times they have wrongly predicted the end of the world.
I may even have looked around us and said, “You know what, perhaps you were right, after all.” Perhaps, rather than one big explosion, the death of the world is instead this: a slow, gradual one, with the population so numb and apathetic to what’s going on around them they don’t even know it. Perhaps the death of the world is strung-out junkies hobbling around outside Louis Vuitton, or it is couples – one fat and one thin – cruising the Las Vegas Strip on mobility scooters in what I can only presume was a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Perhaps the death of the world is, like the so-called death of boxing, both exaggerated and happening so incrementally it is easy to ignore as we continue to both drink and stuff our fat faces.
In many ways, in fact, Las Vegas, as well as being the perfect fight city for boxing, is also the perfect metaphor for the sport. Consider, after all, the fact there is a designated Strip where everything is bright and loud and shiny surrounded by an enormous desert in which the bodies are buried. If that alone doesn’t strike you as a perfect metaphor for the sport we all love, I really don’t know what else to say. Moreover, this “morality car wash” of a town, which is how it was described by Robert De Niro’s character in the 1995 film Casino, entices its participants to have fun all the while knowing the root of this fun is damage. Financial damage, for example. Or damage to either your liver or brain cells.
Indeed, one could argue there is no greater concentration of stupid people on earth than there is Las Vegas. You either arrive stupid or you come to get stupid and when surrounded by stupid people with similar intentions nobody feels at all out of place or unusual about this pursuit. When it then inevitably goes awry, it was not the sport that was wrong but instead the individual’s interpretation of the sport and what it meant. They didn’t know their limit, for instance, either at the poker table or at the bar. It was their fault, not the city’s.
The same goes for the homeless problem on the streets. Tourists in Vegas will think nothing of asking a shoeless addict to shift a few metres to the left for a perfect shot of the night’s skyline – this happened before my eyes on a Tuesday – but in most cases they will be ignored altogether. Later that same day, in fact, I encountered a woman doubled over in a wheelchair outside M&M’s World and didn’t know if she was dead or alive. People kept walking, of course. There was money to spend and fun to be had.
Which is fine, by the way. Morality car wash or not, Vegas does not try to lie to you the way a sport like boxing does, nor does it attempt to come across as anything other than what it is. More than that, it can be enjoyed on some level, even if that level is similar to that of being tickled, where laughter is essentially forced out of you against your will and is an experience you both love and hate in equal measure. It’s dumb. It’s vacuous. It’s utterly superficial. But if you treat it as nothing more than what it is there is something rather freeing about it all, not unlike a lobotomy or one of those reality television shows people excuse themselves watching by calling it “escapism” rather than laziness.
If not lobotomised, or in an otherwise dulled state, you must either love or hate a place like Las Vegas to be able to survive it. An indifference to it just wouldn’t make any sense. You also have to love a part of it even if hatred takes up the majority of your headspace, or else you’d just say no or leave. It is in that respect the very home of self-loathing; perfect for anyone fuelled by hatred and honesty but not hateful or honest enough to actually do something about this admittedly negative, self-destructive state.
At first, it will, as it should, dazzle you with its scale and its shininess, Vegas. It will remind you of scenes from films that were better in childhood than they were when you later re-watched them as an adult and it will remind you, furthermore, of the many great fights that have taken place in Sin City over the years. For a boxing fan, this is absolutely the place to come, no question. If, as a boxing fan, you never do it once, you’re probably missing out. If, though, you then find a yearning to do it more than once, you likely need either a world map or, again, a lobotomy.
Never are the streets empty, mind. Even if Las Vegas is ultimately what happens to something when you remove both art and history from it, that still doesn’t stop it making obscene amounts of money and drawing crowds every month. It’s only its soul that suffers, perhaps, but who really cares about that stuff anymore?
Similarly, boxing, as a sport, is doing just fine, thank you very much. It’s not dying, like the doom-mongers say. It’s just on a mobility scooter because it can no longer walk of its own accord. Oh, and because it’s actually quicker and safer, don’t you know? Look at all the people it is accelerating past. Look how fast it’s going.
All true, says the doom-monger, yet just because it occasionally accelerates past people on foot, don’t mistake this for it being quicker than it used to be, or even moving in the right direction. It’s just now cutting corners on account of its own greed, that’s all.