The doors open, the humidity slaps you in the face, a rude awakening to remind you that you’re actually here. Las Vegas, Sin City, the Mecca of boxing.
There is a very different feeling to the usual wait in queue for check in. On the other side of those doors wasn’t an all inclusive, pool binging week. This was different.
As a flight filled of British boxing fans wait for their passports to be stamped, bodies shuffle forward step-by-step edging towards the walls, depicting a mural of the Las Vegas showgirls before zig-zagging away towards the opposite wall.
Once through passport control and your baggage has been claimed the sliding doors open underneath the neon signs stating: Welcome to Las Vegas. Goodbye McCarran International Airport, see you in a week. And so it begins.
Monday, February 17. For one week only I am the king of the castle, as I check in to the Excalibur Hotel & Casino. I head to the room I’ll call home for the week, gaze out of the window to see the famous MGM Grand, where I will spend most of the week ahead.
This is my first visit to Las Vegas and after having watched so many greats perform at the MGM Grand via DVD or YouTube I was excited to go and see and be stood inside the four walls of the illustrious venue.
As I fanboy my way around the hotel, bobbing and weaving through the tables of roulette, craps and poker games something catches my eye. I recognise it immediately as it shines in all its glory. The glorious golden lion statue as it takes to the centre of the ring much like Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder will do just five days on.
Opposite the lion is the shop, filled with fight night memorabilia ready for the week’s stampede of sales. Dump bins filled with posters, racks hung with jumpers and t-shirts, locked up cabinets for the valuables, signed gloves and limited edition programmes.
The stock soon dried up once the Brits invaded, instead the t-shirts and jumpers would be seen amongst the crowds.
Day two: Tuesday, February 18. The fight week schedule reads; ‘Fighter arrival day.’
What does this mean? Tyson and Deontay are checking in? Intrigue kicks in as I set off for my first day of work in a foreign country, I don’t know what to expect.
Approaching the lobby I see a stage, this must be where I am meant to be. I head in, after obtaining my accreditation, to join the rest of the media. Some familiar faces from the UK too, which is nice to see.
Not long after I have set up my camera a crowd has gathered around the barricades. It must almost be showtime.
Before long Crystina Poncher, microphone in hand, calls on the fighters who will do battle in a matter of days on to the stage. Once the undercard fighters have had their time the limelight focuses on the main event. The reason we are all here.
First up, ‘The Bronze Bomber’, in his brown, fur-lined, leather-sleeved jacked dwarfed Poncher, as he hypes up his American fans in attendance. Up next, the showman, ‘The Gypsy King’ in all his glory, ready to entertain.
Bob Arum had also taken to centre stage, as he claims this bout is the biggest Heavyweight clash since Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier.
Today’s show was over, fans filtered away back to the slot machines as I spot a group that I recognise, ‘Jordan!’ I call out, ‘Hey, I know you!’ I get in response.
I know trouble when I see it and this was ‘Troublesome’ Jordan Thompson, the Cruiserweight from Manchester.
Thompson accepts my request for an interview as he brings his two friends with him, Heavyweights, George Fox and David Adeleye.
The three youngsters were in Vegas assigned as sparring partners for Tyson Fury, who better to get an insight into camp Fury than these three.
The first interview of the week done, in the bag. I head to the media conference centre where the MGM have sectioned off for the press. Somewhere to conduct interviews away from fans and to upload or transcribe your days work.
The following day arrives, the press conference for the main event. Expect fireworks.
The two unbeaten men, Wilder, the champion and Fury, the challenger, face-to-face once again. As I sit in the media centre watching this unfold on TV, the expected handbags at dawn arrive right on cue as the pair shove each other around the stage to gasps around the room.
The press conference was the Top Rank offering for the day, as the media seemed high and low around the MGM for interviews I packed my camera and hopped into a cab.
“Where to, mate?” the driver asked, “Prince Ranch Boxing,” I replied.
We pull up outside the address, from the front all you see is a house, head down the side into the back garden there’s a building where the lawn ends.
Bones Adams, formerly known as Clarence Adams, a former world champion-turned coach invited me into his home as I spoke to his prospects and watched as they sparred brutal rounds with each other.
I get a lift back to the MGM with Adams’ publicist to meet with IBF Super Middleweight champion, Caleb Plant.
As surreal a moment I’ve ever had in my time in boxing I find myself speaking to Plant about trainers. It was like we were old school friends almost forgetting we were both there to do a job, an interview shortly followed.
The week had hit the halfway point and there were just two days before fight night.
As the sun rises once more I make my way back to the MGM, this time for the undercard press conference. One thing I have noticed is the same people standing at the same casino tables, some losing track of days, sleep and money.
Now back in the MGM, or as I now call it my office. The undercard press conference complete without much excitement surrounding it at all. That’s all been saved for the main event.
Friday arrives, the day before the big night. People start to make their picks, repeat or revenge, the bookmakers within the hotels start taking some serious stakes on the evenly matched odds.
After each fighter hits the scales, I head back to the media centre once again but this time it’s different, this time it’s busier than usual.
I look around and I see champion after champion after champion, past and present it seems they’re all here. I have to pinch myself as I walk around the room speaking to Terence Crawford, Shakur Stevenson and Gerry Cooney, as I’m passing Andre Ward, Zab Judah and Mike McCallum.
The evening approaches as the soon to be Lightweight king, Teofimo Lopez speaks to me before he heads off to get sushi, Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns spares me a moment for a photograph, as he is no longer doing interviews.
Another successful day comes to an end, in just 24 hours time I will be taking my seat to watch the biggest fight of the year.
It’s fight day.
As I head to the media centre to take up my seat where I had been seated all week. I notice a queue going back as far as I could see. What is all the commotion regarding I wondered.
I pass a billboard which provided me with my answer; ‘Come see ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson here today!’
Something else had caught my eye as I was passing, an interviewee from earlier in the week, Patrick Killian, the artist from Wales was showcasing his skills as he was painting Tyson and his mentor, Cus D’Amato.
There was a buzz in the air for the fight, all the stars had come out to watch it. That week I’d seen Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Antonio Tarver, and even WWE star, Booker T. No one was missing this event.
The hours passed by feeling like minutes as my body filled with excitement. I was going to witness the MGM fight night atmosphere for the first time and it was a travelling Brit headlining which made it more special.
I watched the majority of the undercard on television in a restaurant named, China Tang. This is where my accreditation pass allowed me to watch the fights. Fortunately for me I had a ticket and a seat waiting for me in the venue.
I headed to my seat during the opening round of Emanuel Navarrete vs Joe Santisima, in which the champion stopped his Filipino opponent in the 11th round.
Up next the Heavyweights, but not the ones we are all here to see. First up Charles Martin, remember him? Martin stopped Gerald Washington midway through their bout.
Now it’s time for the ring walks, both seemed to take a lifetime to make their way to the ring, but the waiting is over the first bell sounds.
It was a bout that provided excitement to the extreme. Wilder went down in round three from a right cross to the temple and then in the fifth from a left hook to the body. The same round, the fifth, Fury was deducted a point.
By the seventh round it was all over, the towel was thrown in by Mark Breland and Tyson Fury was a world champion once more.
The night didn’t stop there. Once the crowds had cleared out it was time for the post-fight press conference where I saw yet another familiar face in Jack Fincham.
The search for interviews went deep into the early hours as I finally made it back to the Excalibur Hotel at 03:30am.
Sunday came and passed just as quickly as the rest of the week had and it was time to pack my bags.
Monday arrived, I was back at the airport boarding the plane to head back to not so sunny London. Little did I know this would be the last fight I attend for a year.