Vegas still the king of entertainment

May 26, 2015 3:00 AM
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 It’s incredible what major events Vegas has attracted over the past few weeks – the ACM Awards, Mayweather-Pacquiao, two weekends of Rock In Rio, the Billboard Awards and next month the NHL Awards.Sufficient time has passed since the epic buildup to Mayweather-Pacquiao that had the crew of ESPN SportsCenter camped out at the MGM pool for over a week.

Now that’s coverage.

And while the fight itself was a bore and people were irate at throwing basically $100 down the tube for pay-per-view, the big winner in the longterm is Las Vegas itself.

As “Money May” would say, it’s not braggin’ if you can back it up. It’s incredible what major events Vegas has attracted over the past few weeks – the ACM Awards, Mayweather-Pacquiao, two weekends of Rock In Rio, the Billboard Awards and next month the NHL Awards, which had been cemented in Toronto for years.

Meghan Trainor may sing that “all about that bass, no treble” but money rules. Dollars have established Vegas front and center as the destination, sports, entertainment and gaming capital of the world.

You can now add Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey to the esteemed list of residence stars that first broke ground with Celine Dion and the return of Rod Stewart, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks to live performances.

All great for Vegas, but the defining moment was finally, after a five year effort, booking Mayweather-Pacquiao, providing the adrenalin shot boxing sorely needed to dig itself out of desperate times.

“This fight complements the city,” said boxing icon Gene Kilroy, whose recent interview by CNN International went viral on the Internet. “It’s not about ego, but we go. The people behind the fight from Jim Murren to the luggage guy. No place is better equipped to handle a fight than Las Vegas.”

Kilroy was the longtime business manager for Muhammad Ali and he has influence in boxing where few do. His greatest quality is shooting from the hip with no BS.

“The people at the MGM are the unsung heroes,” he said. “The fight may not have been exciting, but nobody can say they were mistreated. Scott Sibella (MGM president/COO) did a great thing by taking the boxing ring out of the MGM lobby in order to create more room for the people. It was like a volcano having the ring there. Moving it saved the fight.”

Indeed, the town was sold out and the mega-event compared with New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl and March Madness.

“The hype on the fight was the booster rocket,” Kilroy said. “It helped boxing and Vegas. Boxing is dying today. It opened the eyes of people. Imagine if Ali would have fought now. There would have been 5.5 million people willing to watch him and his wife eating breakfast.”

A rematch?

“I don’t know if there will be another fight, but if Mayweather does fight it will be at MGM, his home court,” Kilroy said. Boxing belongs in Vegas. I thank Floyd for insisting that his fights are here.”

There was the usual sports radio babble about the fight from those believing a rematch would make more money in Macao where Pacquiao’s Asian popularity could produce more interest.

“I don’t know who they are, but whoever they are they don’t know how much Las Vegas means to boxing,” Kilroy said. “Here, we take care of the customer better than anywhere else. I don’t know if another fight will happen. You can’t beat Father Time.

“You never know what Floyd will do next,” Kilroy said. “Maybe he’ll fight Amir Khan. I used to say Ali was the smartest fighter between the four posts. Today Floyd is the smartest guy. He doesn’t get hurt and makes a lot of money.”

The rotator cuff

Many brought up Pacquiao’s injured right shoulder later diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff, and since operated on with a year recovery time likely. An excuse? Not really. With so much money at stake there was no way this fight didn’t come off.

“I knew Manny tore the rotator cuff and he wasn’t training that hard,” Kilroy said. “I also know he would have gone in the ring with a wheelchair for that kind of money.

“Sugar Ray Leonard when interviewed said he would have fought hurt,” Kilroy added. “Larry Holmes fought with a bad shoulder, Ali tore up his ankle two weeks before fighting Ken Norton in San Diego and Norton broke his jaw. Fighters rise up to the occasion. They don’t want to disappoint fans.”

Boxing’s future

No doubt Dana White and the UFC made major inroads in attracting new fight fans and frustrated old ones who were rightly down on a sport with too many championship belts, too much idle time between main events and not nearly enough bankable fighters.

“You saw the Klitschko fight, the ratings were terrible,” Kilroy said. “The best heavyweights were between 1964-74. They could have beaten anyone today. Not to mention fighters like Leonard, Roberto Duran, Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello, Thomas Hearns Milton McCrory. Boxing needs exposure and educating the public. Boxing on NBC is a good thing.”

And what if Ronda Rousey decides to take on a man in the ring. Well, Kilroy didn’t want to discuss that but offered a story that basically answers it.

“Remember the big hype about Wilt Chamberlain fighting Ali?” he said. “I told Wilt it would be like him (Ali) playing basketball against you. Now you are going into his sport. He forgot about that one. You can’t put perfume on a pig. The public knows lemons, they can’t be fooled.”

The Vegas impact

Kilroy said he remembers coming to Vegas in 1978 and sitting down with Billy Conn and Joe Louis.

“I consider myself to be one of the blessed men in the world to be around Ali and living in Vegas, the boxing capital of the world,” he said. “The only fear I have is my mom waking me up and telling me I have to go to school.

“When there’s a boxing matchup here, it’s like a class reunion for me,” Kilroy said. “All the guys know me and respect me. For boxing and conventions, Vegas is the spot. It’s been proven over and over again. It’s better to watch a Super Bowl here than where it is held. I think a pro team would do well in Las Vegas. It would be great for this city.”

I second that emotion.

Encore

MGM Grand hosted the ESPY Awards in 2000 and 2001. The ESPN-made show eventually moved back to the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. This year it will be aired for the first time on ABC. And, Vegas will also host the big cowboy crowd for the upcoming PBR.

Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at MarkMayer@GamingToday.com

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