Las Vegas culture, such as it is, creates an events checklist for the semi-ambitious resident.
Cirque du Soleil show? Check. (Mystere, O, and Zumanity.)
Speedway racing? Check. (NASCAR, still driving around in circles.)
Dinner-based production? Check. (Tony and Tina's Italian Wedding.)
Brush with D-list celebrity? Check. (Stupid Carrot Top.)
Hoops? Check. (UNLV vs. San Diego State, Minnesota, and 'Zona.)
Stage musical? Check. (Mamma Mia! and Avenue Q.)
Impersonator? Check. (Danny Gans and Trent Carlini.)
Red carpet movie premiere? Check. (88 Minutes earlier this year.)
Magic show? Check. (Lance Burton, Rick Thomas, and Brett Daniels.)
TV taping? Check. (NBC's America's Got Talent, just last week.)
Until Friday night, I'd never attended a boxing event. The sweet science has a long and storied history with the city of Las Vegas, but while fights aren't the high-priced attraction they used to be, there's still a place here for men determined to beat each other senseless.
The site was Cox Pavilion, just off UNLV's campus. Scheduled were a series of matches that were part of ESPN's Friday Night Fights. The undercard bouts were filled with comparatively young and hungry fighters, but the main event was the arrival of former heavyweight champion Chris Byrd, who slimmed down 2 weight classes over the past six months (from 211 to 175 pounds) to fight as a light heavyweight before he retires next year. I knew nothing about his opponent, Shaun George, but noticed that he looked a lot younger. (George is 30; Byrd 37.)
Opportunity appeared in the form of floor seats on the 4th row, just spitting distance from ringside. (Fortunately, no one on the canvas spit in our direction to prove this point.) We were in good company, surrounded by Byrd's friends and family members. Also present and seated two rows in front of us was ultimate fighter Randy Couture, who I didn't recognize but was very gracious in providing autographs and photo ops to fans and gawkers. (He was there just to have a good time, which is all you can ask for in a celebrity. Also, while casually dressed, he wears couture.)
A view from my camera phone. While the arena was far from packed, it was remarkable how quiet the match was. There were a few vocal fans who offered their coaching opinions, but you could still hear the pugilists breathe up there. Before the match I thought of things to yell (like "Eye of the tiger, baby" and "Sweep the leg") but abandoned them for fear of being, well, heard. So I applauded politely, and saved my loudest cheers for the Round 4 girl.
Both men got their share of punches, but you could tell that George had more energy and was tallying up the points on the scorecard. Byrd showed some fire toward the end, but a series of devastating punches floored him. He got up, but George kept at it, and his last punch left Byrd on the ropes, facing us. We saw what the referee saw: the former champ's eyes rolling, unable to focus on the man in front of him. TKO. Here's the ESPN recap.
So, boxing? Check. And I wouldn't mind checking it again.
[Final note: if you plan on visiting Las Vegas and would like to know more about any of the shows, venues, or events described in this post, let me know. Generally, I don't review local attractions, but I'll try to give you an idea as to what to expect.]