Wilder v Fury: Brits abroad still a puzzle amid misery and false hope of Las Vegas

Las Vegas is not yet at Ricky Hatton levels of tribal hysteria but we are getting there. The arrival of luvved up Love Islanders Molly-Mae and Tommy Fury at the televised head-to-head press conference on Wednesday signalled a rise in temperature. Having a British component on a big fight weekend alters the complexion of the piece. Deontay Wilder will not be the last American totem rendered incidental by a travelling support expert in the appropriation of foreign territories.

Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury confront each other on stage during the press conference at the MGM Grand Garden Arena ahead of Saturday’s world title fight. Picture: PA.
Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury confront each other on stage during the press conference at the MGM Grand Garden Arena ahead of Saturday’s world title fight. Picture: PA.

The concept of lads abroad will be, you suspect, forever beyond the grasp of American sensibilities. Though Floyd Mayweather Jnr scored a victory against Hatton in the only place that mattered in 2007, he lost every round before the first bell rang, and a few more post conquest. Hatton’s travelling support turned the MGM Grand Arena into a barrio of Manchester in the week of the fight. Mayweather handled Hatton well enough, but like his compatriots had not a clue what to make of the Manc armada that hit the American shore. In his victory speech Mayweather paid tribute to Hatton’s qualities and to his followers, remarking that he even had a band of players to serenade him through the week. The troup in question was sent by the Sun newspaper and fused ear drums with their recurring rendition of “there’s only one Ricky Hatton”. Asked by Mayweather to play a song for him, they responded with the theme tune to 1960s sitcom Steptoe and Son. Mayweather took it as a compliment when in fact the band was taking the piss.

If British sporting exports are an enduring puzzle for Americans, Las Vegas can confound expectation too. A city associated with high rollers is for the most part a place where low rollers gather. Away from the 3,000-room palazzos on the strip with their designer shopping arcades and fine dining, the essence of Las Vegas is discerned in the fringe establishments populated by desperate individuals keeping lonely vigils at slot machines designed to deprive them of the very fortunes they chase.

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There they sit like dead souls, a constituency of glutonous, overweight, badly dressed, sapiens wreathed in fag smoke whilst vacantly pouring dollars into slots on the promise of a jackpot that always seems to fall to others. “Cheyna,” shouted one such to her friend playing on an adjacent device, “130 dollars. Yee hah.” The Dancing Panda had shown the benevolence that keeps the punters coming back. Meanwhile, “Treasure Ball”, “Wild Pirates” and “Wonder 4 Tall Fortunes” kept swallowing coins at a merciless rate.

Yet still the people come, flying down from Portland to avoid the Alaska air flow in February, or migrating from California to escape the expense. This weird, suspended existence among whirring fruit symbols and the mind-numbing accompaniment of bells and whistles, remains a palsy on the human 
condition.

The hotels are designed to keep you in. Any traffic through the exits is bad for business, which in part explains the almost total absence of footfall on the streets. Mind you there is little appeal in taking to sidewalks that sit alongside four-lane highways criss-crossing the city, themselves a nod to the itinerant nature of a town built on the premise of people passing through.

Those that do venture out tend to be foreign tourists, street vendors oiling the sex trade with grimy fliers and, in the early morning, homeless men and women shuffling on to the next place of rest carrying with them effects crammed into carrier bags against a soundtrack of artificial birdsong piped electronically into palm trees. At least the flora is real.

Against this contradictory backdrop of false hope and misery, fight week finds its own space.

Indeed the boxers, for all the pantomime quality of the build-up, bring a rare authenticity to the spectacle. In their wake come the faces, flooding the hotel forecourts with Ferraris and Lambos and ringside with plumage from Versace to Prada.

The celebrity coterie is a fusion of Hollywood, sporting poster boys and girls, fashion icons and a group new to the posh seats known as influencers, the qualification for which is at least a million Instagram followers, enough to be flown in at BT Sport’s expense and dotted about the scene like extras. If nothing else they will be company for Molly-Mae and Tommy.

As fight night hoves into view the MGM Grand lobby becomes increasingly swollen with voyeurs gawping at the parade and opportunists looking for business. Scenes like that at the nearby Flamingo Hotel earlier in the week where the arrest of two women was conducted amid a sea of dollar bills laid out across the floor, are increasingly common, the nights echoing to the sound of sirens as police try to contain the excitement.

There is little to compare with world championship boxing in this setting, an enterprise that threads back to the gladiatorial arenas of Greece and Rome.

The high point of Wednesday’s inflated exchanges came when Wilder warned Fury that he was bringing “six-inch nails and a hammer from Alabama” to ensure there would be no second rising. “Sit down you big feather duster,” responded Fury, his Lancastrian lilt straight outta The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club and an utter mystery to the denizens of this postcode.