Monday, May 4, 2009

A Contest, A Boxing Match, Great People, And The Journey Of Our Lives

Recently, I won a trip to Las Vegas with all expenses paid to see the Manny Pacquiao/Ricky Hatton fight at the MGM Grand. Simply by sending in a text message to an advertised number through for military veterans, my wife and I were called by my new buddy Angela who informed us of the win and we were flown out before sunrise Wednesday morning. It was the trip we will both remember forever no matter what happens in our life and despite the fact of the main even not even lasting until the end of the second round. We were both humbled and in awe at the experiences we shared, some of which I would like to share with you now.

We landed in Las Vegas and after trying to track down my cell phone which I lost, found our ride and proceeded to the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. We checked in at approximately 11:15am that morning and everything was smooth thanks to help from our new friends Armando and Ruis. With little time to waste, we took our bags up to our room and then proceeded to the press conference as Armando had given us credentials to allow us access to that and the weigh ins on Friday. Once there, we grabbed a delicious free lunch and enjoyed mingled with press members about the fight. The press conference took place and I was immediately overwhelmed at the fact that these two big fighters were actually more humanized by seeing them in person. This is also where we had the great pleasure to meet a boxing legend first hand in Mr. Bert Sugar. Just being there to witness this firsthand and meet such friendly people, we had the feeling we were in for the time of our lives.

Following the press conference, we took a tour around the casino to kind of take in all the sights and the numerous restaurants they have there. We saw Wolfgang Puck's place, Emeril's and many more that offered a great variety within the hotel itself. It was later we received a call from another new friend Mary that she had something for us if we would return to the press area. Needless to say, we still had on our credentials (which at times made us feel like celebrities) and went in the room to find they had arranged $1200 in MGM Grand gift cards for us to use for meals and souvenirs as well as being informed that there was more to come soon. We also met Bruce, who I will explain more about later when I get to the fight itself. We then made our first reservation to Wolfgang Puck's where we enjoyed a great dinner before jet lag kicked our butts and we retired for the night (I was going on no sleep from the previous night and my wife had 3-4 at most).

The next day, we were told of a press conference for the under card fighters. Seeing as we had the passes and intended to be in the arena for the whole fight, we thought it would be a great learning experience to see more about the other boxers so we went. So again, it's mostly just us, media people, the fighters and promoters and a few select guests. This press conference may not have had the big names surrounding it or a poem by Floyd Mayweather Sr. but it was a great learning experience. Plus, we had the passes so why not utilize them as much as we could and get everything out of it that was possible. We also participated in a TV survey about possible new CBS series which I found enlightening and my wife found long a frustrating but hey, it got us $100 that would eventually help fund the MGM Grand slot machines and sports book, especially since I bet on Hatton and not the other things I was leaning towards which hit. We also had dinner at Emerils and saw John Mendoza and Howie Mandel (third row from the stage) later that night to cap off another awesome day.

Friday was what I will refer to as the day that will ring in my head forever. The weigh ins were scheduled to take place starting at 2pm but I was told some fans had been lined up since 6am. We had the press passes so we not only had access to their seating area but also walk around the floor area to the side of the stage. The close view was spectacular but nothing was as eye opening as the thousands of British Ricky Hatton fans in attendance for this event. Yes, Manny fans were representing well but nothing like the British fan who being singing words that will echo in my head forever, "There's only one Ricky Hatton........walking in a Hatton wonderland." Now, when I say they sung this, they not only did it for hours but at volumes that would drown out the live DJ at times. The Hatton family was present and noticeably enjoying the appreciation for Ricky. The weigh ins were an an exciting time but not nearly as memorable as the songs, which my wife said she could hear from the bars at 5am when she made a Starbucks run. There was however a moment just as my wife wanted to wake out for some air for a bit that as we stepped in the ramp area, Mario Lopez announced me as the winner of the contest only to have us speed walk back to into the arena standing beside Ruis as he reminded me that it was me they just called out. The wife and I smiled at each other and then finally went back outside for some air. We also had our first celebrity moment as we were standing a couple feet as Mario Lopez was chatting with Sugar Shane Mosley waiting for their rides out of sight from the hundreds of fans surrounding the arena exit.

Later that day, we got a call from Mary. She had something else for us and again asked us to meet her in the press area. We showed up to find out she had two fight t-shirts and a boxing glove autographed by both Manny and Ricky and our jaws were ready to hit the ground again. Keep in mind that all we knew before all of this was hotel, airfare and tickets to the events was all that I had won and also maybe some merchandise (which is actually being shipped now). We left laughing at everything and how great these people had been to us, not just by their material gifts but their generous nature as well. This comes in to place as we also get a call from another new friend Rick who as it turns out was in the press room but we missed him while there. He calls us and we eventually meet up. This is significant because not only is Rick Angela's boss (the girl who gave the initial call and was my point of contact for all of this) but he also later met us in the sports book with a souvenir shirt that was selling at the stands for $90 as well as informing us that at the event, we would at some point be introduced inside the ring tomorrow on fight day.

Saturday May 2nd is the day of the fight. The day that all the hype and previous events had built up. The arena doors opened at 2pm with the preliminary and under card fights starting at about 2:20pm. The day started though at 10am for us as we went to the box office area and picked up our new credentials/tickets for the event. The hung on our necks the whole day to help soak in the moment. In between, we had lunch, did some light gambling and was ready to sit in the arena for hours (the main event was scheduled to take place around 8pm).

At about two, we went to the arena and were seating only to find we were three rows off the floor. Shortly after we sat down, Armando approached us to let us know that at about 5:15, just before the pay per view broadcasts takes place, we will be walked to the ring and after the Matthew Hatton fight, introduced as the contest winners in front of the live crowd. I was getting kind of nervous/excited while the wife, who didn't think she would have to go in the ring, was a bit worried (or maybe she was worried I would live up to my reputation and do something silly). The celebrity sighting started early too as Ryan Seacrest and Timothy Busfield made their way to ringside for the early fights. Moments later, we were escorted the ring and as promised, acknowledged before those in attendance as the winner of the "Jet A Vet contest. I have to admit, I had a huge adrenaline rush standing in the ring as people actually not only noticed us but clapped in appreciation.

The boxing matches were entertaining all day and the crowd grew as time progressed. When the event began being televised on HBO pay per view, the celebrities also started to arrive. Throughout the night, we saw Jack Nicholson, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, P Diddy, Entourage's Jeremy Piven, Cedric The Entertainer, Mark Wahlberg, numerous athletes and Tito Ortiz and Jenna Jameson who walked right past us on their way to their seats,among other. And thanks to Bruce, a familiar voice actually sat beside us from Sirius Satellite Radio, Scott Ferrall. Now I am a sports talk junkie who loves my satellite radio from time to time and have heard Scott numerous times on Hardcore Sports so it was an honor to sit beside him. He was very personable and we talked a bit about Sirius and the fight itself. Scott was further proof of all the great people we met who were nothing but kind and made us feel very welcomed. Scott also made the main event memorable as he enjoyed shouting to the British fans after Hatton was knocked out (he bet on Manny), though he seemed a bit on the drunker side so not sure how much of the whole deal he remembered the next morning. I have to admit, even though I bet on Hatton, the way he got knocked out made me jump to my feet even though most people around me knew Manny would take him out with the left because he left it open the whole fight (didn't he Scotty, who called it after the first round). The next morning we flew out and return to the normal life we once led dealing with job searches and stress.

All in all, this was again one of those experiences that when you go to Heaven, you hope will be replayed over and over again to remember just how great life can be. I would love to thank Angela and Rick from the Gary Group, Bruce and Mary with MAK Media, Armando, Ruis and George from GoldenBoy productions and for not only giving us this gift but making us feel not just like we won a contest but that we were welcomed into their lives. When I won, I pictured being dropped off at an airport and tickets waiting for us at a desk at the hotel for the rest. Never would we have imagined the generosity that would make this more then a contest win but an experience we will both cherish for the rest of our lives. And for those who say boxing is dead, I would ask that you live the experience in Vegas or a big time fight for yourself and ask if it is dead simply because some think it too old school or are misguided and will rise again on the shoulders of a great fighter like Manny Pacquiao. I know I personally will never bet against him again and I am now a bigger boxing fan for living out this dream. And for others who think that spending a few minutes entering contests will never pay off or your not lucky enough to win, my experience is proof that people honestly win those contests and they can be something you will never forget.