Another big fight on Saturday in Vegas: Britain’s welterweight Ricky Hatton vs the accomplished American Floyd Mayweather. Victory for the four-square brickhouse banger from Manchester will, you see, have him headline-hailed back home as Britain’s finest ever — totally preposterous, of course, as were the ditto hosannahs hurrahed from the hillsides just a month ago for the talented Welsh middleweight Joe Calzaghe. Prizefighting has been awash with hyperbole ever since Kid Cain won the decision against Sugar Ray Abel all those biblical aeons ago.
I’ve crossed the pond for quite a few bloody late nights down the years and I admit that on days like today I still miss the concentrated huddle and hubbub of ringside and, yes, the chivalry, skill and heroism inside it. In the States, they stage much more of a buzzy social gala on big fight-nights: promenaders greet and strut, the dandies dress for the occasion and it helps — with Las Vegas being nearer Hollywood, I suppose — that their celebs somehow have a more starry substance. In my early days, it was less Nevada which attracted the promoters and the fancy, more New York and Atlantic City. Then a swank appeal of the press benches was that we unkempt visiting Fleet Streeters could for once mix with the genuine literati. Unlike our prissy, bloodless Hampstead lot over here, all the top notchers of American letters would flock to the big fights. Sure, I met Norman Mailer, I matter-of-factly but truthfully answered someone in the pub last week, ‘we covered a few Ali fights together’. Mind you, I didn’t add that the late Norman M obviously considered us visiting ringsiders as steerage riff-raff: I can still almost feel the icicle-disdain in the writer’s pugnacious little eyes as he regarded us: we laughed too much and (even for him!) drank too much and we didn’t concentrate earnestly enough on the nobilities and chess-master strategies of The Manly Art.