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|| News Item: Posted 1999-09-27

Fight of the Millennium?
By Gary Hershorn, Reuters

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Reuters

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Reuters
It was billed as the fight of the millennium but in the end the Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad welterweight title fight turned out to be just another typical match with a controversial decision that has become all too ordinary in the world of boxing.

The weigh-in for the fight was Friday and I actually found it as exciting as the fight was, which just shows how bad the fight turned out to be, since a weigh-in typically is a dreadful event to cover. Most photographers were in place about an hour and a half before the weigh-in, which was held in the same events center at the Mandalay Bay Hotel that the fight was held in. There was a good sized crowd of spectators watching with Trinidad's Puerto Rican fans on one side of the venue singing and De La Hoya's fans on the other side screaming.

Trinidad weighed-in first at 147 pounds followed by De La Hoya, who had to strip naked for the weigh-in to make the weight. A promoter standing almost in front of De La Hoya held up a towel to keep people from seeing De La Hoya 's private parts but didn't quite hold it high enough to keep some photographers on the back platform from getting a picture of "It".

The Mandalay Bay is a new hotel in Las Vegas and they have built an arena like building attached to the hotel for boxing. It is similar to the Grand Garden at the MGM that has been home to a lot of boxing in Las Vegas for years. The facility is first rate, easy to access from the hotel and the promoters provided a very spacious work area, similar to a hotel meeting room for photographers to transmit their photos from. AP, AFP, Reuters, the LA Times, Allsport and a newspaper from Puerto Rico all transmitted from the room.

One thing is for sure in my mind: all boxing should be held in Las Vegas. The infrastructure that is in place to host this sport is unequaled anywhere else. From the first rate and professional treatment afforded the media by Andy Olsen and his staff at Magna Media (who do all the media preparations) to the welcome mat laid out for the media at all the hotels that host boxing to the great rooms we get to stay in and to some of the world's best swimming pools to kill time in (the wave pool and beach at the Mandalay Bay is definitely one of the best), Las Vegas has always seemed the perfect place to spend a few days covering boxing.

As usual the fights began at 4pm in a near empty arena. The arena doesn't start to fill up until 6pm when the first televised fights began. There were three fights we covered before the main event. I typically hate these fights and always question why the media covers them at all. They rarely get published and if held 24 hours earlier anywhere else in the world we probably wouldn't pay them a seconds notice. Why is it that just because
they are held on the under card of a big title fight we seem to think they should be photographed. There was a fight by Butterbean, a huge man whose fights basically are a circus sideshow, a fight with Mia St. John a woman who became news only because she has a nude photo layout in Playboy next month and the fight before the main event we covered as a Canadian regional.

As any big name fight in Las Vegas does, celebrities turned out in droves for this one. I normally do not spend my time chasing after celebrities at fights but one couple showed up that demanded attention. A buzz went out that Andre Agassi was going to attend the fight with his new girlfriend Steffi Graf and sure enough about 30 minutes before the main event they came in together. It was their first appearance in public as a couple and they were easily photographed together.

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Reuters

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Reuters
Sometimes the hotels do what they can to keep photographers from wandering in the crowd taking paparazzi pictures but we were given full access to Graf and Agassi. When Agassi came to his seat with Graf, about seven rows back from the ring, a group of us went over to their, luckily, aisle seats and shot away. Charles Barkley came over to wish them luck and told Agassi "he had a good woman and that he better take care of her". After about five minutes a security person asked us if we could go back to our seats at the ring and we all did. And yes the pictures of the happy couple together received more play around the world than did pictures of the actual fight.

The atmosphere in the arena was very dull and quiet up until the fighters marched in. Trinidad entered the arena while a group of rappers in the ring sang a song and De La Hoya, keeping up with his image entered to the sounds of a love song by Enrique Iglesias.

The fight started with a really dull first round and barely a punch thrown. It got a little better as it progressed but mostly consisted of De La Hoya jabbing away at Trinidad with barely a big punch being leveled. This seemed to go on for round after round and it got tiresome to watch and even worse to photograph. At one point around the 8th round John Iacono who was shooting next to me commented how he had not seen a single punch thrown where you could see both fighters' faces.

By the tenth round the fight turned into nothing more than a chase as De La Hoya simply back pedaled around and around in a circle for three rounds ultimately causing him to loose the fight. All of the photographers in my corner talked about how dizzy we were from watching him run.

When the decision was announced De La Hoya was standing right in front of us and I certainly was looking at him since I believed he had won the fight. It came as quite a shock to here that Trinidad was announced as the winner. My first impression was De La Hoya was robbed but after reading about the fight and thinking more about it, I was not impressed with the way he chose to fight the final three rounds and maybe the judges were justified in telling boxers that they have to fight instead of running to save their titles.

The promoters and the staff from the Mandalay Bay should by congratulated for having the fewest number of photographers at ringside that I have worked with at a fight. Typically there are five shooters placed on either side of a ringside judge but for this fight there were only four. Five photographers make it almost impossible to work. I think all photographers strive to have a work place that is comfortable and inhabited by legitimate working photographers. Sometimes conditions are crowded and we accept that, because the number of photographers that need to be at ringside or on the sidelines is just impossible to whittle down. I am sure that there were some photographers upset that they were not at ringside for this fight but I hope a way is found for future fights to keep the ringside position as uncluttered as it was for this fight.

Photo by Laura Rauch/AP

Photo by Laura Rauch/AP
However there was one curious sight at the end of the fight that a number of people noticed. A picture taken by the AP was published in many papers that showed Trinidad celebrating his victory as the decision was announced. Clearly in the background right behind Trinidad was a ringside photographer with his hands high over his head celebrating as much as the fighter was rather than shooting the photograph. I wish I knew how he ended up at ringside. I for one do not appreciate cheering photographers or any media type for that matter at a sporting event and hope it was seen by the appropriate people who will hand out ringside credentials for the next big fight.

(Gary Hershorn is a staff photographer for Reuters based in Washington DC.)

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