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A Wild and Crazy Night

In Las Vegas, post-fight euphoria provides a perfect excuse for ratcheting up the party atmosphere

September 16, 2002|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — Sin City turned into Fight Town and then celebrated into the early hours Sunday with a giant salsa nightcap.

Fernando Vargas appeared to be the only person in town to call it an early night, taken to a local hospital for a check after being pummeled on the head by Oscar De La Hoya in their championship fight.

To the victor went the poolside spoils--a private party at Mandalay Bay where talk of the boxers' bad blood was chased by bloody Marys. As De La Hoya's family and supporters again cheered his win on taped replays, hundreds of spirited but uninvited fans milled outside the fence, wondering how to crash the gates.

It's a scene that revisits Vegas with every big fight: another chance for the powerful, the rich and the connected to sit with celebrity, and the nobodies to at least strut through the gilded casino scene and brush against the famous.

Shiri Cohen, and her niece Shany Gelbman, tourists from Tel Aviv, positioned themselves along a hallway leading to the Mandalay Bay Event Center, hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful people heading for the bout, parading beneath nine-foot-tall boxing gloves hanging from the ceiling.

"We came here to relax from all the tensions at home," Cohen said. "We planned our trip here around the fight because we want to see movie stars. This is the place."

They would end up a little disappointed. Their biggest sighting of the night: Lakers owner Jerry Buss, which wasn't bad because Cohen is a big NBA fan. But in the crush, she missed Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Don Johnson, rapper Nelly and supermodel Giselle, singers Sammy Hager and Brian McKnight and comedians David Allen Grier and Keenan Ivory Wayans.

Fans hunting for boxing champs got their fix with the likes of George Foreman, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield and Shane Mosley.

Fight night in Vegas tips the already weighted scales even more toward decadence and debauchery; the polished limousines seem a little longer, the neon a little brighter, the hair a little bigger. The fashions telegraph so much about one's place in the universe:

Those men arriving in other casinos' carriages, in linen slacks and silk sports shirts? High-rollers, with no need to make an ostentatious impression, save their pricey, oversized cigars.

The middle-age couples in finely tailored suits and sparkling, slinky evening wear? From the ranks of casino executives and corporate sponsors.

Younger men with the tattoos on their necks, pressed T-shirts, and gold chains? Partisans for either Golden Boy Oscar or Ferocious Fernando, here from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver and elsewhere.

And the ladies in tight, plunging tops and low-slung jeans, finished with wide belts and open-toed heels? So many Jennifer Lopez wannabes in one town.

Who's to say whether the young women in the skimpiest, see-through outfits knew Oscar De La Hoya from Oscar Meyer? They seemed to be trolling for a different kind of action.

Some folks eschewed the celebrity watch in favor of claiming early, good seats in a nearby, 4,000-seat ballroom that was turned into a closed-circuit theater. Many said they were too late to get into the arena--where ringside seats were fetching $1,200 even before scalpers got a piece of the action--and popped $50 for the next-best thing.

"I just finished a $5 hotdog and I'm afraid I can't afford what it would cost to wash it down with a drink," said Harry Vigil, an oil field worker from Santa Maria, who was still delighted to have grabbed a screen-side seat.

For others, having purchased seats inside the boxing arena was only part of the measure of a successful fight night. Jon Maselko and George Antonakos said the next question was where to go afterward, and they hoped their fashion statement would win them entrance to an A-list party.

Maybe, maybe not, as these two wild-and-crazy guys stood proud in their wide-lapel, cranberry-plaid polyester suits. They said they were a pair of stand-up improv performers, but were acting like the Czechoslovakian party boys cruising for action on "Saturday Night Live," bumping their posteriors into the hips of passing ladies and shedding their sunglasses to wink at others.

They cheerily bragged about being comped their $300 fight seats after dropping $12,000 at the tables, and wondered what else in town they could snag for "free."

"We're going to catch De La Hoya's party after the fight, but we don't know where it is yet," said Maselko, 25 with wholly unjustified confidence.

But they were nowhere to be seen later at The Beach, Mandalay Bay's extensive poolside grounds where De La Hoya's celebration was staged. Buffet lines offered fajitas and prime rib, cilantro and horse radish, as the man of the hour sat in Cabana 8, looking remarkably fresh and still-golden, accepting the congratulations of his admirers.

A few feet away, actor Tony Curtis said he watched the fight from home on pay-for-view, and then decided to come down to the Strip with his wife, Jillie, to partake in the celebration.

"Vegas is a great environment for a party like this," he said. "There's such a blending of people."

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