WASHINGTON -- Some of the fine folks of the nation’s capital lined up outside the Howard Theater as early as 5 a.m. in order to get one of about a thousand seats, which were all free, inside and a glimpse of the road show about to roll into town.
Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez are on tour, taking their promotion to the people across 11 cities in two countries in nine days to drum up even more interest in their 154-pound unification fight on Sept. 14 (Showtime PPV) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It is, without question, the biggest fight of the year, with a pay-per-view bonanza awaiting them and millions more from the tickets that were a virtual sellout the moment they went on sale Tuesday.
They kicked off the tour outdoors in New York’s Times Square on Monday as thousands looked on and then hit Washington on Tuesday afternoon for what was easily the most electric news conference I’ve ever been to (and that’s a lot of news conferences).
This wasn’t so much news conference as it was part party, part pep rally, part video highlight show, part sales job and all showbiz.
The fighters, of course, had their media obligations. The assembled press folks were taken care of downstairs in the bowels of the theater with exhaustive sit-down sessions with both fighters, who talked about all aspects of the fight and patiently answered questions for about a half hour apiece. While that was going on, the fans poured into the theater. We could hear them cheering as they waited for the fighters to come upstairs.
The place was packed and loud. The fans, many given free foam fingers with the fight logo on it, were entranced by the video montages of the fighters’ recent bouts. They went wild when Mayweather and Alvarez were introduced. They responded to everything and hung on every word that the fighters and promoters Richard Schaefer, Oscar De La Hoya and Leonard Ellerbe (making a homecoming to the city he grew up in) had to say.
The actual words spoken at the news conference were nothing new. There was nothing groundbreaking at all. In fact, it was the same old rehash any fight scribe has heard a million times, including almost word for word what was said the previous day in New York.
Yet, despite the rehash and clichés (yes, the fighters are in the best shape of their life and, yes, it’s going to be a great fight) this was a great news conference. That is because the crowd made it that way. Anyone who repeats the same tired nonsense that “boxing is dead” should have been there and seen for themselves that it is very much alive. It would be impossible not to be absolutely pumped for this fight after witnessing the sheer delight that the fans in D.C. showed.
Mayweather was loudly cheered (with a few boos), but what surprised me was the massive fan support that Alvarez also had from the crowd, which was dotted with Mexican flags and broke into cheers of “Canelo! Canelo! Canelo!”
The fighters went nose-to-nose for two terrific stare-downs, one when they were first introduced and walked onto the stage and then again at the end of the formal news conference. Both times, the fans were in delirium -- as though this were the actual fight, not just a promotional push more than two months away from the fight in which they were reminded often that nobody should worry if they couldn’t be in Las Vegas for the fight because they would just buy it on pay-per-view!
Mayweather seemed quite pleased when the crowd began an impromptu chant of his catch phrase, “Hard work! Dedication!” At one point during his cookie-cutter remarks, he stopped and got the crowd to start chanting it again. Audience participation at its finest.
Even when the formal part of the news conference was over after a fast-paced half hour, Mayweather, who seems to have a genuine appreciation for the fan support he has always had in Washington, stayed behind for about two hours – two hours! – to sign autographs for everyone who had waited to get one. You can be leisurely when you’re flying on a private plane to the next stop.
When Mayweather was finally done, undoubtedly leaving hundreds of fight fans thrilled to have had a chance to meet the world’s best fighter, he was off to the airport for the flight to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., for tour stop No. 3 on Wednesday morning with No. 4 in the afternoon in Chicago.
That means two more news conferences, more Mayweather-Alvarez stare-downs and more fans eating up every minute of it.
Mayweather and Alvarez know that there is a fight to sell, and, make no mistake, it’s a fight worth buying. So the tour rolls on. This is hard work, dedication.