Everyone knows where the center of the sports universe will be Saturday.
Although the Kentucky Derby and the later rounds of the NFL draft are that day, both are getting trumped this year by a boxing match that’s been called “the Fight of the Century,” the expensive, superhyped, long-awaited and expensive match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
And where there’s a Fight of the Century, there’s traffic.
On Tuesday, the Nevada Department of Transportation issued a traffic warning from 9 a.m. today, Friday, through Sunday at noon due to the fight expecting to bring between 150,000 to 200,000 visitors to Las Vegas.
“We’re expecting heavy traffic delays through the Resort Corridor during fight weekend,” said NDOT spokesman Tony Illia. “We advise taking alternate routes, if possible. However, if travel through the Resort Corridor is unavoidable then please plan accordingly and allow additional drive time.”
You have to sympathize a little with MGM Resorts International. Not only is the company going to have to go out and buy a new fleet of vehicles to haul all that money to the bank, but it will have to walk the fine line of being welcoming, accommodating hosts to the biggest sporting event in decades while telling people who want to get a sniff of fight night ambiance that the MGM Grand is not the place to be Saturday unless you have a ticket to get inside the arena.
I called and asked MGM officials about traffic concerns and the message to those hoping to catch a glimpse of the celebrities attending the fight is, “Stay away.”
If you want to watch the fight, stay away. If you think you’re going to see a celebrity, stay away. If you want to take Aunt Millie and Uncle Fred for a drive on the Strip, stay away.
From Saturday afternoon to 10 p.m., you won’t want to be anywhere near Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue lest your vehicle be swallowed by the giant vortex of traffic.
“There’s going to be extreme traffic all around the MGM Grand Garden all week,” a company spokeswoman said.
The fighters arrive Tuesday so there will be a swarm at 1:30 p.m.
The doors to the arena open at noon on Friday for the official weigh-in, an event that observers are going to have to pay to get in for the first time (it goes to charity at least). And then, the big event Saturday. The undercard starts at 6 p.m., which is why traffic jams will be an all-day occurrence.
As for celebrity sightings, those inside the arena will see the glitterati. But there are no red-carpet entrances planned. The people who can afford the $1,500 to $7,500 ticket prices also will have the juice to get in through private entrances and they will.
I know that there will be hundreds, perhaps thousands who won’t heed these pleas and will show up anyway. Just be forewarned that MGM security officials will be watching for loiterers, especially in high-traffic areas like the front lobby.
“If you have a reason to be there, you’re welcome,” the spokeswoman said. “If you have a ticket inside or are a guest at the hotel or have dinner reservations at one of the restaurants, you’re welcome.”
If you don’t, stay away.
If you’re wanting to see the fight in a charged atmosphere, look into some of the venues where closed-circuit television feeds are planned — Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, Aria, Bellagio and The Mirage. Tickets are $150 each. By now, they might be sold out or close to selling out.
For those who do have reason to be at the MGM, consider parking along the Las Vegas Monorail route and commuting in. Monorail officials noted that some of the properties along the route — Bally’s, Harrah’s, the Linq and SLS — would appreciate some pre-fight patronage.
The Las Vegas Convention Center isn’t an option to park and ride because the parking lot will be closed for a trade-show move-in. Our tourism economy will benefit greatly from the Fight of the Century and, thankfully, this isn’t the type of event that occurs often.
Until Pacquiao-Mayweather II.
Pahrump Valley Times editor Arnold M. Knightly contributed to this report.