There are at least two Atlantic Citys. The one on the boardwalk and the other one, the real one. The one with the lady in rags screaming and surrounded by cops at the bus station, with more gentlemen's clubs than gentlemen, with sidewalk to sidewalk flophouses and pawnshops and cash for gold. Money to loan. "Hotel Cassino." "Fortune Rooms." There's a vacant strip of sand and shadows between the boardwalk and reality, and what the 1960s, '70s and '80s and the bustouts and bankrupts like Donald Trump didn't carry away, the last hurricane did. Somehow Atlantic City hangs on.
We've come to see an antique attraction at an obsolete resort on an ancient ocean. To watch an old man cheat death in a dying sport that never dies in a dying town that never dies. Every one of us here to be briefly remade, transformed -- fans, gamblers, promoters, boxers, writers -- everyone here to become the hero of his or her own story.
Pesto chicken from Caesar's in the press room. Steamed green and yellow beans. Miniature pastries. Hopkins patty-cakes the trainer's mitts one last time. He weighs 172½ pounds. In January 2015, he will be 50 years old. Murat weighs 174. He is 18 years younger.
When the door opens at last, the crowd is a sound so wide and high it could only be coming from inside your own head.
Deep blue light bent to the ceilings, the hall is a vault at the bottom of the sea. The ring is blinding. The fight is the fight, like every fight before it, like no other fight ever. Hopkins enters in the mask and a black robe trimmed in extraterrestrial green. Naazim Richardson, his trainer, a man of great, scowling gravity, wears a matching neon kufi. Murat, all stubble and muscle and hammered cartilage, is a footnote in white satin and gold lamé.
Ringside are the swells and the media muscle, the lowercase rainmakers and their lifelike escorts, the guys who want to look like made guys but are not made guys. The lower stands are filled with tailored Hopkins fans in from Philly and folks who chose this over a night at Morton's and the IMAX. Everyone else, 6,000 of them, is in a $40 seat wearing Zubaz.
A fight from the floor or the seats isn't the same fight on TV. Television imposes sense, time, makes it linear. The unreal is made real by the edges of the screen. Coherence is a boundary. Seen live, unbordered, fights are misshapen, fragmentary. A Cubist portrait lit by a strobe, then gone. Don't look away, don't look up into the rafters or the lights, don't look at the back of her head, don't look down at that spilled beer, don't look at your notes, don't wander. Don't, don't, don't. You're missing it.
In the first, they clutch and grasp, swing and miss. They jab like children. They twerk and spin and Lindy. They tug and grunt and arm wrestle into the second. There are real punches, but more often Murat tangles himself around Hopkins just as Hopkins drapes himself over Murat. Coming off the breaks, they sweat and swear and whisper threats. When Murat takes Hopkins in a headlock, the champ steps away, pauses to reflect and then hits Murat's right kidney with crisp concision, as if sounding a barrel with a mallet. Murat looks around, maybe to see if anyone's watching, then pantomimes agony. Busiest man in the ring so far is Steve Smoger, the referee.