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Naoya Inoue: The Scent of Absence

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This was supposed to be fight week in Vegas – the pomp-and-circumstance prelude to bantamweight champ Naoya Inoue’s Saturday night debut on the Strip.

Somewhat removed from the fight scene of late, I was nevertheless curious to see how the undefeated Inoue would do – not so much against his opponent but opposite his explosive past self. 

To what degree would the scar tissue above his right eye from his late cut compromise his dynamism? Would he ply a more defensively-oriented, traditional trade – perhaps unwittingly? Might that scar tissue come clean off with the first blow thereupon landed – rendering him half-blind?

This photo, taken by a member of Inoue’s inner circle March 29 (and magnified by me), reveals the extent (and therefore, the inherent danger) of the scar over his right eyelid.

Of course, I won’t be getting answers to any of these prizefighting puzzles at present. The bout, scheduled to take place at the Mandalay Bay, was long ago cancelled, the Strip itself shut down (to the great consternation of bigshot hoteliers, whose billionaire status hasn’t kept them from discussing the pandemic as if they were in the same socioeconomic class as their income-dependent employees).

That said, as the Mandalay Bay is owned by MGM, I do have a very minor substitute for our communal descension on McCarren – our gathering at the lion-adorned lobby of the latter hotel for a week of pressers and punching.

A perfume. 

More specifically, MGM Grand for Him, an Italian fragrance made in Italy under license by a company called Vapro International, which also holds cosmetics licenses for the name “Corvette” and designer Bill Blass. Oh, and Mandalay Bay – only I found that out slightly too late in the game.

If I were to order Vapro’s so-called “Mandalay Bay Blue” now, it might not arrive before Non-existent Fight Night. And anyway, the parent’s company flimsy, garish, leonine lagniappe is more visually pleasing –its tackiness utterly in keeping with Vegas’s too obvious, all-brass-everything, strumpet-trumpet style.

So you wanna know what Vegas, thusly packaged, smells like? Does it have the ashy, alcoholic scent of a 3 am poker player who just can’t quit? If you inhale deeply enough, can you divine individual notes – that’s the carpet grime from Circus Circus, that watery element seems Bellagio fountain-derived?

Most pertinent to our sports-starved state: Does the perfume evoke pugs past and present – is there an olfactory equivalent to Pacquiao, Mayweather or Chavez Sr.? Are there inkling of Inoue?

I’m afraid not – unless, unbeknownst to fans, those boxers spend a great deal of time soaking in baths topped with petals – for this is a very floral frag, from the jump. But that only makes it all the more ballsy, laudatory.

These flowers serve not unlike Conor McGregor’s fur coat – announcing their wearer to be such a bad dude, so unassailably tough, he can get away with florid peacocking without fear of being teased. And not just get away, of course, but thrive in the circumstance — make the finery work for him instead of vice-versa.

What bearing does that have on our current closed-down culture – on the seclusion that keeps us safe but denies us public strutting? Even fashion can be seen via Zoom chat or Instagram pic. But there’s no way to transfer a scent digitally (though, fun news: there might be, at some point, if the public clamors for it; the aromatic equivalent of 3D printing at home is tech-feasible; the question remains whether secretive perfumers will ever share their formulae so proprietary fine scents can be shared – and I’d understand the reluctance, given the way this model mirrors Napster’s music-revenue-erasing peer-to-peer platform at the turn of the Millennium).

I think the message is a simple one – one you’ve no doubt made at the dinner table yourself of late. We humans, being a social species, are so dependent on each other – the furthest thing from islands. No fighter can advance his career without opponents. No writer can cover a bout without boxers to participate. No chintzy MGM Grand cologne can smell surprisingly sophisticated to those standing nearby without bystanders there in the first place.

And whereas this all would’ve seemed ludicrously self-evident just months ago – almost tautological – it now feels profound – and, to be honest, a bit difficult for me to delineate without feeling momentarily lonely.  

But this is where I take another huff of MGM for Men and reconsider its implications (you must reapply every few minutes anyway – the juice has a shorter duration than a high schooler’s sexcapade). This is where the stuff lifts my spirits, provides wondrous relief – and not merely via its pleasant odeur

Because if the plastic lion is a testament to anything, it’s our ability to transcend harsh natural phenomena in time. Las Vegas was a fucking desert before the mob made it a tourist trap. It shouldn’t exist. The whole thing is a product of human imagination, of near-unrivaled chutzpah (I use “near,” so Sheldon Adelson doesn’t have a conniption and rant about the number of slots in Macau, as he sits alone in a giant room somewhere far from germ-carrying others).

Wembley, the O2, the Garden – these are all great fight venues (and feel free to add the Copper Box or Barclays, if you wish). But none of them emerged from barren fields. None decided it’d be tasteful to replicate New York City – and a single pyramid – on a smaller scale.

Is Vegas a trashy carnival, suspiciously-filled even now with drunker Britishers singing “there’s only one Ricky Hatton”? Yes. Having spent countless weekends there, I can affirm it boasts all of that and things far, far worse (holy hell, that coagulated room service pizza cheese, smh).

But that’s the unique beauty of Vegas – Its charm – and I don’t say this facetiously: Because it’s a caricature of itself, its commercial slogans about secretive local sinning the very opposite of surreptitious, it manages to surprise you now and again with brief periods of purity. A beauty not yet corrupted.

This is a point implicitly made by that penultimate “Ocean’s 11” scene in front of the Bellagio fountains, set to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Amidst highly-calculated, rapid-fire robbery, a quiet moment of rapture:

I have a few personal Vegas tales of wonder – none entirely free of seediness (though if I had been healthier, I would have ravaged the town Maurice Roucel-style). And for me, the best part has always been leaving, and not because of the famous gonzo book title and a personal desire to play Hunter in my professional life.

No, I always felt a renewed sense of capability upon exiting – like if I could make out of there, I could escape anywhere. No honeypots or entrapments would nab this cold soul.

Best departure ever: My uncle, who’d served as my photographer for the piece I was writing on the fight, piled our stuff into a convertible moments after the Saturday night proceedings ended and hightailed us out. I can’t recall what we spoke about during the gorgeous drive west to his house in LA through the early morning. But the content was less important than the sense of closeness I’ll never forget feeling. My dad’s bro and I.

_________________

As my ownership of MGM for Men suggests, I know a great deal more about dimestore boudoir bottles (and boxing) than bats, bereavement and bankruptcy. But in a bleak time, I do think it’s worth recalling that MGM Resorts was once part of the same company as the film studio, whose motto from time immemorial has been ars gratia artis – art for its own sake.

That’s the secret to Vegas, in fact: doing things because they seem intrinsically valuable and worthwhile – not because they promise you riches and sex (both wonderful things but neither supplied at the rate Vegas would have you believe). 

This is why perfume-inhalation is the perfect riposte to a festive fight week cancelled – it’s a reminder: While many in the business want to make money off Naoya Inoue’s quicksilver KOs, we happy observers – journalists included – are here for the athletic artistry inherent in the work. For the ephemeral flashes of beauty sudden and rare.

If fight folks want to make a buck, I hardly hold it against ‘em, boxers most especially. But that which depends on money is firstly imperiled in a bad economy. What we do for beauty alone – out of primal attraction, atavism – may run into some short-term trouble – but as it’s an extension of who we are, born of basic human urges, it will inevitably return.

I keep hearing folks say, The world will never be the same. But that’s actually true, one day to the next, throughout life. More to the point – no matter how the world is affected, we’ll still be its very human occupants when all this ends. And were he or she given a slight bit of education in the game, I can’t imagine any human would be unmoved by Inoue’s maneuvers, insensate to the lure of his strikes.

Societies have worn perfume since ancient times. Truth is beauty, beauty truth.

 

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