An old man sitting on the wall outside the MGM Grand yesterday and smoking a cigarette regarded the protesters streaming by dubiously. “Hey, they say don’t hit women,” he said out loud to no one. “A woman hit me, I’m hittin her back!”

He cackled, and continued smoking his cigarette in the sun.

At noon yesterday, crowds began streaming into the MGM Grand to get their seats for the official weigh-in, the last big event before The Biggest Fight We Have Seen In Our Lifetime. At the same time, about four dozen protesters—moms with young kids, Mexican working men, young women, all types—made their way out front of the MGM Grand carrying hand-lettered signs to protest the fact that Floyd Mayweather, this weekend’s biggest attraction, beats up women. “Don’t hit women! Keep it in the ring!” they chanted as they trudged down Tropicana Avenue in the oppressive heat.

“Haters,” muttered a tween girl passing by in the opposite direction.

The crowd of protesters, thrusting their “Why should we root for a monster?” signs in the air, passed knot after knot of 20-something bros in swimsuits carrying beers. The bros walked past in silence. Eventually, the group settled on the sidewalk to the south of the MGM’s lobby, directly across the street from the Hooters Hotel & Casino. “Put up your dukes! Stop the abuse!” they yelled at passing cars, as the wide-eyed Hooters owl looked down on them with an unblinking stare.

Some TV cameras showed up to the protest, but they were of the general news variety. All the sports reporters were inside at the weigh-in. At one point a group of four guys climbed out of an SUV just down the sidewalk, one of them wearing a “TBE” t-shirt proclaiming Mayweather The Best Ever. “The champ is here!” he screamed at the protesters, making the sign of a championship belt around his waist. “The champ is here!”

The protesters should have marched right into the MGM Grand’s lobby and made security throw them out. Good publicity. They also would have had the opportunity to gaze upon the MGM’s lobby the day before The Big Fight, which was one of the most truly remarkable clusterfucks I have had the privilege of laying eyes on. If Floyd Mayweather is your enemy, then here is where you face his army. From the front desk to the full sized blue and red promotional boxing ring to the OFFICIAL fight merchandise store to the casino entrance, the entire garish marble rotunda was a mass of TMT shirts and TMT hats and groups of muscled young men with their hands on the small of the back of women teetering precariously in heels, and all of them were posing for selfies. Anyone who was in any way associated with Floyd Mayweather or a fan of Floyd Mayweather or just an aspiring world-class egomaniac had descended upon this spot on earth at this moment to commune with the gods of self-expression. One man who appeared to be in his fifties leaned against a slot machine as conspicuously as possible, peering at everyone who passed through dark black shades. He was wearing a black TMT t-shirt and a lanyard around his neck held a credential that read “Mayweather-Canelo VIP.” That credential would be nineteen months old. But there’s no reason to squander a perfectly good way to advertise that one was once a VIP.

By Friday, all along the Vegas strip, there was a noticeable uptick in the sort of giddy energy and repulsive dirtbag glamour that one associates with big fights. Dudes shadowboxed in the mirror at the hotel gym. A short man weaved through the crowd at the MGM flashing diamond rings for sale out of his palm. Even the shit hole Excalibur, where I am staying, has filled up with a crowd that is markedly younger and more hyper than usual. A Caesars Palace-level crowd, at least. That means Caesars has filled up with a Cosmpolitan-level crowd, and the glamour at the Cosmopolitan by now must be staggering. (In fact, the most glamorous group at the Cosmopolitan last night was the cadre of young female dealers in identical tight black dresses with semicircles cut out on the front, perfectly framing their identical cleavage. They all looked bored. If this is all that beauty gets you in life, it’s a raw deal.)

The Tropicana, directly across from the MGM Grand, is doing its part to balance the scales of fandom by turning its entire front lawn into a grand Manny Pacquiao ad, sponsored by Nike. There is a boxing ring lined with Manny pictures, and all the hedges have been lined with enormous black banners emblazoned with slogans like “You said you couldn’t lead your people with your first and your heart,” and “They said you couldn’t make history. Do what they say you can’t.” Followed by a three-foot-long Nike swoosh. The mawkishness levels are off the charts. Nike may find that boxing, a sport of death and pain, does not mix well with this sort of can-do cheerleading in the long run. For now, though, the Pacquiao fans are the most enthusiastic people in town. “Ayyyyy, that nigga Manny Pacquiao walked right past us!” one guy fresh in from Cali said into his cell phone as he strode down the sidewalk. “Hell yeah! He’s hella short.”

As night fell, portions of the Vegas strip proceeded to become more and more like Freaknik. The two blocks between Planet Hollywood and FatBurger grew thick with crews of roving drunk dudes and hoochies, shouting and bumping and laughing and stumbling. The daytime version of Vegas tourists began to flee. A few lone pear-shaped white mom types appeared to be hustling back to their hotels as fast as possible. At a bus stop, a drunk girl attempted to throw a bottle into a metal trash can from ten feet away; she missed, the bottle shattering all over a woman waiting for the bus, who looked traumatized.

Two women who make a living by covering themselves in an outfit made only of body paint and posing for pictures drew a crowd of drunk guys so thick and trembling that I feared for their safety, though they didn’t seem bothered in the least. It all had the atmosphere of a happy party that could slide into unbridled chaos at any moment. In 1996, Tupac was shot to death a few blocks away from here after a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM. The Vegas strip on fight weekend remains a properly cinematic place to get killed to this day. Still, no level of barely-restrained anarchy can alter the street’s fundamental hustle. A smiling man with dreads still played the steel drums on the sidewalk; a man in zombie makeup still crawled out of a planter in search of tips.

In just a few hours, fans will begin entering the MGM Grand Garden Arena for the first fights. A few hours after that, the pay-per-view will begin live on Showtime and HBO. I do not have a press pass to get into the arena. Nor do I have a press pass for the big warehouse where the lesser reporters will be stuck watching the fight on TV. Nor was I fast enough to purchase a ticket for a viewing party at any of the ten MGM resort properties on the Vegas strip, which have the exclusive rights to showing the fight. They all sold out by yesterday. I was reduced to paying a scalper $200 for a ticket to watch the fight broadcast right here at the beautiful Excalibur, amid the fake King Arthur’s Court furnishings. I think it’s what Tupac would have wanted.

If you like, you can read an encyclopedia’s worth of prefight saturation coverage about Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. You can read about their upbringings, and their families, and their trainers, and their mild trash talk. You can read the good vs. evil narratives, and the think pieces about What This Fight Represents. But the reality is that this fight represents one thing above all else: two of the best guys, fighting. It is that that has produced the whole shit show in which I now sit. Here is a secret for you about boxers: the most interesting thing about them is their boxing. Everything else is just colorful wrapping paper. Some boxers are colorful and some boxers are boring and some boxers are Christian philanthropists and some boxers are loathsome woman-beaters. The same is true for all groups of people. None of that is capable of creating the frenzy that is The Big Fight. Muhammad Ali has had dozens of hagiographies written about him and is considered a political hero; none of that would have happened had he not been able to fight. Mike Tyson is an object of public fascination to this day; had he not been able to fight, he would have been just another poor man in Brooklyn.

You do not have to like these men who are fighting tonight. You do not have to enjoy this thoroughly ridiculous social spectacle that has descended upon this crass and artificial city in the desert. You do not have to like boxing itself. But you should know that what drives all of this, at its core, is the expectation of the highest expression of a certain elemental human activity. A fight. It can be beautiful, if you let it. Enjoy it. Tomorrow, this will all be gone.

[Image via AP]