What's worse than leaving Las Vegas? Not going at all


August 13, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

I would like to be writing under a Las Vegas dateline, but - alas - while the World Series of Poker and the buildup to the abortive Hasim Rahman title defense were burning up the newswires, I was at home wondering how my life and career had come to such a disturbing crossroads.

Vegas is my town. Poker is my game. Boxing is my passion. So, what happens? The Sun sends columnist Rick Maese to cover both events, even though he's not old enough to gamble and (rumor has it) he's a pacifist.

I suppose I shouldn't complain. I was assigned to the Rahman-Klitschko title showdown last November and was so excited about it that I flew out there 10 days early, only to walk off the plane and find a message on my cell phone from former Sun sports editor Randy Harvey.

"Pete, this is Randy. Just wanted to let you know that the Rahman fight has been canceled, so there's no reason to go out there."

Talk about an empty feeling ... for him. I had a non-refundable ticket to return two weeks later, so I was forced to make do in Vegas and L.A. until my originally scheduled flight home.

Word apparently gets around. I wouldn't be surprised if Harvey left two envelopes for his highly able successor, Tim Wheatley - one containing a note saying something like, "Whatever you do, don't let Schmuck talk you into sending him to Vegas," and the other advising how to properly burp Maese when he gets cranky.

Frankly, I thought I would be playing in the World Series of Poker by now. I spent my formative years hanging around the legal poker clubs in Los Angeles, and even made the final table at one or two small Vegas tournaments. I dreamed of staring down Amarillo Slim from across the felt at Binions' and walking away with all the marbles.

Now, it's gotten so big that they don't even play for marbles anymore, and with nearly 9,000 entrants I might as well go down to M&T Bank Stadium and buy 10,000 scratch-off Maryland Lottery tickets. (Note to lottery officials: If you pay me, I'll end every future reference to the new stadium lottery kiosks with "Let Yourself Play!")

Still, it would be cool to sit there in my shades while hilarious poker analyst Norman Chad tells a cable television audience that he once invited me to a game at his home in Washington in the early 1990s. I don't remember who won, but the guy had me in stitches all night and then never asked me back, which means that I either took him for a bundle or showed up without the Tostitos.

Maese did an interesting piece Friday about watching the WSOP in Vegas ("World Series of Boredom") and I must agree that watching a Texas hold 'em tournament in person is a little like watching a sexy foreign film without the subtitles. You know something interesting is happening, but you're never quite sure why. It's better on TV because you get to see what everybody's holding.

It would have been great fun, however, to sit ringside for the Rahman fight last night, because there is nothing quite like the electric atmosphere of a heavyweight championship bout.

I've been to two of them. I was there the night then-46-year-old George Foreman shocked the world by knocking out Michael Moorer, and I sat one seat away from actress Lolita Davidovich, so it must have been a great fight if I remember it at all. I also was at the Mandalay Bay Hotel the night Lennox Lewis took the title back from Rahman with a shattering punch that still makes me queasy to think of it.

Last night's bout wasn't exactly "The Thrilla in Manila," but that's because the heavyweight division is so lacking in talent that I'm pretty sure our boxing guy Lem Satterfield would be no worse than the No. 5 contender. Has anybody seen Butterbean lately?

Rahman tried to hype the fight against Oleg Maskaev by casting himself as "America's Last Line of Defense," his point being that every one of the other 247 current world heavyweight champions is a foreigner. I guess that's an improvement over the second Lewis fight, when he intimated during a pre-fight press event that Lewis was gay, but it's almost impossible to get excited about the current crop of heavyweights.

"Rock" is from Baltimore, but the last time he fought (before last night, of course) I went to a local sports bar and asked if the establishment would be showing the fight. The bartender gave me a perplexed look and said, "What fight?"

It was a fair question.


"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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