LAS VEGAS — Two armed security guards trailed Dena duBoef as she entered the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino on Friday, April 24. They were headed for an area called the cage. They entered through a hidden door.
The room was small, about the size of an office, and duBoef, a vice president at Top Rank Boxing, sat down at a table about the size of a school desk. Time to work.
She had tickets to count. Tickets to Saturday’s Fight of the Century between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Tickets worth about $24 million.
This was "Ocean’s 11" for the boxing set. The ticket agreement had taken forever. It had taken longer, in fact, than for any fight duBoef can remember, and her family has been in the boxing business for more than 50 years. The split ended up like this: 40% of the tickets went to the MGM Grand, 30% went to Mayweather and Showtime and the final 30% went to Top Rank and Pacquiao.
duBoef laid out the seating chart in her office, the sections shaded different colors based on the ticket split. Blue for Mayweather. Red for Top Rank. White for MGM. But first, with everyone nervous about the tickets, she had to pick them up.
She sat down in the cage and began to count. She counted every … single … ticket. A camera followed and tracked her movements. The security guards, hired by Top Rank for about $60 an hour, stood near the back, along with two security guards from the MGM.
duBoef had given birth to a daughter, Caroline Hope Roth, in January. She was still in the hospital, still under anesthesia, when her phone rang. It looked like Pacquiao and Mayweather would finally meet after six years of disastrous negotiations. Would she mind handling the tickets?
It was a decision duBoef would come to mildly regret.
Back in the cage, she continued to count the tickets, as two assistants from Top Rank checked her math. She would say, Edward, for row E, 23, 24, 25, and so on. The process took about two hours. “The best is when I left,” duBoef said.
The tickets filled 19 total boxes, each roughly the size of a phone book and sealed with packing tape. As duBoef counted the tickets, MGM’s security guards put them into the boxes, and then the boxes into a suitcase. But the suitcase eventually filled, and that meant they had to place the rest of the boxes on a regular gold luggage rack.
They started to walk from the cage to the lobby, and the bodyguards, now four in total, pushed through the crowd. “Don’t touch. Don’t touch.” Casino revelers cast curious glances as duBoef and her assistants and her security moved through the lobby. Was it a Kardashian? A Real Housewife?
“Stay back. Stay back.”
“I think people thought it was money, chips or diamonds,” duBoef said. “Seriously.”
They made it to the lobby and outside and into an SUV with an engine already running. The suitcase filled with tickets was so heavy that duBoef said it took four men to lift it and place it in the trunk. Off they went.
Everyone kept asking about the tickets. And everyone included Bob Arum, duBoef’s stepfather and the founder of Top Rank. Arum is not known for his patience. Or his ability to keep a secret.
“Put them in a vault,” Arum told his stepdaughter.
“No,” she responded.
“What are you going to do with them?” he asked.
“I’m not telling,” she said.
She brought them to the office, to the second floor, where they were hidden and watched over by armed guards. They counted their allotment again. And for a third time.
“And of course, there’s the patience of Bob Arum,” duBoef said. “Come on! Come on! Come on!”
The ticket crew assembled on Saturday. They counted one more time. They counted in the conference room on the second floor. The doors to that floor were locked. Nobody was allowed in.
Once duBoef was assured that Top Rank had all its tickets, she sent an email to those lucky enough to secure one to tell them to pick the tickets up. Normally, she would send them via Federal Express. But not for this fight.
The email went out on Sunday. The tickets could be picked up on Monday or Tuesday at the office. By Wednesday, they would have to be picked up at the Mandalay Bay at the Top Rank Box Office. The security guards remained at the office. When someone came to pick up their allotment of gold tickets, those guards ushered them upstairs. Celebrities—duBoef didn’t name names—waited their turn, behind other celebrities and corporate partners and the like. No one was allowed to walk around by themselves.
By Wednesday, duBoef had only about 50 tickets left that hadn’t been assigned or picked up. They sat in her office, in Box 19, the final box. “Nothing,” she said, was like this. “Nothing ever, ever, ever. We’re the ones who get the headache. We’re the ones who get screamed at because we can’t produce. But we got it done.”
Bruce Trampler, Top Rank’s Hall of Fame matchmaker, can’t specifically answer the question. How many people have asked you for tickets? “Too many,” Trampler said. A friend from Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym called. Offered $50,000 per ticket. A longtime associate in Fresno, Calif., buzzed him, too. Wanted a block of tickets for a group he said included Quincy Pondexter and Victor Cruz. Then there was Richard Harding. Mid 50’s, Trampler thinks. Lives in Western Canada. According to Trampler, Harding was willing to drain his life savings for a ticket to the fight.
duBoef has similar stories. A sultan—duBoef declined to identify what country—asked for tickets. A hedge fund manager offered $5-6 million for a block of tickets before the fight was officially announced. One eager prospective buyer offered duBoef a job if she would accept his offer. The calls came so often duBoef eventually had to put a block on her phone.
Everyone seems to have these stories. Showtime’s waiting list includes Iggy Azalea, Usher and Nicki Minaj. Sting was on that list, too … until he went above Showtime and directly to CBS boss Leslie Moonves. Showtime’s block of tickets are held in the room of Stephen Espinoza, the network’s Executive Vice President. They are under 24-hour guard.
Both sides have been bombarded with requests. “Too many,” says Ricki Brazil, a longtime Mayweather friend. “I told [them], listen, you can come to Vegas, you can have a good time, but don’t even think about the fight. You want to watch it somewhere, that can be arranged. But going to the fight, don’t even think about it.”
Everyone pays for tickets, too. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, paid $62,500 for 20 tickets. Pacquiao has paid hundreds of thousands for more.
Tickets have been at the heart of the most publicized dispute between Top Rank and Mayweather Promotions. Tickets didn’t go on sale until nine days before the fight; Top Rank believed the MGM Grand, in consultation with Mayweather’s advisor, Al Haymon, was trying to siphon tickets. (Mayweather's camp denies the allegation.) Top Rank balked; the issue was only resolved when Moonves, who has mediated many disputes, again got involved. The seating chart was revised 17 times. With good reason: The live gate is expected to exceed $70 million, setting a new Nevada record.
The ticket fiasco did have a negative effect: The tightened window to sell tickets depressed demand. According to Forbes, ticket prices in the secondary marketplace are down more than 50% from last week. duBoef cited examples of casinos calling with tales of high rollers cancelling reservations because they could not be certain they could get tickets for the fight.
Maybe they will get it right next time. Or not. Bob Arum likened the prospect of a rematch to returning to prison after being released. When asked about going through this process again, duBoef was succinct.
“If there’s another match,” says duBoef, “I’m quitting.”
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