Las Vegas: ghost town
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2020 - 12:00am

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

* Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence”

The crowds. The gasps, the applause, oohs and aahs. The cheers and boos. That is the most palpable absence in the era of coronavirus. The atmosphere of competition, the give and take of energy between a crowd of lusty faithful and the athletes it has come to pay homage to. Instead, there is only deafening silence.

There is no place that has been hit harder by the absence of all sports activity than the gaming capital of the world, Las Vegas, Nevada. The city was established in May of 1905 with the sale of 110 acres (44.5 hectares) of desert land which became its downtown area and was later incorporated into Clark County. Vegas is home to the largest hotel casino chains on the planet, each with thousands of rooms and villas for guests. Each year, it earns billions upon billions of dollars, mostly on gambling, sports betting and spectacular shows, concerts and sporting events. Casinos fly in high rollers for boxing matches and other large-scale events which net them millions.

All that is now gone. Las Vegas is a ghost town.

“Everything is closed, except for a few establishments like groceries, but what you can buy is also limited,” reveals former IBF flyweight champion Rolando Bohol, a long-time Vegas resident. “Like water, you are only allowed to buy two cases of 24 bottles each.”

From 1984 to 1994, the cherubic Bohol was one of the most popular boxers in the world. On Jan. 16, 1988, Bohol defeated Chang Ho Choi in Manila to claim the world flyweight title. That same year, he headlined the boxing film “Kambal na Kamao” with former WBC super featherweight champion Rolando Navarrete. Always known for his cheerful  personality, Bohol relishes those memories.

“It was a great experience. It never entered my mind to be in a movie on the big screen like that,” Roland recalls. “It was like magic. When you’re a world champion, movie producers and TV stations interview you. I think it was at my first title defense at the Araneta Coliseum, and Rolando Navarrete was in the undercard. Carlo Caparas and Donna Villa of Golden Lion Films were watching at ringside. Both of us won our fights, and they came to me with the idea of making a movie with two Rolandos.”

In his next defense that October, he lost the belt by knockout to undefeated Duke McKenzie. Bohol retired in 1994 after two tough knockout losses to the fearsome Orlando Canizales and Johnny Tapia while fighting for the IBF world bantamweight crown. After retirement, he invested in property in Hawaii, preparing for the future of his four daughters. Roland later moved to Las Vegas, where he put up the very successful shopping website, which sells anything from apparel to jewelry to electronics.

Two weeks ago, Bohol had sent this writer video of the “new normal” as he drove around downtown Las Vegas. Streets were empty, hotels and casinos were closed. No tourist buses, costumed street hustlers or escorts. Most disorienting and unnerving of all, all the eye-popping lights of the Las Vegas strip had been turned off. No harsh, twinkling beacons beckoning to jaded gamblers and innocent tourists alike.

“Business is slow, but it affects everybody,” he continues. “Here, we’re getting help from the city government as well as the federal government. Let’s persevere. We will make it through this, kababayan.”

Two weeks prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Bohol had made a donation to the local government of Himamaylan, in Negros Occidental, where he was born. The two have partnered to build a boxing gym on a piece of property owned by the city, which proudly acknowledges his contribution to Philippine sports. He continued to give back, like a true champion.

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