Russ Anber’s Las Vegas Diary: Boxing’s finest pool players

As Russ Anber sits and waits in the Top Rank Bubble for Lomachenko vs Lopez, he reflects on the pool playing skills of Roy Jones, Abel Sanchez and Liam Smith, as well as his favourite places to eat in Las Vegas…

Since the late 80s, early 90s, whenever I travel, I always take my pool or snooker cue with me and find the time to hunt down pool halls and snooker clubs around the world. I have played in EVERY country I have ever visited and have seen some amazing rooms. Normally, the idea of travelling somewhere without my cue would be unthinkable.

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has put an end to that. I’m in Las Vegas right now for Lomachenko vs Lopez and I’m travelling to the UK for Usyk vs Chisora later this month and, with the current restrictions and need for caution, I won’t be frequenting any pools halls or snooker clubs for either trip.

Usually, when I’m in Vegas, I love hanging out at the pool halls with some of the best pro players in the country, including highly ranked Max Eberle. I play American pool when I’m here rather than snooker. There’s one pool hall in Vegas that has a snooker table, but it’s not in the greatest condition. Good Timez Billiards on West Charleston Boulevard used to have a snooker table, but snooker takes up twice the real estate a pool table does and not a lot of people play on them in the US. I never expect to be able to play snooker when I come to America.

The beauty of jumping on an American pool table after playing snooker for a while is that it really makes me feel like a good player! At snooker, I’m less than average and could never play against a pro. At pool I can. I’m not going to win matches against them but I can give them good sparring if you know what I mean!

I love cue sports and a favourite Vegas memory is when I went out to play with Roy Jones when I was in Las Vegas as part of Jean Pascal’s training camp back ahead of his January 2014 showdown with Lucian Bute. That’s when I first discovered that Roy could play pool. And boy you should have seen the reaction of the guys in the pool hall when I walked in with Roy Jones! It made it difficult to play because everyone wanted photos with Roy and kept interrupting us – once he was recognised it was a free for all!

Another of my favourite pool memories from Vegas is playing against Abel Sanchez, who loves pool and snooker. Whenever Abel and I are in the same town we will call each other up and set up a game. This one time in Vegas we were out one night and I was really running hot. We were playing winner breaks and Abel just had to keep racking the balls for me because I kept winning. Casually, I remember saying to him: ‘Abel, you better not commit a crime here in Vegas!” “Why?” he said. I answered “because your fingerprints are all over that rack’. He was racking them up for me all night!

I’ve never played Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Sr, who I hear are good players, especially Manny. He regularly plays with some of the best Filipino players in the world, but from the boxing world Roy, Abel and Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith are the best I have ever played. In fact, Beefy might well be the best player of the three although we’d need to have a tournament to be sure. They’re all pretty well matched. Having said that, I think I’ve got more wins than losses against each one of them so I’d have to be the number one seed, of course!

Liam Smith: Tough on the baize and inside the ropes.

Away from the pool hall, another of my favourite things to do in Vegas is go out and eat with friends. As far as restaurants go, there’s a great place close to the Rival offices called Kebob. They serve all kinds of Middle Eastern food. As a matter of fact, I ate there with Deontay Wilder and the entire team in 2015 ahead of his fight against Bermane Stiverne in which he won the WBC title. Upon arrival in Vegas for fight week, Deontay was hungry so I took us all and we had kebabs – a few days later he became world heavyweight champion.

Another of my favourite places in town is called Naked City Pizza. Owned by amateur fighter Michael Palmeri, Naked City is a dive bar type place where you would never expect the food to be of such high quality. One time I was out with some of the Top Rank guys like Brad Goodman and so on and I said: ‘Hey guys, if you want to eat pizza,come with me’.

When they walked in I could see from the look on their faces that they were thinking: ‘Where the hell has Russ brought us? This place is serving pizza but is also a tattoo parlour and a dive bar at the same time? It’s crazy!’
But the pizza arrived and they loved it! Check it out next time you’re in town!

Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.

Russ is the founder/ CEO of Rival Boxing, as well as a highly respected trainer (of both pros and amateurs), a gym owner, a cut-man, an entrepreneur, a broadcaster and one of the best hand wrappers in the boxing business. Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev and Callum Smith are among the many top boxers Russ currently works with.