In the second of a regular series of October diaries from Las Vegas, Russ Anber recalls his first impressions of boxing’s fight capital (aka ‘Sin City’) and how he grew to appreciate its charm beyond the gaudy lights of the Strip.

I’ve had a ‘love-hate’ relationship with Las Vegas over the years. You might even say it’s a ‘hate-love’ relationship because I hated the city before I fell in love with it.

Coming up in the boxing trade, I always fantasised about working in Vegas. Every kid who gets into boxing has that dream – the dream of being part of a big fight amid the bright lights of the Strip. So much hype surrounds the city, so much history.

When I started coming down here during Otis Grant’s rise to becoming world champion my expectations were sky high. So you can imagine my disappointment when I got here and it turned out that my experiences of the city really took the wind out of my sails in terms of my enthusiasm for Las Vegas.

It really wasn’t what I expected. Everything felt so impersonal, plastic and inauthentic. We got picked up from the airport, dropped off at the hotel, given our food coupons for the buffet where we had to stand in line for 20 minutes, we had to walk right across the congested casino floor to even get to our elevator and what not. And all the time there’s bells ringing on the machines and crowds of people everywhere.

In the lead-up to a fight I would feel like we were prisoners in our hotel, with no chance of escape and our transportation at the mercy of the promoter. I really didn’t enjoy Vegas – and it didn’t help when Otis got stiffed on the scorecards against Lonnie Bradley at the Aladdin in March 1997.

As far as I was concerned, in Vegas no one seemed to care about anyone else or anything else apart from the dollar sign – you’d come in, you’d go out, and that was it. Here today, gone tomorrow, nobody missed you, nobody cared.  I hated that feeling and I always couldn’t wait to get away from the place.

My love affair with Vegas eventually began when Jean Pascal set up his training camp here ahead of his showdown with Lucian Bute in January 2014. We all thought Jean was crazy to come and train here.

‘You don’t go to Vegas to train!’ we said to him. ‘Vegas is a town you go on vacation or to gamble. What’s wrong with you?’

But Jean being Jean, he rented a five bedroom house for the entire team and everyone arrived in Vegas the day before me. When he got to Vegas trainer Marc Ramsay called me and said: ‘Russ you should see the house we’ve got! You have your own room downstairs with your own washroom. It’s such a big house!’

Well, I didn’t even know a residential area existed in Vegas. I thought Vegas was just the Strip. And, from then on, I fell in love with it. I discovered a whole new Vegas you don’t see in the movies or in the guidebooks – a Vegas of beautiful homes and local restaurants, local shops and so on.

What sealed the deal for me was that right near the house there was a billiard supply company with all sorts of tables and cues. Marc had spotted it and, when I arrived, he took us there. As we left, I noticed the store next door was vacant and contained about 5,000 square feet.

I remember cupping my hands on the plate glass window to have a look inside and thinking it would be really cool if I opened a Rival store right there in those premises and, about 18 months to the day later, that’s exactly what we did. We’ve been there for six years now and have expanded to 10,000 square feet. The billiards store is still open, too!

Once I’d discovered Vegas away from the Strip that’s when I really fell I love with this great city and the love affair endures – I cheer for their hockey team, I always love being here for the big fights and this Saturday will see another of those big fight nights when my man Vasiliy Lomachenko takes on Teofimo Lopez.

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.

Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.