Manny Pacquiao buoyantly marched into the arena. He raised a gloved fist in acknowledgment of the crowd, which included actors Jack Nicholson and Jake Gyllenhall, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, and rapper 50 Cent. As the music died down, the faithful started up chants of “Manny! Manny! Manny!”
Then everyone waited for the real champion.
A red-hatted rapper heralded the arrival of Timothy Bradley: “And for the record I never lost,” intoned Fashawn. The song — pitched as an anthem for Bradley, the World Boxing Organization’s reigning welterweight titlist — was titled “Champion.”
The silence that greeted the end of the song was the sound of skepticism. By the time Bradley stepped into the ring, a cascade of boos rained down on him.
Bradley defiantly raised his dark green gloves to the roof and basked in the ridicule. He was the champion and owned the title belt, even if few people wanted to accept it. In June 2012, he had won it from the man in the other corner: Pacquiao (pronounced Pack-EE-ow), the only fighter in the sport’s history to win world titles in eight divisions and a heavy favorite according to Las Vegas sports books.
This was a rematch of that fight, and most of the spectators wanted vindication — for Pacquiao, sure, but also against the judges whom they felt had robbed their man of the title: Duane Ford and one of the only women ever to serve in that role, Cynthia Jo “CJ” Ross. It was their scorecards that clinched a split decision victory, and thus the title belt, for Bradley.
Almost no one agreed with them. Harold Lederman, HBO’s erstwhile — and rarely uncertain — on-camera judge, scored that fight 119-109 for Pacquiao. That sounds close, but in boxing’s scoring system it means he thought Manny won 11 of 12 rounds. “Pacquiao beat the shit out of him,” Lederman later told BuzzFeed.
CompuBox, which tallies the number of punches thrown and landed, showed an even more lopsided score: Pacquiao landed 253 of 751 punches (34%) while Bradley connected on 111 of 839 punches (13%).
Even the new champ had seemed confused: “I’ll have to look at the tape to see if I won,” Bradley said in a post-fight interview.
What resulted was public outrage, most of it focused on Ford and Ross. “I’ve never been as ashamed of the sport of boxing as I am tonight,” said promoter Bob Arum, who got his start in the business nearly 50 years ago. “These people don’t know how to score, they really don’t. What the hell were these people watching?” The WBO soon assembled a panel to review the fight, and it too decided Pacquiao had prevailed by a wide margin.
Pacquiao decided not to file a protest, and Bradley retained the title belt. Ford, who maintained Bradley had given Pacquiao “a boxing lesson,” was subsequently named president of the North American Boxing Federation (NABF).
And Ross? She returned to the ringside: She judged 37 more fights over the next 15 months, 10 of them with a championship at stake, and all but three of them on the Vegas Strip.
Ross might have kept her reputation and career intact if not for an assignment last fall: a championship bout between Floyd “Money” Mayweather — boxing’s biggest draw and the highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes magazine — and undefeated challenger Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on Sept. 14, 2013.
Her scorecard would diverge even more sharply from the other judges and boxing insiders. In a fight virtually everyone else thought Mayweather won decisively, Ross scored it a draw.
This time, she was entirely on her own. And the vitriol unleashed against her was surprising even for boxing, where judging controversies are as common as concussions.
ESPN analyst and longtime boxing trainer Teddy Atlas made perhaps the most damning remarks during a post-fight rant on SportsCenter: “That criminal, that corrupt … incompetent, whatever you want to call her,” he said. “This is the second time she’s done this.”
It would be her last fight. Two days later, Ross sent an email to the Nevada Athletic Commission saying she planned to step away from the sport she had judged for more than 30 years. “I will be taking some time off from boxing but will keep in touch,” Ross wrote.
If she was hoping for redemption last month in the Pacquiao-Bradley rematch, she didn’t get it. Pacquiao won — unanimously.
This is a story about how a thrice-divorced, 65-year-old grandmother made her way into that ringside seat, perched on the edge for the best view, her eyes straight ahead.
This very ordinary woman has led an extraordinary life. With no particular expertise or network, Ross worked her way up from the very bottom rungs of the sport to its glamorous pinnacle. In an ultra-macho sport, this woman helped control the fates of some of the wealthiest athletes in the world.
And then she fell, fast and hard.
“I’m not sure where I stand with boxing at the moment,” she said recently while sitting in her living room, where many of her belongings were already packed and awaiting a move to Dayton, Ohio.
“I think they wanted to take me out of the limelight.”
“They” is the Nevada Athletic Commission, which regulates unarmed combat sports — including amateur and professional boxing — within the state. Among its duties is licensing and assigning judges. Ross’ offer to take time off was clearly an effort to beat the commission to the punch; she hasn’t yet submitted an application to be licensed again and it’s doubtful it would be approved, given her notoriety.
The conventional wisdom is: Good riddance. She rose above her competence and made terrible decisions.
The reality is far more complex. The venom she suffered was unusually intense and contained an element of sexism, as hard to pin down as it is to dismiss. But there is something more fundamental, something that exposes a secret about boxing: Except in the most lopsided of fights, it’s often hard to tell who won. And in at least one of the fights that brought her down, C.J. Ross might well have gotten it right.
Ross didn’t think much of “The Great White Hope” and wasn’t afraid to tell her friends so.
It was June 1982, and Ross and her third husband Melvin Ross were watching a heavyweight title fight between champion Larry Holmes and undefeated challenger Gerry Cooney at the Caesar’s Palace Hotel & Casino in Lake Tahoe. Her husband hosted a fight party at the casino, which was about 30 miles from their home in Gardnerville, Nevada.
This was before pay-per-view became the standard viewing option in boxing. Instead, people would pay a cover charge to watch big fights at a movie theater, community center, or gymnasium.
The hype that preceded this bout was stoked by racial tension: There hadn’t been a white world heavyweight champion in 22 years, and many white boxing fans looked to Cooney to reclaim the title. Cooney studiously avoided questions about race, but members of Cooney’s camp wore shirts that read “Not the White Man, but the Right Man.”
Cooney was the huge favorite among boxing fans in Gardnerville, the Ross’ hometown of about 3,000 where 90% of the population was white. It also once had a reputation for being a “sundown town,” a place where people of color had to be out of town by nightfall.
But as the fight unfolded, the 5-foot-tall, blue-eyed blonde wasn’t swayed by the bias of her friends. “They were all cheering for Cooney and making noise every time he landed a punch. But I didn’t see it.” In that room of mostly men, she looked especially smart in the 13th round, when Cooney’s trainer threw in the towel as his fighter reeled under Holmes’ blows.
By the night of the Holmes-Cooney fight, Ross had lived in Gardnerville for about two years. She moved there from San Diego with her 3-year-old son Kristopher, looking for work in draft and design after divorcing her second husband. Fifteen-year-old daughter Denise stayed in California with her father, Ross’ first husband.
Ross often attended Gardnerville’s annual Cow Pasture Boxing Festival, which ran from 1973-1991 and was held outdoors behind an old hotel.The last three fight cards were broadcast on an emerging all-sports cable power called ESPN.
She also met Melvin, who worked as head of security at the former Caesar’s Palace casino in Reno (now Harrah’s Reno). On the nights when he’d work fights at the casino, Ross would tag along and help him issue credentials to boxing officials and media members. It was there that she saw upcoming stars like Evander Holyfield, Tommy Morrison, and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.
“It wasn’t that I was a fan of any particular boxer,” Ross said. “I was curious about what judges looked at and what made them decide who was winning a fight. Because visually, I could see things a little differently.”
Soon enough, because boxing is in perpetual need of officials to work fights around the country — especially in less-traveled locales like northern Nevada — Ross was recruited into the tight-knit fraternity of boxing officials. Yes, fraternity.
At the highest levels of professional boxing, women are rarely in any positions of influence or power. There are no licensed female promoters in Nevada, none who run the major boxing organizations that award titles and rank fighters, and only one (Pat Lundvall, a partner in a Las Vegas-based law firm) sits on the five-member Nevada State Athletic Commission.
The numbers aren’t much better among the ranks of referees or judges, though things have certainly come a long way since October 1984. It was then when the chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission announced plans to name three female judges to the “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler-Mustafa Hamsho middleweight championship bout at Madison Square Garden. One of Hagler’s handlers complained that “it’s a man’s game” and “there’s going to be a lot of blood and I don’t want the three judges throwing up.” Only Eva Shain, the first woman to serve as a judge at a heavyweight championship match, ended up working the fight.
Nearly 30 years later, it remains very much a man’s world: BoxRec.com, an online wiki-based boxing encyclopedia, counts only 12 women, Ross included, among its list of 473 current and former judges.
Women are most conspicuous in the sport as objects of the male gaze. From press conferences to photo events arranged by beer companies to breaks in between rounds, teams of scantily clad models move among crowds in halter tops and hot pants.
“Eye candy” is what Caitlin O’Connor, a 24-year-old from West Hollywood, calls herself and the legions of other models who work boxing events. In one of her more awkward assignments, O’Connor was told to stand behind Arum during the post-fight press conference for the Pacquiao-Bradley rematch. She was there mostly to smile and occasionally whisper questions from the press corps into the left ear of the hard-of-hearing 82-year-old promoter. “They wanted girls behind Bob so people would listen. I guess I was the girl to draw attention with my red hair.”
There is no easy way into one of the three judges’ seats at a prizefight. Anyone interested must start first with Nevada’s amateur boxing program, which is run by the Barry family from a sooty white-block building in a warehouse district in the shadow of the Strip. There, surprisingly, women do hold sway.
The head of the program is Dawn Sanchez. She’s married to Augie “Kid Vegas” Sanchez, who handed Mayweather one of his last defeats in the ring, as an amateur. She’s also the only child of a pair of Las Vegas police officers who turned their love of boxing into a family-owned business.
The pugilistic partnership got its start in the late 1970s, when her father Pat Barry was a middling prizefighter from New York in need of a manager. Her mother, Dawn Barry, figured she couldn’t do much worse than his current agent. Then — much more than today — boxing wasn’t particularly welcoming of female intrusion. But over the years, Dawn Barry and Dawn Sanchez started teaching the sport to men.
Dawn Sanchez makes no qualms about the commitment needed to climb through the amateur ranks. “It takes a lot of consistency and dedication,” she said. Candidates must first attend a certification clinic, which is usually held once or twice a year and is where the rules of the sport are taught. Then comes an extended period of shadowing officials at amateur boxing events, where people learn to work a number of roles including judge, referee, and timekeeper. If someone shows enough proficiency and interest, they can eventually start working at the events.
That’s pretty much the route Ross took. She had never been an athlete herself, but she liked fights and attended boxing matches. Her first husband was a college wrestler, and she often worked matches, clocking which wrestler spent more time on top of his opponent.
As she learned boxing, Ross recited the rulebook into a tape recorder and then played it back on the way to and from work and whenever she could catch a spare moment. In northern Nevada, where there were so many more fights than people willing to work as a judge, “I was doing all the fights,” she said. She judged bouts in shopping center parking lots, at truck stops, and outside the Bucket of Blood Saloon near Reno. For one fight, she took her judge’s seat by a ring that had just been used for a wrestling match between a man and a pig.
Under state rules, it takes two years in the amateurs before the state athletic commission will accept an application to work as a professional judge. Ross, working as a drafter and raising a young son through much of the ‘80s, waited nearly a decade before submitting her application in August 1991.
“Her grasp was immediate and her performance exemplary,” wrote Michael A. Musso, chief of officials for the USA Amateur Boxing Federation’s Northern Nevada region, supporting Ross’ application. “I give Ms. Ross my highest recommendation.”
Ross worked her first professional fight on May 5, 1992, at the Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Reno. It was a four-round fight between lightweights Abel Pedroza and John Avila. Pedroza prevailed in an unanimous decision.
Not long after, her husband got transferred to a position at the Bally’s on the Strip and she reluctantly followed. “It wasn’t my idea,” she said. She loved the mountain landscape near Reno.
But one perk of moving to Vegas was the opportunity to work more fights with better fighters.
She worked a Mayweather fight in her 11th assignment, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas in April 1997. It was only the sixth professional bout for Mayweather, then a promising former Olympic medalist known as “Pretty Boy Floyd” instead of the more obnoxious “Money” persona he adopted later in his career. Mayweather won in a first-round knockout.
Ross was assigned to her first title fight two years later, a 12-round flyweight bout in San Marcos, Texas. She and the judges scored a unanimous decision for hometown favorite Mike Trejo, who was making his first title defense.
Slowly but surely, Ross was working her way into that echelon of officials who get the best and biggest fights. “I took my time going through the ranks,” she said. “I was never one to push or to ask for anything.”
By the time CJ Ross sat ringside at the first Pacquiao-Bradley fight in July 2012, she had worked nearly 500 fights over 20 years.
A broad public records request for her file with the Nevada Athletic Commission, including her yearly applications, recommendations, and eye exam results, turned up nary a discouraging word.
At least 65 were for a championship belt, including Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. “Sugar” Shane Mosley, and Chad Dawson vs. Antonio Tarver. Her extraordinary career took her to Texas and Puerto Rico, California and Mexico City.
The Pacquiao-Bradley fight was big but nothing she wasn’t used to. Bradley, though undefeated, was largely an unknown foe and essentially cast as a foil in Pacquiao’s 12-act play. He was guaranteed a career-high $5 million for the fight while Pacquiao was set to take home $26 million, according to reports. That disparity was also reflected in the betting odds, as Bradley entered the fight as a 7-2 underdog, meaning that if he won, bettors could get $7 for every $2 that they put down.
And even that might have seemed like a sucker’s bet through the first half of the fight.
The partisan crowd roared with approval, sporadically starting “Manny! Manny! Manny!” chants, as the Filipino champion seemingly controlled much of the early action. He even appeared to buckle Bradley’s knees with a punch in the second round. Pacquiao won four of the first six rounds, according to scorecards submitted by Ross and Ford. The third judge, Jerry Roth, scored five of those rounds for Pacquiao.
Even more convinced of Pacquiao’s dominance was HBO’s announcing crew. Emanuel Steward, a Boxing Hall of Fame inductee as a trainer, continually derided Bradley’s punching power. Lederman had Pacquiao winning the first nine rounds. “It’s been very difficult, at least to my eyes, to find a round that Bradley could have won,” said Jim Lampley, HBO’s lead commentator, at the start of the sixth round.
It was in the second half of the fight, however, when the tenor of the match shifted. Bradley kept pressing forward, unable to hurt Pacquiao but still gamely giving chase.
“Both Jerry Roth and I said it looked like Pacquiao decided to quit,” Ross said. “It was like somebody told him in the corner, ‘You got this.’ It’s like he stopped, and Bradley took it.” Ross and Ford scored five of the final six rounds for Bradley, while Roth had Bradley winning four of those rounds.
Roth was the only judge who had Pacquiao winning the fight, but even he agreed that Manny coasted down the stretch. “After seven or eight rounds, he just quit fighting and didn’t do anything,” Roth said.
When the final bell sounded, Bradley’s corner hoisted him on their shoulders as if already sure of the victory. He preened for the pro-Pacquiao crowd, who jeered him. Indeed, it appeared as if virtually no one else in the MGM Grand had considered the possibility that Pacquiao might lose.
By the time announcer Michael Buffer read the scores to the audience, the judges had already left their ringside seats and retreated to another room inside the arena — as per protocol. Because they sit on different sides of the ring, they had no idea about the result and little clue as to the stunned reaction inside the arena.
“Well, I don’t think we’re blind,” Lampley told the televised audience. “And I think that is a terrible bogus decision.”
“I’m dumbfounded,” Steward said.
Boos filled the arena. Bradley muted his previously exuberant celebration in the face of the disappointed crowd. Pacquiao demurred, saying only, “I did my best. I guess my best wasn’t good enough.” Arum, the promoter, promised to request an investigation by the state. “I’ll make a lot of money off the rematch, but this was outrageous.”
For Ross, it was a throwback to that old Holmes-Cooney matchup. The room clearly saw a different fight. But no amount of “hype,” as she’s wont to call the spectacle and promotion involved with a major fight, could change her mind. “There was more noise for Pacquiao throughout the fight, so you would expect them to be disappointed,” she said.
She viewed the 12-round match the way many judges and boxing officials recommend: as 12 individual fights. Bradley had won seven of them and, thus, the title.
“I thought the right person won,” said Terence Crawford, the current WBO lightweight champion. “If you watch the fight without commentary, you can see it clearer. You could see the shots that Bradley was landing, and you could see that shots Pacquiao was missing.”
All the outrage led to nothing. There was no state investigation despite Arum’s request for one. Ross endured a couple days’ worth of harassment from a boxing press eager to hear her explanation, but she turned down all media requests at the behest of the commission.
Animosity over the decision followed Ross to the internet, where angry fans found her Facebook page. “Most of the messages were from the Philippines,” she said. Someone sent her a picture of a butt of a gun. Another sent a photo with a cigarette with a bullet in it. She told the commission about it and decided she didn’t need Facebook anymore.
There were also allegations of corruption — hardly surprising in a sport infamous for its history with the mob and gambling. But no one ever turned up any evidence Ross was on the take.
The WBO conducted a video review of the bout with five judges. They unanimously scored the fight for Pacquiao but there was no mechanism to overturn the result.
“You pick the best officials but they are human beings,” Francisco Valcarcel, president of WBO, told BuzzFeed recently. Ross “was very professional and she was very good.”
The state athletic commission kept giving her fights — how else to read that but as a stamp of approval? Promoters also signed off on her assignments, so it seemed as if most everyone had moved on.
Then came her next big fight, Mayweather-Alvarez in September 2013, also at the MGM Grand.
In fact, it was one of the biggest fights of all time in terms of money and interest: Mayweather, generally considered the sport’s best pound-for-pound, would earn at least $41.5 million while Alvarez would take home at least $5 million. All told, it would eventually set a record with $18.6 million in ticket sales.
Unlike Pacquiao-Bradley, this was expected to be a much closer bout: Alvarez was only a 2-to-1 underdog, and he would have the support of the crowd. “Money” Mayweather’s appeal, no doubt, was his willingness to play the role of the villain. There would be no wild applause for the money-making champion.
After the fighters touched gloves, the consensus seemed to be that Mayweather was well ahead on the cards but not necessarily in dominating fashion. Ross scored five of the first seven rounds for Mayweather, while the other two judges had Mayweather winning six. The commentators for Showtime had similar scores.
But Paulie Malignaggi, a former welterweight champion and member of Showtime’s team, still thought neither fighter had truly distinguished themselves. “It doesn’t seem like each guy has grasped full control of the fight,” he said after the sixth round. Mayweather went on the win the seventh round, the final round upon which all judges would agree.
It was soon after that Ross’ scores started to depart from her colleagues at ringside. She gave four of the final five rounds to Alvarez, while the others had him winning two and three, respectively. The televised audience heard from a broadcasting team that began admiring the handiwork of Mayweather. The pro-Alvarez crowd, which had been wildly cheering for their undefeated fighter, grew silent down the final stretch. By the start of the 12th round, the outcome seemed no longer in doubt.
“Unless something dramatic happens here, it looks like Canelo Alvarez is on his way to his first loss,” Showtime commentator Mauro Ranallo said.
“Anybody objectively looking at this has to probably think he needs a knockout to win this fight,” Showtime’s Al Bernstein said.
At the sound of the final bell, two of Ross’ colleagues submitted scorecards awarding the victory to Mayweather. One had Mayweather winning nine of 12 rounds while the other gave Mayweather eight rounds, far from a blowout but enough for a decisive majority decision.
The CompuBox scores heavily favored the champ too: Mayweather connected on 232 of his 505 punches (46%) while Alvarez landed only 117 of 526 punches (22%).
Ross, once again, saw a different fight: She judged the bout a draw. Her tally didn’t change the result, but it was so discordant that it incensed almost the whole arena.
Mayweather’s response was to be expected: “What the fuck is this?” he exclaimed in the ring after the announcer read Ross’ scorecard. Alvarez himself said, “I recognize that he beat me.” And Alvarez’s promoter, Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions, called Ross’ scorecard a “disgrace.”
Atlas could barely contain himself in another incendiary diatribe on ESPN. “It speaks to the corruption of the sport,” he said on-air. “The criminals will be rewarded.”
“I try to use my platform to say what I think I have a responsibility to say,” Atlas told BuzzFeed months later. “I have suspicions about 90% of these judges. I don’t have to single her out. But she’s been involved in some questionable judging decisions, there’s no doubt about it.”
Actually, there is not even a fragment of evidence that Ross was on the take. There’s certainly no evidence of any major windfall at her home. “What money?” she asked, sweeping the air with her hand to point out her modest dwelling. “Where’s this trail of money at?” She adds, “There isn’t enough to pay me off, even if it was millions.”
Ross said Alvarez landed the heavier punches, and that was the difference in some of the closer rounds.
“Some of us judge the power differently,” she said. “I’m gonna go with the guy who landed the bigger punch if the rest of the round was equal.”
And Mayweather “never hurt Alvarez. … He landed good shots on him but he didn’t seem to physically affect him.”
Later, commission executive director Keith Kizer would defend Ross, whom he had recommended to serve as a judge for the bout. “Just because a judge’s scorecard ends up even, doesn’t mean the judge necessarily thought the fight as a whole was even. It could be that a judge has six rounds each for each fighter, but the six rounds she gave fighter B, they were really close rounds. That’s pretty much how it was last night,” he told USA Today.
It’s a reminder of how challenging it can be to score a fight. Judges have very wide discretion when determining the winner of a round. They consider clean punching, aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defensive skill. HBO’s Lederman, who worked as a judge for more than 30 years, relies on a much simpler standard. “If you can judge who did more damage in the round, that’s the guy you give 10 points to.”
But that can be complicated by fighting styles — especially those of boxers such as Mayweather, who throw fewer punches because they rely on their defense to frustrate opponents. There are also the limits of sitting on one side of the ring. To score a punch, a judge must actually see it. “Sometimes judges are sitting on the wrong side of the ring, and they’re missing punches,” Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez explained. “And you can’t score what you don’t see.” Cortez, a friend of Ross’, has long proposed elevating the judges’ seats to provide a better view of the fight.
Given the vagaries of the scoring system, Ross can make a strong case that she made the right decision in the Pacquiao-Bradley fight. Yes, it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But her card didn’t differ so much from those of her colleagues, and many observers agree that Pacquiao coasted in the second half.
Her case for the Mayweather-Alvarez bout isn’t nearly as strong, but, if she got it wrong, it’s understandable how she did: The early rounds were close, Alvarez is the harder puncher, and her sightline might not have been the best.
Certainly, Ross’ error — if it was that — in the Mayweather fight didn’t merit the personal attacks that followed. Not for someone with a virtually spotless record over the previous 21 years.
Her plight recalled that of Eugenia Williams, a female judge from Atlantic City who was roundly criticized for her scorecard in a heavyweight title fight between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis in March 1999. Williams scored the fight, 115-113, for Holyfield while one judge scored it a draw and the other went, 116-113, for Lewis. Notably, Williams was the only judge to give Holyfield the fifth round, a round in which Lewis pinned Holyfield on the ropes with a barrage of unanswered punches for 45 seconds. The New York Times called it “one of the most controversial decisions in a big-time fight in recent history.”
Investigations into allegations that she was on the take turned up nothing. She was convinced that sexism drove at least some of the criticism. “They’ve never attacked an official like I’ve been attacked myself,” Williams told the Philadelphia Inquirer in April 1999. “I think it’s all blown out of proportion. … They don’t care what the other judges scored. They’re just focusing on me. I believe it was truly because I was a female.”
Williams didn’t work another fight for nearly five years. Ross knows that history. “She got pretty beat up,” she said.
Butch Gottlieb, a Las Vegas-based fighter manager and former inspector with the Nevada Athletic Commission, noted the difference in the reaction to Ford and Ross, who are both friends of his. He wouldn’t go as far as to blame sexism for the difference, but, he said, “Nobody mentioned Duane’s scorecard. Everybody zeroed in on CJ.”
“I was pretty disgusted by the whole thing,” said Nick Zagala, a close friend who lives in Pahrump. “They were just piling on. And I think it’s totally because she’s a woman.”
Ross hasn’t reviewed either of the controversial fights on television and has no plans to, saying that the changing cameras angles can’t duplicate the experience of watching the fight from her spot in the ring. She also isn’t a big fan of the television commentary. “They have a real bias in their presentation,” she said.
There is life beyond those garish casino lights on the Vegas Strip. To get there, hop in the car, head south on Interstate 15 for a few miles and hang a right on Nevada State Road 160. Drive toward the mountains on the horizon, part of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and then drive through them.
Along the two-lane highway, there are warning signs for falling rocks, wild burros, and wilder horses. Also beware of the ram crossing area. The sprawling miles of sagebrush soon turn into a soaring geological marvel, with large red rock formations reaching toward the open sky.
On the other side of those mountains, about 30 miles down the road, is Pahrump, Nevada. It’s part old frontier community, part retirement village. Nearly 40,000 people live here in this unincorporated town, which seemed on the verge of a boom before the housing crisis.
In 2007, infamous Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss settled here and opened a laundromat called Dirty Laundry. She also had plans to open a brothel, which is legal in Nye County as it is in several other parts of Nevada. But the brothel never opened and the laundromat shut down a few months ago.
Ross came here in 2004, not long after divorcing Melvin. She had lost her daughter three years before that, to complications from spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spine doesn’t develop properly. Ross was starting over.
It didn’t take long before Ross was engaged to a man who shared her love of wide-open spaces and outdoor activities. They moved into a quaint cream-colored stucco ranch house with a gravel front yard and sprawling backyard surrounded by a chain-link fence. Back there, they kept a handful of horses and playful lap dogs, including a 4-year-old Daschund named Manny. (“I don’t think so,” she responded when asked if the dog was named after Pacquiao. “But there’s that chance that he is.”)
But then her fiancé suddenly died in 2009. The man’s children came and took the horses. Shortly after the Mayweather debacle, she was laid off from her job leading a workout class at a local gym. Until now, she’s refused to talk with reporters, and she tries not to read about the controversy over her judging. And she hasn’t submitted an application to work as a boxing judge this year.
So she’s mostly alone out here, with nothing to do in the quiet Western wilderness.
“I think I’m getting tired of the desert,” she said one recent afternoon in her living room. “I’m going crazy here.”
One recent blue-skied afternoon in Pahrump, Ross was rummaging through her garage in search of trinkets to unload in advance of her move to Ohio.
She headed toward the back, where a framed poster of the Holmes-Cooney fight hung on the wall.
“Take it,” she told a visitor. “I don’t need it anymore.”
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