As big as Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios bout is in Macau, it's a step to even bigger things

Kevin Iole
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MACAU – Bob Arum sat in the middle of a beautiful restaurant, nibbling at a piece of tiramisu, a look of absolute contentment covering his face.

The room was filled with people who'd made the trek to southern China to watch Manny Pacquiao face Brandon Rios in the 12-round main event of an HBO Pay-Per-View show in CotaiArena in the Venetian Macau.

[Also: Pacquiao, Rios camps trade derogatory slurs and get into melee]

Arum, who has promoted boxing for 47 years, will turn 82 next month. He playfully flirted with a ring-card girl, and held court with a group of boxing writers. He was never more in his element.

A few minutes later, as the room emptied out, Arum wasn't in a hurry to leave. He told of the grandeur of the hotels in Singapore, the next Asian gambling mecca where he wants to promote a show. He planned to meet after the weigh-in with George Tanasijevich, the president and CEO of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore about staging a show in 2014.

He's talking of a show in Moscow in March. In 2014, he guessed that Top Rank will promote shows in China, the United States, Russia, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

"Can you believe the demand I'm in at this stage of my life?" Arum said, shaking his head. "I'm getting all these opportunities now. Now, everyone wants to do a show with us."

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Arum and his staff have done all they can, and now it's in the hands of the fighters. Pacquiao and Rios made weight on Friday (Saturday Macau time) and are now ready to meet for an insignificant regional welterweight title in front of a sell-out crowd of well-heeled gamblers and tourists from around the world.

Pacquiao is attempting to recover from a two-fight losing streak that has somewhat damaged his star power. Clearly, Pacquiao is still one of the major attractions in boxing, but his pay-per-view sales for this fight will likely be about a third of the 2.2 million that Floyd Mayweather Jr. sold when he fought Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas in September.

This fight, though, is not so much about pay-per-view as it is about turning himself around.

He was 0-2 in 2012, losing a decision to Timothy Bradley and getting knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez. But Pacquiao pronounced himself fit after weighing 145 at the weigh-in and is eager to resume his fight career.

[Also: Manny Pacquiao fighting to inspire devastated Philippines]

He's trained with an intensity he hasn't shown in a while.

"He knows what people are saying and thinking and I think he wants to prove he's still the same as the old Manny," trainer Freddie Roach said.

Pacquiao has a decided speed and quickness advantage, which even the Rios side admits. But Rios, fighting in his first pay-per-view and for the first time as a welterweight, doesn't think that will harm his chances.

He's fueled by talk, mostly from Roach, out of the Pacquiao camp suggesting he's made to order for Pacquiao.

"He's called me a bum, and a fat loser," Rios said after weighing 146 1/2. "But if you doubt me, you make me stronger."

Rios is going to have to find a way, though, to neutralize Pacquiao's hand speed. He's never fought anyone who was anywhere remotely close to Pacquiao in terms of hand speed.

Pacquiao is also a two-fisted fighter. Most fighters use a jab to try to neutralize an opponent's speed edge, but Rios wouldn't commit to any specific strategy.

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"What I know is this: I ain't afraid, I ain't no punching bag, and if Manny Pacquiao was looking for an easy fight, he made a huge [expletive] mistake," Rios said. "This guy is in for a fight, believe me when I tell you that. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."

So, too, has Arum, who believes the profitability of shows in the Asian market will allow his company to reinvest the money back into the product.

If Pacquiao wins, Arum's plan is for Pacquiao to fight either Bradley or Ruslan Provodnikov on April 12 in Las Vegas. There will be, though, an Asian flair to the card.

Arum plans to put flyweight Zou Shiming, a three-time Olympic medalist who won gold medals in 2008 and 2012, on the proposed Las Vegas card in order to sell pay-per-views in the China.

"We were hoping to do pay-per-view [in China] for this show, but we couldn't work everything out in time," Arum said. "But our guys are very confident that we will be able to do pay-per-view for Pacquiao's next fight in April, with Zou Shiming on the card.

"What we're hoping to do is, to do that fight in Las Vegas and sell it on pay-per-view in China. If we're terribly wrong, what have we damaged ourselves, $20,000? That's nothing. That market is huge, and worth working hard to take advantage of, and it's one we're making great progress in."

Progress is a two-way street. Top Rank is going to forge ahead regardless of the outcome of Saturday's fight, but Pacquiao is a key part of the strategy because he's so popular. He's a world figure, but his popularity is intense in Asia.

If Rios wins, Roach may suggest that Pacquiao retire. Pacquiao, though, isn't thinking of retirement.

"When it is time to retire, God will tell me," Pacquiao said. "But I love boxing and I am not thinking of retiring."