LAS VEGAS – If Macau, China, ever steals the mantle of Boxing Capital of the World from Las Vegas, it will have Zou Shiming to thank for it.
Top Rank announced the signing of the two-time Olympic gold medalist from China to a professional contract Tuesday in an elaborate ceremony at the swank Venetian Casino Hotel & Resort.
Zou became the first Chinese boxer to win an Olympic medal when he earned a bronze at light flyweight in 2004. He then won back-to-back gold medals in 2008 in Beijing and in 2012 in London. In addition, he's a three-time world amateur champion.
Whether he'll become a professional star remains problematic – he's a light hitter and at 31 has spent a lifetime using the vastly different amateur style – but he has the potential to change the very nature of the sport.
Standing in the lobby of the Venetian on Tuesday, watching as Zou was greeted by several hundred onlookers, Top Rank's Bob Arum could barely contain himself.
He's been obsessed with the Asian market for weeks. Getting Zou signed and set to headline a show is going to fast forward his dream of making Asia a major market for American promoters.
"Do you get how huge this is?" Arum asked, his voice booming about the din. "This is a whole new [expletive] ball game. You're talking about 1.4 billion people [who live in China]. This is huge. Do you know what this could mean?"
One possibility of what it could mean is that some major fights that were previously destined for a Las Vegas casino could wind up in an Asian casino.
The UFC had success with a November show at the Venetian Macao, with the Chinese casino attracting a number of major gamblers.
Those gamblers have financed boxing for years in Las Vegas and have the potential to do the same in the Asian market.
It doesn't necessarily mean that all of the top pay-per-view shows would head to China, but it will clearly present an alternative to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York if timing logistics can be worked out.
Boxing pay-per-view shows in the U.S. generally begin at 9 p.m. ET, when it would be 8 a.m. the following day in Macau.
Venetian executives reached out to Arum after the success of the UFC show, hoping to develop a relationship that could bring regular boxing cards to its properties, not only in Macau but also in Singapore.
"[The UFC's success in Macau] is what piqued the Venetian's interest," Arum said. "After the UFC was so successful for them as an event, they called me and asked me to do boxing. And then I got a call out of the blue, like it was fate, about Zou Shiming. I put two-and-two together and this is a great marriage."
Zou will headline his pro debut April 6 in Macau, on a card that will also feature Brian Viloria, the former American Olympian who will defend his WBA/WBO flyweight title.
Long-term, though, Top Rank could have stars such as Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire featured on major shows there. The issue preventing it from occurring is that pay-per-views emanating from outside the United States have historically done poorly.
Arum estimated a loss of as much as 50 percent of potential sales.
If that can be overcome, a floodgate could be opened and the Asian market could quickly become a legitimate pay-per-view destination.
That, however, is a big if. Arum said it is in Pacquiao's interest to fight outside the U.S. since the tax rate has been raised to 39.6 percent. The Asian casinos, he said, would pay the same to make up what the live gate would be at a fight in Las Vegas.
But the pay-per-view issue bogs them down. If a $60 pay-per-view show that would have done 1 million sales in the U.S. does 500,000 coming from Asia, that would represent around a $15 million loss in revenue to the promotion.
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"The [tax rate] is a big incentive to take a [potential Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez] fight outside the country," Arum said. "We know that in Macau or in Singapore, they would pay as much as you could do at the gate here [in Las Vegas] at the MGM. But the problem is, how badly would it impact the pay-per-view, because of the media coverage. Obviously, with this economy, it would be hard to ask media outlets to send people to Asia for any appreciable length of time. That's a real downside.
"We have tried. This is now a new question. When [Muhammad] Ali and [Joe] Frazier fought in Manila [in 1975], that was the third fight. We did what we could to overcome that. We had cheap flights, cheap rooms, and what not, and still, it only did 75 percent of the first two fights. It is a concern. ... The statistics that InDemand has show that if you take the fight outside the country, outside North America, your pay-per-view is impacted by as much as 50 percent."
Zou, who called Ali his hero even though he was born just seven months before Ali's final fight, isn't concerned about that pay-per-view now.
He said his dream has been to fight in the United States, particularly in Las Vegas, and he's eager to prove himself to the discerning American fan base.
He'll be put on a fast track, similar to the way Cuban exiles Yuriorkis Gamboa and Guillermo Rigondeaux were handled. Arum said it is conceivable that Zou could fight for a title before his 10th pro fight.
That would be a remarkable accomplishment, but his greatest feat could be opening the Chinese audience to the West in boxing.
If he does that, he'll be long and fondly remembered in the sport regardless of what his record ends up being.
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