MACAU – Promoter Bob Arum likes to call Saturday's bout (Sunday in Macau) between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios the first step in the globalization of his brand.
Arum has spoken wistfully over the last several years of expanding Top Rank's empire beyond the U.S. borders to take advantage of interest in boxing around the world.
A pair of trial runs at the Venetian Macao, in April and July, were enormously successful, and led to the Pacquiao-Rios bout winding up at the resort's CotaiArena, where a sell-out crowd guaranteed a live paid gate in excess of $8 million.
As eager as Arum is to talk about expanding his brand globally, it's hardly anything new.
The first fight that Arum promoted, the 1966 heavyweight title bout between Muhammad Ali and challenger George Chuvalo, was staged in Toronto.
In 1975, he promoted arguably the great match in boxing history, the third bout between Ali and Joe Frazier, on a searing hot October morning in Manila.
Always, though, the show would return to the U.S. and, more often than not, to Las Vegas, which in the late '70s and early '80s earned the nickname of the Fight Capital of the World.
It's still known that way, and probably will be for some time, but if the Pacquiao-Rios fight is successful, it could mean more boxing matches in these exotic locations.
It all hinged upon a largely unknown junior flyweight from China who was turning professional after winning a bronze and two gold medals in the Olympics.
Zou Shiming's managers reached out to Arum to gauge his interest in him. Arum agreed to talk more, but when he hung up the phone that first day, he was struck by a thought:
"I said to myself after I got off the phone, 'What the [expletive] would I want with a 112-pounder from China?' " he said. "At first glance, it didn't seem to make sense for us."
But the next day, Arum received a call from a friend, Rob Goldstein, an executive at The Venetian in Las Vegas. Goldstein reached out to see if Top Rank would have interest in promoting boxing at its Asian properties.
Ed Tracy, the president and CEO of Sands China Ltd., which operates the Venetian Macao, is a long-time boxing fan. He was the CEO of Trump hotels in Atlantic City in the 1980s and oversaw a series of major fights.
He, too, had been speaking with Zou's team.
"They told us about this one and only gold medal boxer from China and that he wanted to go pro," Tracy said. "I said, if there were ever a time in history to coalesce the boxing effort around something significant in China, this would be it."
Zou largely meant nothing in Las Vegas, where Top Rank is based, and would struggle to sell 1,000 tickets in a casino venue there were he to headline.
But he is immensely popular in China and that was good news for both Arum and Tracy.
For Arum, it meant the beginning of his dream of expanding the brand internationally. He landed an incredible haul of talent from the 2012 Olympics, signing fighters from China, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil and the U.S.
He sees those fighters as an entrée into other markets. After Top Rank signed 2012 Olympic silver medalist Esquivo Falcao of Brazil, it reached a deal to televise his fights on Globo there.
Even if Top Rank doesn't stage a fight in Brazil, it will make more money by putting Falcao on its cards and selling the TV rights to Globo for broadcast there, Top Rank president Todd duBoef said.
For Tracy, bringing major boxing coupled with his strategy of bringing world-class entertainment to his resort.
"Bob signed Shiming and I agreed to be the venue sponsor for his first fight," Tracy said. "That went better than we expected. We made a deal for his second fight, and that was better than the first. It was at that second fight that Bob and I were talking and he asked me, 'What do you really want to do with boxing?' And I said, 'I want a shot at Pacquiao.' We talked about it a lot, and before the fight ended that night, we had a handshake deal to pursue the Pacquiao strategy.
"It's a fairly simple strategy, in my view. We have a continent in China with a billion more people than the U.S. There is a great hunger and thirst there for content; they want to be entertained. And why not boxing? We had already signed a deal with the UFC and we were interested in the fight business and bringing it to China. So it was kind of a natural."
China has become the world's largest gaming market, with wins that dwarf Las Vegas casinos. They have the financial wherewithal to land any bout they'd want.
That doesn't mean, though, that every major fight is soon to head to Asia.
Nor does it mean that Pacquiao will never again fight in the U.S. However, it will be hard for Pacquiao to return considering the advantages he has fighting in Macau.
Pacquiao is not taxed on his income. He is guaranteed $18 million and could earn nearly $30 million, Arum said, depending upon the success of the pay-per-view. In the U.S., Arum said he'd pay between 36 and 40 percent tax, but he'll leave Macau without owing any taxes.
At a purse of $30 million, that is saving Pacquiao $12 million.
In addition, he can fight in the same time zone where he lives and can have more of his most devoted fans attend the fight in person.
Pacquiao has been able to lure the wealthiest Asian gamblers to his fights in Las Vegas. But now, those gamblers can make a much shorter flight and see him in Macau. Arum said the Venetian casino win could reach as much as $250 million this weekend.
That undoubtedly will lead to more major fights coming to the region, but the importance of the U.S. as a pay-per-view market will mean that a good percentage of bouts will still land in the U.S.
Fights held outside of the U.S. tend to drop dramatically in terms of pay-per-view sales.
"We're concerned and we're doing everything we can to clear the confusion about the start time of the fight," Arum said. "The fight is on Sunday over here but it's the same time on Saturday night in the U.S. that all of our pay-per-views begin.
"The problem is that confusion will hurt the pay-per-view. Now, what percentage will that be? It can be a pretty good number. We're doing what we can to educate the public, but that is always going to be a challenge when fights are held in different parts of the world."
Las Vegas will always have its title as Fight Capital of the World. But if Arum's gambit is successful, and all of the evidence seems to indicate that it will, it's going to have to share the crown.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manny Pacquiao
- Top Rank
- Bob Arum
- Brandon Rios