Years ago Macau snatched the title of the world’s biggest gambling hub from Las Vegas and now, it wants a slice of the boxing action too.
With Manny Pacquiao following Chinese star Zou Shiming to the glitzy casino haven near Hong Kong, Macau looks set to copy Vegas by becoming a boxing capital - with promoters eyeing a huge potential audience in China.
The November 24 bout, between Pacquiao and American Brandon Rios in the semi-autonomous territory, will be the biggest pro fight yet on Chinese soil. Not surprisingly, it will be financially advantageous for all concerned.
Filipino Pacquiao, 34, once considered the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter but now battling back from two straight losses, saves a fortune in American tax. He has not fought outside the United States since 2006.
Macau, and especially The Venetian, the giant casino-resort which is hosting the fight, gains more visitors, a higher profile, and an image diversified away from gambling.
And top American promoter Bob Arum brings another big event to China, which he calls the “new destination for big time boxing”. Zou’s win against Eleazar Valenzuela last month drew an estimated 300 million TV viewers in the country.
Organisers say no final decision has been made on the fight’s timing, although expectations are high that it will be on the morning of November 24, which is a Sunday, to hit Saturday night TV audiences in the United States.
The unusual start time could copy the strategy used way back in 1975, for the legendary “Thrilla in Manila” when Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier from 10:45 am in the Filipino capital.
Macau’s gambling profits overtook Las Vegas in 2006 and Glenn McCartney, assistant professor of gaming and hospitality management at the University of Macau, said it now needed to diversify.
“Historically it’s been labelled as a gaming destination,” he said. “In Vegas 15 or 20 years ago they realised they could make money from other leisure tourism or business streams.
“There can be a tremendous multiplier effect on hosting events, which needs to be looked at more in order to push this strategy more across the industry. You want to get a positive branding that this is now a city of diversity.”
Arum tested the waters for Macau as a big fight venue in April, when China’s shining hope Zou fought his professional debut there.
Signing up the country’s most successful ever amateur was a shrewd move by Arum, founder and chief executive of Top Rank promotions, who can clearly smell the big money to be made in the country of 1.3 billion people.
Two-thirds of the 15,000 seats in The Venetian’s CotaiArena venue were filled for the four-round bout, which saw Zou beat Mexico’s Valenzuela in a unanimous points decision.
Arum, 81, said at the time: “It’s a country where people are just starting to have the opportunity to sample what we in the West are used to, like professional boxing.
“I think if it’s done right, this will be the premier audience for the sport of boxing in the world.”
In a bid to attract Chinese fans, Arum has pledged to continue airing bouts on free-to-air television in the country, hoping to hook a segment of its large and increasingly affluent audience.
The Pacquiao fight will come just a week after the prestigious and long-standing Macau Grand Prix, which is the world’s only street racing event to feature cars and motorcycles.
In recently years, mixed martial arts, tennis exhibitions, international golf, badminton and basketball and the East Asian Games have also been held in Macau.
Dino Couto, a lecturer in events management at Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies, said the Pacquiao fight would “bring some freshness to the events landscape in Macau”.
“The city has long hungered for diversifying its events portfolio by offering a wide variety of choices for tourists as well as the local people,” he said.
“The short-term effects they bring are probably unapparent yet. However, in the long run it raises the prestige and brand image that Macau is capable of hosting different events, attracting shows, matches and competitions, for instance.”