Manny who? Most Chinese have little idea who he is
Promoters say Macau could become the fight capital of the world but it won't happen unless an indigenous champ boosts the sport
Distractions abound at The Clash in Cotai and that's a good thing for the local media. A very good thing as it turns out, because while this part of Asia is steeped in money culture, it definitely is not in boxing culture.
A few months back, selected members of the Chinese media in Hong Kong were invited to come and watch Manny Pacquiao train in the Philippines. What they returned with were not stories on his training methods and how hungry he was to get back on the winning track. They ran pieces instead featuring copious pictures of his mansion in General Santos and his limited-edition cars.
And you know what, it certainly is not their fault that the focus was more on lifestyle than sport. The greatest Chinese fighter of all time was Bruce Lee while the greatest Chinese boxer of all time is, um, yeah. There isn't one, at least not yet, and that's why an appearance by soccer superstar David Beckham and any sighting of the shapely ring girls elicits more of a media stampede than a sit-down with Pacquiao's sage trainer Freddie Roach.
Boxing was actually banned on the mainland for years because it was deemed to be brutal and ruthless, the so-called characteristics of capitalism. These days, few places in the world are more ruthless and brutally capitalistic then China and maybe that's why boxing is making a slow but steady comeback.
But there are generations of Chinese with no knowledge or appreciation for the sport. They missed the golden era of heavyweights like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes as well as the middleweight boom of Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. That's a massive hole in boxing culture with very few in the Chinese world able to regale youthful generations with tales of yore from boxing's recent history.
All of this is relevant because people in the industry, most notably promoter Bob Arum, are saying that Macau and the Venetian could become the fight capital of the world. Thanks to the massive gambling revenue in Macau - last year five times more than Las Vegas - he claims they can afford any fight they want. The big question is, what fights do they want? Even Pacquiao, the greatest Asian fighter ever, has limited cachet among Chinese in Macau, Hong Kong and on the mainland.
"Manny did a press conference in Beijing so some of us know him," said one writer from a Beijing paper. "But in general most Chinese have no idea who he is."
Still, with Pacquiao on the card there is a distinct Asian feeling. But if Floyd Mayweather Jnr, who is generally conceded to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, were to fight a top-ranked contender like a Victor Ortiz, there would be no logical reason to hold it in Macau other than the ridiculous amount of money they could throw at the fight.
Of course, money almost always wins out, but I have to believe the Venetian people would not be particularly keen to have another fight start on a Sunday morning, so audiences in the lucrative pay-per-view market in the United States can watch it in prime time on a Saturday night.
What they are truly clamouring for, and what would establish Macau as the fight capital of the world, is an indigenous Chinese champ on the top of the card. But sorry, there are no shortcuts here. While you might be able to manipulate the market to inflate your economy, boxers and boxing culture take time.
Flyweight Zou Shiming is the most successful amateur boxer ever in China, winning Olympic bronze in 2004 before breaking through with gold in Beijing in 2008 and another last year. He has already fought twice this year to smaller but frenzied crowds at the Venetian and is currently under the tutelage of Roach, who says he could be a world champion in 12 months' time.
He better be, because he is 32 already and just made his pro debut this year. He will take a significant step up in quality on Sunday's undercard when he fights Mexican Juan Toscano and perhaps no boxer, Pacquiao included, has more pressure on his shoulders than Zou.
Hong Kong's Rex Tso Sing-yu is also garnering loads of ink at home, as well he should. The 26-year-old featherweight is undefeated in 10 fights with four knockouts and is one of the rare fighters in this region to grow up in a boxing culture as the son of a renowned amateur champ.
Tso will be fighting Thailand's Susu Sithjadeang and has made no secret of wanting to bring boxing to the people of Hong Kong. If he does that, he could well be on the top of a meaningful card in the future capital of boxing in Macau.
But one punch at a time for Chinese boxers, who are not just fighting their opponent in the ring, but fighting history as well.