NEW YORK -- The boxing world has shifted measurably this year, and further proof of that was presented Tuesday, when Brooklyn-born promoter Bob Arum brought his top draw, Manny Pacquiao, to New York City.
Pacquiao (54-5-2, age 34) will meet Brandon Rios (31-1-1, age 27), a Kansas-born California resident known for his penchant for brawling, on Nov. 23. But the bout will not be staged, like the last 14 Pacman scraps, in the United States. It will not be staged, as 11 of those 14 have been, in Las Vegas. No, Arum has decided to attempt to open up the eyes -- and wallets -- of fight fans in Asia to professional boxing. His Top Rank company will stage the Pacquiao-Rios bout at the Cotai Arena, at the Venetian Resort, in Macao, which is an "administrative region" of the People's Republic of China.
Arum has been testing these new waters with a Chinese fighter, Zou Shiming, who debuted in April at the Venetian and allowed Top Rank to begin whetting the appetites of fight fans, drawing attention from non-boxing sports fans and get them in the habit of forking over dough to see Asian practitioners of the sweet science in action.
"Ni hao. It means hello. ... Welcome. ... So you can see before your eyes, the world is changing," Arum said to a media crowd at Jing Fong restaurant near Canal Street, after two dancing dragons did a mini-set for the assembled. "We made a tour of China, starting in Macao, at the Venetian Macao, we've been to Beijing, Shanghai, Signapore, and now, we're here in New York, where we still have a very substantial Chinese population."
Yes, but not as substantial as the Chinese population in China. The 81-year-old Arum has been the target of whispers -- and even some in-your-face chops-busting -- that he's lost his fastball, and that slack has been taken up by Golden Boy, which has indeed been on a hot-streak with compelling programming in recent months. But Arum is betting that he can maintain his stature as the top promoter in the sport since he overtook Don King by refreshing his target audience.
Not a bad strategy, on the surface. There are 313 million citizens in America, with approximately 1.2 million of them being reliable fight fans who will tune in to a high-profile main event on pay cable. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and if Arum can get a decent percentage of them to follow the exploits of Shiming and Filipino congressman Pacquiao, then his company will have mined a rich vein of treasure.
"The world is changing, but the world stays the same," Arum continued, reminding U.S. fight fans that just because they can't book a ticket at the MGM to see Pacman try and reverse a two-fight slide, they can still catch the action on pay-per-view. The headline scrap will screen at 9 p.m. ET in the States, though it will be a Sunday morning in Macao when Pacman tangles with Rios. "Nothing will be different, nothing, than what you will see in the normal pay-per-view show."
Shiming will look to go to 3-0 on that morning in an eight-round tangle, so that a Filipino won't be the primary attraction for the locals.
Lest anyone think Arum has lost the Brooklyn edge, they were reminded that his fire still burns when he referenced the beef between HBO, which will handle the PPV production, and Showtime, which does business by and large with Golden Boy. HBO productions are done with "pizzazz," he said, implying that Showtime's are not. "You cannot be a major sport anymore unless you translate that sport to China, all the Asian markets, because the world is becoming more inclusive," he said.
Arum introduced Pacquiao, who he said is the second-most popular boxing attraction in China, behind Zou. Pacman was his typical low-key self. He said he is not faded, and was "too aggressive" in his last fight, a KO6 loss to Juan Manuel Marquez.
"I chose Brandon Rios, I know he's good fighter. ... I believe he can give a good fight," he said. He will prove he is not done on that night, he stated. "It's a good chance for us to promote boxing in China," said Pacquiao, who promised to be 100 percent physically and mentally.
Rios, who in the past has been prone to edgy trash-talk, was in mature mode in NYC. He said he was ready to fight, now. "This is the first press conference I've been to where nobody's talked smack," he said, with a grin. "USA, we're gonna bring it back home, baby," he said, to close.
Fight fans are indeed in the midst of a shifting landscape, with Arum aiming his focus more so out of the U.S., and Showtime going heavy in the States, with a particular emphasis on New York. No champion can be determined, as this fight will need to play out over 15 rounds before we see which behemoth gets the nod.