- Manny Pacquiao to fight Brandon Rios in the "biggest" boxing match ever in China
- Cotai Arena, where the match will take place, is located in a $2.4B resort and seats 15,000
- Boxing was banned in China by Mao Zedong in 1959; ban was lifted in 1986
Come November 24, the eyes of boxing fans will be trained on the Cotai Arena in The Venetian Macao in Macau, the venue for what organizers say will be the biggest professional boxing match ever held in China.
It will be Pacquiao's first fight in China.
"It's going to be a good fight. It's going to be a one of a kind fight," Pacquiao said during a promotion tour in Beijing last week. "This is a good chance to promote boxing in China. Don't miss it."
One added attraction for Chinese fans will be the undercard fight featuring Zou Shiming, the 22-year-old boxer from southwestern Guizhou province.
With 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medals under his belt, the up-and-comer has served as the emblem for the re-emergence of boxing in China in the past decade.
Zou made his professional boxing debut at the Venetian Macao this April, winning the "Fists of Gold" match in Macau's Cotai Arena. On July 27, he won another bout against Mexico's Jesus Ortegas in the same venue.
Cotai Arena, which seats 15,000, is part of the 40-story, $2.4 billion luxury resort, The Venetian Macao, the largest single structure hotel building in Asia and the largest casino in the world.
Macau, a tiny Chinese enclave near Hong Kong, has already eclipsed the Las Vegas Strip as the world's most lucrative gambling market. Last year, the former Portuguese colony, which like Hong Kong is now a quasi-autonomous region of China, made $36 billion in gambling revenue, six times its Las Vegas counterpart.
This autumn, the ambitious Venetian Macao hopes to lure elite high-rollers along with boxing aficionados, including those in China.
It started with street brawls
Boxing in China began in the 1920s in port cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou as a street sport among foreign sailors who sparred against local fighters.
The sport spread largely unsupervised by the Chinese government, even after the Communists took over the mainland in 1949. In 1953, a boxer died after a bout in a big competition in the port city of Tianjin. Six years later, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong banned the sport for its violent and capitalist characteristics.
It took another strongman to rehabilitate boxing in the People's Republic.
In December 1979, then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping met boxing legend Muhammad Ali in his residence, sending the message that winning medals in boxing is glorious.
In 1986, the ban was lifted and teams of Chinese athletes started to train for amateur boxing competitions, including the recent Olympic Games.
Cashing in on the ring
Arum, long famed for promoting the likes of Muhammad Ali, has set his sights on the vast potential of Chinese markets by bringing two cards.
One is a world-class brawl between Pacquiao and Rios.
Arum says Pacquiao, who boasts of 10 world titles in eight different divisions, will appeal to the crowd with his athletic prowess and legendary storyline.
In between fights in the past three years, Pacquiao has served as a legislator in the Philippines, spearheading campaigns against sex trafficking while donating part of his boxing earnings to aid local hospitals and schools.
"Manny Pacquiao represents the best that boxing has to offer-- hope as an athlete and as a human being," Arum gushed in a recent press conference in Beijing. "He has done more humanitarian work than any athlete in the world and certainly more than most people in the Philippines."
Pacquiao attributed this philanthropic drive to his impoverished childhood.
"I entered politics because I want to serve the people. I want to help them," Pacquiao told the press in Beijing. "My dream is not only to become a champion but to help people. A champion to public service."
Pacquiao's younger and taller opponent, Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios, is better known for his dynamism and bravura. The fighter from Los Angeles has gained a large following among young boxing fans because he represents "a typical young man in America," Arum noted.
Rios, wearing a baseball cap with "I heart Haters" logo, said: "I'll get ready to give Manny the best fight he ever had. He is a warrior, I am a warrior. That's our trait. It's going to be a hell of a fight."
"We want to give the fans a really exciting fight," Arum said. "Brandon and Manny will be hitting each other from the opening bell to as long as they last."
Arum's other card is the Chinese boxing sensation Zou Shiming, who Arum thinks could be polished into a superstar under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer.
"He's quite smart and a quick learner," Roach said of Zou. "He'll get better and better."
"The problem is that it is a different sport," Arum said. "Amateur boxing rewards boxers for the quantity of punches, not the quality of punches, and professional boxing is more about the quality of punches," Arum said. "We have high expectations of him improving as he goes along."
If all goes well for Arum, the Western sport of boxing might finally sink a long-delayed clinch hold over the East.