Manny Pacquiao is not a big deal this weekend in Macau, China. The region is not abuzz. The streets aren't alive with boxing fans and excitement.
Macau, in short, is no Las Vegas, where a major fight is almost a co-promotion, the whole town and its casinos pitching in to make things special.
That may sound like a prelude to failure, but it's not. According to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, it's the nature of how business is done in boxing's brave new world.
"Here, in Macau, it’s only the Venetian. You don’t get the same type of “Yay! We’re in Macau!” attitude. There is no synergy," Arum told the Las Vegas Sun's John Katsilometes. "...You have no buzz over at the Wynn. No buzz at MGM. No buzz at the Chinese casinos. Nothing. This is happening at the Venetian, in a vacuum, and that’s not the way it is — as you know — in Las Vegas. It’s the opposite."
If Arum, and the Venetian, an opulent luxury hotel with nearly 3,000 suites, get their way, it's an experience the boxing world will soon be accustomed to. Two test runs earlier this year went extremely well. Now it's time for the big one, Pacquiao against Brandon Rios on pay-per-view, and Arum is confident it will be the first of many to come.
"It's something that forward-looking people want to do—to open up new markets and explore new frontiers," the 81-year-old promoter told Bleacher Report. "Look at what David Stern accomplished with basketball. The NBA is on almost continuously on sports channels in China. Now I have a similar opportunity to do something with boxing. Of course it excites me. It creates a lot of challenges that I really enjoy facing."
Macau, he believes, will render Las Vegas as obsolete as Sin City once left arenas on the East Coast. Why? Gambling.
Las Vegas, he says, has changed its business model to focus on income streams beyond gambling. In Macau, gambling is still king. And, in the right hands, gamblers and big-time boxing is a combination that allows everyone involved in an event to essentially print money.
"In the old Las Vegas, the casino operators realized that a big boxing match attracts the kind of customers they desire and enables them to entertain those customers and to have those customers use the casino and create gambling revenue," Arum explained. "Macau is the same situation. It's the only place gambling is permitted in China. It's the same theory. You do a big boxing match, and you have a star like Manny Pacquiao or (Chinese Olympian) Zou Shiming headlining, and the punters will come. They'll come to watch the event and stay to try their luck at the tables."
For foreign fighters, there are 39.6 additional reasons to prefer fighting in China to Las Vegas. That's approximately the percentage of their income that goes to the American government in the form of taxes. In Macau, a fighter like Manny Pacquiao pays no taxes. With his reported $30 million salary, that's a savings of $12 million.
"If this pay-per-view and other things take off like we think they may," Arum told the Los Angeles Times, "I can’t imagine Pacquiao will ever again fight in the U.S."
It's a market, of course, that can't rely only on Manny Pacquiao. Nearly 35, his story, no matter what happens against Rios, is nearing an end. Arum is already making sure it's not Manny-or-bust in Macau, signing the popular Chinese star Shiming and planning for multiple cards at the Venetian next year.
But, that said, if Macau is to become the catalyst driving a paradigm shift in how boxing does business, it will start Saturday night with Pacquiao.
"This card is a real tribute to the fact that boxing is a true global sport and great fighters are coming from all over the world," Arum told the media during a press conference (h/t Fightnews.com). "What we are doing will enhance the sport of boxing having a card with international stature because believe me guys, that is the future. The future isn't matching people from one or two countries; the future is matching people from around the world. Whether it's the Philippines or the U.S. with Brandon Rios, or Puerto Rico or China—these people represent the future of this sport."