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Fight Knight: Arum pushes boxing into Asia, starting with Macau

20131124_Bob-ArumSince founding Top Rank in 1973, BOB ARUM has promoted most of boxing’s great fighters. Now, almost four decades after co-promoting the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, the 82-year-old New Yorker tells SportAsia how he’s looking to open up the Asia market, with the upcoming ‘Ring of Gold’ marking Macau’s fourth big boxing event in a year.


By SportAsia


‘Ring of Gold’ on February 22 will mark the fourth boxing event Top Rank has staged at The Venetian Macao in under a year. Just how important is China to the future of Top Rank and boxing?

We came up with the concept Ring of Gold as this time we’re going to have three Olympians who won gold medals in the London Olympics – Zou Shiming from China, Ryota Murata, the middleweight from Japan, and Egor Mekhontsev from Russia. We’ll also have three other Chinese bouts (featuring ‘Ik’ Yang Lianhui, Hong Kong’s Rex Tso and Macau’s Ng Kuok Kun).


In the future China is going to be a major market for us. We’re already planning four big events for 2014 – three in Macau and one in Singapore. Eventually we’ll be able to stage events in the mainland, but we’re going to go very cautiously because there are so many regulations, so we have Chinese partners, the guys who represent Zou Shiming and Yao Ming, and they’re exploring it. We’re hoping to do some fights on a smaller basis in places like Shanghai and Beijing.


Have you looked at other potential Chinese boxers apart from Zou Shiming?

That’s the reason we want to do shows in Beijing and Shanghai, to develop Chinese fighters. You can’t rely for a programme on a fighter who’s 32 years of age.


Zou Shiming will bid for a fourth straight win when he competes as one of three Olympic gold medallists headlining Ring of Gold on February 22 at The Venetian Macao. Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank.

Zou Shiming, 32, will bid for a fourth straight win when he competes as one of three Olympic gold medallists headlining ‘Ring of Gold’ on February 22 at The Venetian Macao. Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank.

What about boxers from other Asian countries?

I really think right now it’s China and Japan, because the Japanese have a big culture with boxing and I’m very close with their major promoter Akira Honda and he made the deal for us with Murata and he has some good champions. So we’re taking it one step at a time. So far as the Australians are concerned, I think it would work better with Australian fighters in Singapore than it would in Macau.


Why has Top Rank focused on Macau for its big boxing events in Asia?

The headquarters of the whole Venetian the Sands empire is in Las Vegas and I’m very friendly with Sheldon Adelson, Rob Goldstein, those people, and they asked if I would be interested in doing a fight in Macau. Since I was contacted by Zou Shiming’s people, one thing led to another and we did a big event.


The whole project with The Venetian in Macau was about Zou Shiming. He was the Chinese connection to boxing. He had won three Olympic medals including two golds – one in Beijing and one in London – and was enormously popular in China.


How did the two ‘Fists of Gold’ events with Zou lead to November’s ‘Clash in Cotai’, Manny Pacquiao’s first fight in Asia since 2006?

Since I was contacted by Zou Shiming’s people, one thing led to another and we did a big event here in Macau (in April 2013) highlighting Zou Shiming. That was very, very successful for the property so they asked if I would do another event in July and if I would consider Manny Pacquiao fighting here in Macau.


And so the July fight went off, also featuring Zou Shiming, and it was very successful as well. While we were getting ready to do that fight, we came to terms with them for a Pacquiao fight and one of the great advantages in doing that fight was that the tax in the United States had risen to almost 40 per cent and by fighting in Macau he wouldn’t be taxed in the US, only in the Philippines, and it would be reduced considerably.


So it had considerable economic advantages for Manny and we thought it would be a big attraction, which is what it became. But the guy that was the poster boy for all of this, the impetus, was Zou Shiming.


How do you think the Clash in Cotai will stack up compared to other big fights in Asia, such as the 1975 ‘Thrilla in Manila’ and Mike Tyson’s shock loss to Buster Douglas in Tokyo in 1990?

When Tyson fought in Japan, although the result was startling, it was almost like a Tyson ‘bum of the month’. Nobody gave Douglas a chance. Of course, he came through and that became a legendary fight.


But the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ was a major, major fight. I co-promoted that fight and I remember that fight and that’s why I guided my people into how to do a fight that takes place in the morning in Asia to be shown in the United States live the night before. Because the major difference in doing a fight like that is to get hold of the fact that there’s 13 hours difference to New York, as there was with the Clash in Cotai.


The previous two shows we did in Macau with Zou Shiming, we did them on a Saturday night and HBO taped them Saturday morning and then played them on a delayed basis in the afternoon. But Manny was live, live, live.


Arum brought together Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios in Macau. Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank.

Arum brought together Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios in Macau. Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank.

Were you worried the time difference and location would affect the pay-per-view buy rate?

Obviously that was a concern. It was a concern in ’75 when [Muhammad] Ali and [Joe] Frazier fought because then we did closed circuit in arenas and so forth. Learning from that, we know what kind of problems we’re facing and how we can deal with those problems.


How did Pacquiao feel about coming back to fight in Asia?

He wanted it. He almost was pushing me for it. You discover a lot of things by accident. Because he was fighting here in Asia, he wanted to train the whole time in his home town of General Santos and he had one of his best training camps ever. And the reason for that is he worked hard all day training, did some political stuff in the downtime, goes home and goes to sleep.


When he trained in the States he would train at the Wild Card and, number one, we couldn’t shut down the gym because so many Filipinos who live in San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle would drive up and say, ‘Manny, we drove so long, we want to come in and watch you train’, so the gym was always loaded with people who didn’t belong.


Then the problem was when he finished for the day he went back to his apartment and was on the phone all night with the Philippines because of the time difference. He got no sleep. The last two years he’s trained very hard, but got no sleep. In Macau, he looked like a completely different guy because he got a normal sleep every night.


What do you think will be Pacquiao’s legacy?

His legacy in boxing is that he came from obscurity off the streets of Manila and established himself as a superstar of the era. He has really been the poster boy for Asian boxing.


How about as a pound-for-pound great, such as compared to Floyd Mayweather?

Pound for pound? I don’t do pound for pound … I’m an old timer. I know Floyd is very, very talented, but if you set Floyd against Tommy Hearns or [Sugar] Ray Leonard – give me a break! But maybe I’m seeing it through jaundiced eyes.

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