By Ivan G. Goldman
Bob Arum and his Top Rank Promotions crew are doing their best to generate a deafening buzz for the Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios fight in China this weekend, but so far the result isn’t ear-shattering. Obtaining pay-per-view buys in the U.S. won’t be an easy sell.
HBO executives, in their long history of televising fights, have never staged a PPV event from an overseas location. If they thought it was a good strategy they’d have tried it before.
For starters, the promoters can’t get boxing media to send people out there. Budgets are tight. Although your average newspaper will send people anywhere to cover the local NFL team, you can’t always get editors to send a reporter across town to cover fights, much less to the other side of the world. That’s no exaggeration. Check out New York Times boxing coverage. Larger news outlets keep bureaus in Beijing, 1,500 miles from the casino strip in Macau, but they’re not staffed with sports writers and probably wouldn’t recognize Brandon Rios if he showed up at the door.
So HBO and Top Rank, apparently having given up on attracting U.S. boxing media to China, hired George Foreman, Roberto Duran, Ray Leonard, Ray Mancini, Tim Bradley, Marco Antonio Barrera and Mike Alvarado to talk about the fight from what they’re calling a “hub” in Las Vegas, where the fight should have been in the first place. (Or California, which suffers no shortage of people of Filipino or Mexican heritage).
This card will sell for what looks like $70 in high-def. If your cable provider is anything like mine, you could spend half an hour on its website and still not come up with the exact PPV price until you get to the final stage of buying it. Incidentally, the TV broadcast sells for somewhere between four and five bucks in China, which means U.S. buyers will be subsidizing Chinese customers.
The listless undercard, which once again includes Chinese flyweight Zou Shming, 2-0 (zero KOs), the world’s only 32-year-old prospect, won’t add even 10,000 buys in America. It’s all on Pacquiao and Rios.
Rios, the American, doesn’t have a huge following and lost his last fight. The promoter doesn’t even want to talk about Pacquiao’s last outing. Though he has plenty of American fans, he opted to stay out of Las Vegas this time so he could avoid paying U.S. taxes, which are considerable. Also, Arum says Macau offered him a “lucrative” package. The casinos there seem to be happy with the Asian “whale” gamblers they attract with big fights.
Everything over there is being done on U.S. time, so the fight will be staged Sunday morning at the Venetian Macao, spelled differently than the city to make life harder for boxing writers. The broadcast will start Saturday at 9 PM Eastern time. This fight the weekend before Thanksgiving is getting the full HBO publicity treatment on the 24/7 series.
My local barometer is the Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif., just down the freeway from my house. It arranges showings of PPV fights only when it anticipates big demand, and I’ve never seen it wrong. It’s not showing this one.
Now the good news: The fight itself, fought at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds, will probably be exciting as hell, maybe even sensational.
Although Rios, 31-1-1 (23 KOs), has been campaigning as a junior welter, “Rios is bigger than me,” Pacquiao frankly concedes. Rios’ size may bother the Philippines congressman during the fight itself but is unlikely to cause him any sleepless nights beforehand. Antonio Margarito, for example, was quite a big larger than Pacquiao, and by the final bell he looked like he’d been shredded by wolves.
Said Manny’s famous trainer Freddy Roach, “I know I predicted that Manny would knock Rios out inside six rounds, but based on our last workout, I don’t see how Rios makes it past the fourth round.”
Brandon’s almost-as-famous trainer Robert Garcia advises Freddy to “buy that gold watch for Manny … I guarantee you this will be the last time you ever see Manny Pacquiao on an HBO Pay-Per-View.” Rios has won every fight but one by coming forward and beating down his opponent with punishing, accurate shots.
Pacquiao is quicker, uses angles and more footwork, but he loves to trade. Like Rios, he gets a kick out of giving the fans plenty of action. Rios takes that even a step further. He seems to enjoy getting hit. In boxing, that’s not as unusual as most people would suppose. Some guys are like that. He is, he maintains, “nobody’s stepping stone.”
Pacquiao, 54-5-2 (38 KOs), will be 35 next month, and he’s been through plenty of grueling battles, the kind that shorten careers. Critics are already prepared. If he looks bad, they’ll say he’s finished. If he looks sensational they’ll say Rios was made for him.
Ivan Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter, set in the boxing world, was nominated as a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Available online & at better bookstores everywhere. Information HERE