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U.S. Buzz for Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios Sounds like Only Distant Murmur

By Ivan G. Goldman

Manny Pacquiao can’t do his usual interview spot with Jimmy Kimmel from the other side of the world, which is just one example why HBO and Top Rank Promotions are fighting a tough battle to get publicity for Pacquiao’s pay-per-view bout Saturday night with Brandon Rios.

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Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank

Although it’s difficult to prove a negative, the usual buzz just doesn’t appear there for this event coming to us all the way from Macau, China. Other negatives that can’t be definitively proved? That there’s no other life in the universe and there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

HBO and Bob Arum’s Top Rank are pedaling as fast as they can, yet it seems pretty clear by now that there was a reason the network had never presented a PPV card from overseas – because it’s not a terribly good idea.

Out of sight, out of mind.

U.S. news media outlets seem confused on how to cover the event. Few were willing to invest in sending teams all the way to Macau. There’s a media “hub” in Las Vegas brimming with paid fight celebrities, but covering a Chinese event from Nevada is gimmicky. After Juan Manuel Marquez knocked Pacquiao out cold last year, corporate money minders decided covering Pacquiao’s events was no longer worth an all-out effort.

When an ugly shouting match and scrum erupted this week between members of the two fighters’ camps, some fans even suspected it was staged to generate publicity. That’s very, very unlikely. These people are professional boxing guys, not actors. If they staged something like that, word of the scam would get out within ten minutes.

It was a terrible idea to schedule the two camps in the same gym with no space between the two intervals, which is what led to the hideous scene that followed. Little wrinkles like that, leading to bigger wrinkles, are examples of how difficult it can be to put an event like this together in China. Local security guards had no idea how to handle these hot-headed Americans. Puzzled, they stood and watched.

On the other hand, Arum points out that all these problems and more were there for Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III, the Thrilla in Manila, which was a successful business event, though without question fighting in the oppressive heat did long-lasting damage to the health of the two warriors.

Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddy Roach didn’t distinguish himself for flying off the handle so quickly and uttering racial and ethnic slurs. Shame. Rios’ coach Robert Garcia should have left the gym. His time was up, and training comes before the publicity shoot that ran overtime. However, he tried to remain cool and never threatened physical violence.

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Pac-man and Bam Bam: craziness in Macau (Photo: Chris Farina: Top Rank)

Garcia didn’t become IBF super featherweight champ by meekly surrendering to others. And Roach is used to running his own gym in Los Angeles, which he clears out for Pacquiao workouts.

The worst offender was Rios’ physical trainer Alex Ariza, clearly simmering because Roach had earlier fired him off the Pacquiao team. He kicked Roach in the chest and repeatedly mimicked his sometime stammer, the result of Roach’s Parkinson’s condition. What’s Ariza’s next move? Tipping over old ladies in wheelchairs?

Some have faulted Rios for chuckling as he remained working his elliptical machine in the background, but there’s another way to look at it. He remained focused on his showdown with Pacquiao and didn’t see a life-or-death situation down there. In his world, insults and physical violence don’t necessarily create an emergency situation.

This event may make a pile of money despite all the obstacles. Much of it depends on how much the casinos in Macau were willing to spend to sweeten the fight pot. And even though Chinese PPV customers will be charged only about $4.50, there are an awful lot of Chinese TVs out there.

But in the U.S., my trusty barometer the Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif. tells me the number of purchases will fall well below 1 million. The casino, after testing the wind, isn’t bothering to buy the fight. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad fight. It could be pure excitement from beginning to end, for as long as it lasts. Latest Las Vegas odds: Rios +360 ($100 returns $460), Pacquiao -450 ($450 wins $100).

Even as HBO struggles to sell the welterweight show Saturday ($70 for high-def), it seems to have no trouble ignoring Mago Abdusalamov, the Russian heavyweight who lies in a coma in New York’s Roosevelt Hospital after losing a brutal battle to Mike Perez in an HBO-televised card on Nov. 2.

Goldman’s 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

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