When most boxing fans think of Macau, they immediately think of Bob Arum and his grandiose plans to stage a Manny Pacquiao fight against the late Edwin Valero (who was having licensing problems in the States due to an old head injury suffered in a motorcycle accident) a few years ago. Most people scoffed at the notion of holding a major prizefight of the mainland of China. To paraphrase Jim Mora, “Macau? Macau?! Really?! You kiddin’ me?”
Surely this was just the Asian version of Dubai- another far-flung location that has been bandied about as a destination for fights in the past- that was nothing but a pipe dream and the stuff of press releases for those looking for a few headlines.
But believe it or not, this past week, Yours Truly was actually there to call a fight (yeah, they’ll hire anybody; I know) that took place between heavyweights Chauncey Welliver and Sherman Williams at the Grand Waldo Conference and Exhibition Center on June 28th. Boxing has taken me to some exotic locales in 2012, from San Antonio and Houston, Texas to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Newark, New Jersey and now, Macau. Like I’ve said before, my gig may not pay particularly well but the fringe benefits are great.
The fight itself was, for the most part, forgettable. Welliver, no stranger to boxing in China hence his moniker, “The Boxing Panda,” spent most of the night complaining about one thing or the other to referee Brad Vocale, while the well-traveled and experienced “Caribbean Tank” was much more focused throughout the 12 rounds (this bout was for the vaunted WBO China Zone and Asian Pacific heavyweight titles- never mind neither guy is of Chinese or Asian descent) and utilized some well-placed overhand rights to win a deserved decision. Honestly, the two fighters who really stood out on this card were Chinese lightweight Yang Lian Hui (also known as Ik Yang, a flashy and charismatic sort who improved to 10-0 with six stoppages) who dominated Elly Ray over nine rounds and Su-Yun Hong, a female from South Korea who won the WBO minimumweight title from Teeraporn Pannimit with a classy display of boxing from her upright, southpaw stance.
Boxing is still new to China in many ways. Much of the event seemed a tad disorganized and you can see there will be a bit of a learning curve in this country regarding staging fight cards. What was most memorable about the venue is that the seats closest to ringside were plush armchairs (so perhaps American promoters can learn something from these guys).
As you walked down the heart of the casino district, the new versions of the Hyatt, the Venetian and Dreams of the World rival anything in Las Vegas and there is expansive construction going on nearby that will see new resorts opening up in the next few years. Depending on your source, Macau’s total yearly revenue in gambling is up to six or seven times that of Nevada. Our crew stayed in the Westin Resort in the mountain area (dubbed “Jurassic Park”) where a short cab ride got you to where all the action is (I was the first from the television side to arrive on Tuesday. I left on Sunday night from LAX and with Macau being 12 hours ahead of America, you arrive on Tuesday morning after a 13.5 hour trip). These facilities are not only expansive but they still have that “new casino smell” to them. They are incredibly well-kept and densely populated. Yeah, “whales”- those of the Asian variety- certainly aren’t endangered species on this land.
I actually got lost walking through the Venetian and its manmade canals (where the surrounding shops had expensive sounding Italian and French names attached to them); after about 45 minutes, I just decided to head for the nearest exit. So fellas, if you’re gonna come here, don’t bring the wives. Your credit cards will never recover. One image will stick with me- the gambling floor which, from the escalator coming down, seemed as large as a football field. Every single table was packed to the brim with gamblers ready to throw down their chips and roll the dice. Honestly, it’s a scene you don’t see in Vegas that much anymore, where more and more tables sit vacant and empty during fight weeks.
The Asian whale who once had to fly internationally to the States, can now just take a short flight or hop on a ferry to play some baccarat or Pai gow. Yeah, Asians love to gamble; no doubt about it. And now it’s right there waiting for them whenever they want.
On Wednesday, the production crew was on the hunt for an elusive cable which would be vital to the telecast and a drive was taken across the bridge into downtown, where Steve Wynn’s property was. And as we drove by, the Wynn and the surrounding buildings looked every bit as opulent as the other casino resorts. However, what struck me while driving through the streets was just how congested those areas are. On top of the small businesses and vendors dotting the streets- including McDonalds and 7-11s- are apartment buildings full of residents packed in like sardines. It makes New York look like Topeka. Next to state-of-the-art facilities are those from a bygone era (when Macau wasn’t on the minds of men like Arum and Wynn) who still live in squalor. While many here will bear the fruits of economic progress, some have unfortunately been left behind.
Another noticeable aspect of Macau is that a good number of the work force, from those who hold jobs in the hotels to servers in the restaurants and cafes and those on the casino floor, are Filipinos, who have migrated here looking for abundant job opportunities. And those whom I struck up conversation with all brought up the recent Tim Bradley-Manny Pacquiao fight, as soon as I mentioned that I covered boxing. Pacquiao is every bit the iconic figure to his countrymen in Macau as he is in America.
This was one of the reasons why Arum spoke of bringing the “Pac-Man” here to begin with. But can big-time boxing really be brought here? The ingredients seem to be in place but according to the veteran promoter, who seriously explored this possibility at length, he was told by those running the venues that it would be difficult to charge more than $100 for any ticket- and that’s a problem. As for the high-rollers…well, all they want to do is gamble (which they do in prodigious amounts).
So perhaps Arum will never come to Macau to see boxing.
But I did.
Eat your heart out, Bob.
OK, call me crazy but after landing back home on Friday night, I was at the Golden Boy card on Saturday at the Fantasy Springs Casino where the latest edition of “ShoBox” was staged. A few thoughts on what I witnessed...
- Junior middleweight Erislandy Lara is seemingly in a no-win situation. If he blows out a guy like Freddie Hernandez early, well, not only was he supposed to do that but he’s also branded as being “too dangerous.” But if he goes the distance- and still dominates much of the action- he is then accused of being rather dull and boring. As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but there’s no doubt that the Cuban left-hander is among the most talented and difficult ’54-pounders in the world. And yet he isn’t even in the discussion to be in the discussion to face Saul Alvarez on September 15th.
This is perhaps why Lara has called on the services of the always-influential Al Haymon to aid his cause.
- Gary Russell Jr. is ultra-talented. He has speed and quickness that is simply God-given. You don’t teach that; you’re either blessed with it or you’re not. He showed that again in blowing out Christopher Perez in three rounds with an impressive display of speed, quickness, accuracy and power. I’ve said before that this southpaw is the best natural talent from the D.C. area since Hall-of-Famer Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson. But plenty of prospects show the tangibles; the great ones like Johnson, over the course of time, display the intangibles, perhaps more important than any of the physical gifts so easily spotted.
Russell Jr. reminds me of that highly touted, five-tool prospect in baseball that tears up the Triple-A level but questions remain if he can do it in the majors. Soon enough, we’ll see if Russell is Ken Griffey Jr. or Ruben Rivera.
- The best way to describe Cornelius Bundrage is “awkwardly effective.” In fact, he’s probably the most unorthodox orthodox fighter in recent memory. He’s not technically sound; he’s not smooth or elegant in the ring but what he is is a guy who is physically very strong and heavy-handed. In many ways, his mechanical flaws work in his favor. There were spots between the first and seventh rounds where Cory Spinks had success exploiting “The Other K9’s” many flaws but unfortunately, with his faded reflexes and worn legs, “The Next Generation” is no longer that guy who could evade Bundrage’s wild volleys enough to keep him out of harm’s way. Bundrage retained his IBF junior middleweight belt via seventh round stoppage.
As for what’s next, that’s not really clear. His manager/trainer, Emanuel Steward (who flew in from Austria, where he was preparing Wladimir Klitschko for his upcoming bout against Tony Thompson this Saturday in Switzerland), mentioned that Golden Boy may be putting together some sort of tournament at 154 pounds.
Word is that middleweight Peter Quillin will open up the Sept. 8th Showtime broadcast featuring Randall Bailey vs. Devon Alexander. The name I’m hearing is Marco Antonio Rubio (who won this past weekend in his return)...Win, lose or draw, Ruslan Provodnikov, like a Lucas Matthysse, is a guy I want to watch anytime he’s performing. In fact, I’d love to see those guys run into each other...On any given day, Christopher Martin can give anyone fits...The Korean fighter I talked about earlier, Su-Yun Hong, happens to be managed by In-Jin Chi, former featherweight beltholder, who made the trip to Macau...Junior welterweight prospect Antonio Orozco was so impressive that “ShoBox” executive producer Gordon Hall spoke of putting him on their next available broadcast as a priority. And that might be on August 24th...I noticed in Taipei (where I had layovers) that “Hello Kitty” is kind of a big deal over there. That cat is all over the place...By the way, the Taipei airport is really one big duty-free mall which just happens to have a few airplanes...Yes, I haven’t eaten at Rafael’s in over a week; I’m having withdrawals... I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet at www.Twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.