MACAU IS THE GAMING MECCA OF THE WORLD AND, AS JAMES GOYDER DISCOVERS, FIGHT PROMOTERS ARE NOW HAPPY TO TAKE THE GAMBLE WITH THEIR FIGHTING STARS.
Macau is frequently referred to as the “Las Vegas of the East”, but the Chinese gambling Mecca has overtaken its more famous American counterpart to become the single most profitable casino territory in the world.
The scene for countless Hollywood movies, Las Vegas will always have its allure, but in terms of the quantity of cold hard cash that gets spent on the casino floor every single day, Macau has long since left the Nevada city trailing in its wake.
The numbers don’t lie and in 2013 gambling revenues in Macau reached the US$45 billion mark, while Las Vegas, which is still struggling in the wake of the financial crisis that swept the globe six years ago, is likely to have taken in a little short of $7 billion in the equivalent period.
The contrast is stark and it’s no surprise promotional powerhouses from the world of both boxing and MMA are slowly waking up to the potential which Macau has to overtake Las Vegas and establish itself as the fight capital of the world.
Bob Arum is the founder and CEO of Top Rank and has been promoting fights for nearly 50 years. He’s put on marquee match-ups featuring the likes of Roberto Durán, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali and, as one of the most experienced men in the boxing business, recognises an opportunity when he sees it.
Arum has been so impressed by The Venetian Resort & Casino in Macau he has already booked two fights there for Manny Pacquiao who is Top Rank’s biggest selling star.
“Today, only Pacquiao brings in the big gamblers,” Arum told the Las Vegas Sun in a recent interview in which he extolled the virtues of Macau.
“The era of the big American punters is gone. Americans who come to Vegas come more for the entertainment and the restaurants than they do for the gambling. Here in Macau, it’s like what it was like back in Las Vegas during the 1980s.”
One reason why promoters may be reluctant to move big money fights to Asia is the pay-per-view audience is almost exclusively in the US where fight fans are accustomed to shelling out upwards of US$50 just for the privilege of taking in a card on TV.
Asian audiences would baulk at being expected to part with cash to watch fights in the privacy of their own homes, but Arum has got around this by having Pacquiao step into the ring at Sunday morning local time, which would be when a typical Las Vegas fight was just getting underway.
So successful has this compromise been that the Cotai Arena considered as a possible venue for the Floyd Mayweather versus Pacquiao match-up.
THE ERA OF THE BIG AMERICAN PUNTER IS GONE. AMERICANS WHO COME TO VEGAS COME MORE FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT THAN THEY DO FOR THE GAMBLING. HERE IN MACAU, IT’S LIKE WHAT IT WAS BACK IN LAS VEGAS IN THE 1980’S.
While boxing has traditionally been the most lucrative combat sport, it no longer enjoys a monopoly on mainstream attention from fight fans because MMA has grown to become a multi-billion dollar industry and major promoters have already jumped on the Macau bandwagon.
The UFC has only held a handful of cards in Asia, but the Cotai Arena has already emerged as a regular destination for the biggest promotions in the industry with three events held there to date, the most recent headlined by a marquee middleweight match-up between Cung Le and Michael Bisping.
UFC president Dana White was in Macau for UFC Fight Night: Bisping vs Le. Speaking to the assembled media in the post-event press conference, he was effusive in his praise for the Venetian.
“100,000 people walk through this place a day, that’s almost a million a week and for the last six weeks this place has been covered in the UFC. Every two feet there’s a pamphlet, there’s something on the wall, there’s a video playing when you go in the elevator. It’s phenomenal, we have amazing partners here,” he says.
Arum warmed to this theme in the aftermath of Pacquiao’s most recent fight in Las Vegas when he was incensed about MGM Grand’s decision to prominently display branding for a forthcoming event promoted by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.
“I know the Venetian wouldn’t make a mistake like this. They would know what fight they have scheduled in three or four days (Pacquiao vs Bradley II) and they wouldn’t have a fight (Mayweather vs Maidana 1) all over the building that’s going to take place in three weeks. That’s why one company makes a billion dollars a quarter and the other hustles to pay its debt,” Arum says.
Another factor which works in Macau’s favour is the high rate of taxation in Las Vegas where Pacquiao would be forced to hand over nearly 40% of his fight purse, an enormous amount of money for a boxer who expects to bank somewhere in the region of US$20 million every time he steps inside the ring.
In Macau, the amount of money which the taxman takes from Pacquiao’s purse is closer to the 10% mark and Michael Koncz, the boxer’s long-term adviser, says this is one of the reasons Las Vegas is unlikely to be hosting any more “Pac Man” fights.
“The taxes make Vegas a no-go. You’re a fighter up there risking your life in the ring, so you have to maximise what you are going to get out of it and we feel the real growth potential for Manny, his brand, fan base and all that, is going to be in Asia,” he says.
The UFC has yet to put on a pay-per-view event in Macau, but some of the promotion’s biggest names such as Rich Franklin, Bisping and Cung Le have featured on cards at the Cotai Arena with The Venetian Resort & Casino effectively acting as a gateway to the lucrative Chinese market.
China is home to about 1.3 billion people and has the fastest growing economy in the world, so it’s no surprise major promotions from across the combat sport spectrum see it as the market with the single most potential for growth.
The UFC held an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show in China this year which was only open to native Mandarin speakers. It was broadcast on national TV by Liaoning Television and inevitably the finale took place at the Cotai Arena in Macau.
Top Rank made a statement of intent in China by signing up two-time Olympic gold medal winner Zou Shiming who has barely been a fully fledged professional for two years, but has already fought five times at the Cotai Arena and is expected to challenge for a world title in early 2015.
Earlier this year, Top Rank also launched a weekly TV programme called Fist Power – Fight to Win, which is being broadcast on regional networks all over China and showcases some of the legendary moments in the history of the sport as well as behind the scenes footage of Shiming.
Next up for Zou, who already enjoys legendary status in China because of his achievements as an amateur, is a 7 March date with undefeated International Boxing Federation flyweight world champion Amnat Ruenroeng at an event titled ‘Showdown at Sands’ at The Venetian Macau’s Cotai Arena.
It is the single biggest boxing match on the horizon at present and the sort of fight which major casinos in the West would be desperate to host, but Pacquiao and Algieri will not be doing battle in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but in the Cotai Arena in Macau.
The trend for big money fights migrating from West to East looks likely to continue because Macau is already the biggest gambling hub in history and it’s slowly but surely starting to establish itself as the fight capital of the world.