NEW FACE OF BOXING:  China’s Zou Shiming, two-time Olympic gold medal winner and three-time World Amateur Champion, concentrates as he  fights against Mexico’s Eleazar Valenzuela during his professional debut at The Venetian hotel in Macau on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS
TESTING THE WATERS: Chinese Olympic champ Zou Shiming made his professional debut with a victory over Mexico’s Eleazar Valenzuela at The Venetian hotel in Macau in April. The hotel will host a bout between Filipino Manny Pacquiao and American Brandon Rios in November. Picture: REUTERS

HONG KONG — Years ago Macau snatched the title of the world’s biggest gambling hub from Las Vegas, and now it wants a slice of the boxing action too.

With Manny Pacquiao following Chinese star Zou Shiming to the glitzy casino haven near Hong Kong, Macau looks set to copy Vegas by becoming a boxing capital — with promoters eyeing a huge potential audience in China.

The November 24 bout, between Pacquiao and American Brandon Rios in the semi-autonomous territory, will be the biggest pro fight yet on Chinese soil. Not surprisingly, it will be financially advantageous for all concerned.

Filipino Pacquiao, 34, once considered the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter but now battling back from two consecutive losses, saves a fortune in American tax. He has not fought outside the US since 2006.

Macau, and especially The Venetian, the giant casino-resort that is hosting the fight, gains more visitors, a higher profile, and helps diversify its image.

And top US promoter Bob Arum brings another big event to China, which he calls the "new destination for big-time boxing".

Zou’s win against Eleazar Valenzuela last month drew 300-million television viewers in the country.

Organisers say no final decision has been made on the Pacquiao-Rios fight’s timing, although expectations are high that it will be on the morning of November 24, which is a Sunday, to hit Saturday night television audiences in the US. The unusual start time could copy the strategy used way back in 1975, for the legendary Thrilla in Manila, when Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier from 10.45am in the Filipino capital.

Macau’s gambling profits overtook Las Vegas in 2006 and Glenn McCartney, assistant professor of gaming and hospitality management at the University of Macau, said it now needed to diversify.

"Historically it’s been labelled as a gaming destination," he said. "In Vegas, 15 or 20 years ago they realised they could make money from other tourism or business streams. There can be a tremendous multiplier effect. You want to get a positive branding that this is now a city of diversity."

Arum tested the waters for Macau as a big fight venue in April, when China’s shining hope Zou fought his professional debut there.

Signing up the country’s most successful amateur was a shrewd move by Arum, founder and CE of Top Rank promotions, who can clearly smell the big money to be made in the country of 1.3-billion people.

Sapa-AFP