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...