Boxer Manny Pacquiao, left, and Brandon Rios pose with the belt during a… (Dale de la Rey / AFP / Getty…)
There's so much for Manny Pacquiao and his promoter to like about this new venture of fighting in Macao, China.
For Pacquiao, it means a break from the 39% U.S. tax rate that reduced his purses fighting in Las Vegas.
For Bob Arum, there's the promise of expanding a fan base among a country of 1.3 billion, particularly among those deep-pocketed enough to afford a vacation to the gambling-mecca Macao, where the Venetian hotel owners provided Arum a reported $8-million site fee.
But will U.S. fans retain their interest in buying a Pacquiao pay-per-view when he's fighting at such a distant locale?
Beyond the matter of resolving whether Pacquiao, 34, can rally from his December knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez to beat Oxnard's gritty Brandon Rios in a welterweight fight Saturday night, the next key question is about the future relevance of the location.
Asked if he expects this Macao venture to be the start of a trend or a one-and-done deal, Mark Taffet, HBO senior vice president of sports and pay-per-view, said, "Impossible to conjecture. When the fight's over and we collect and count the buys, then we'll be able to sit down and discuss it with Top Rank. For now, there really is no basis."
The venture began when Arum decided to promote two-time Olympic champion Zou Shiming of China, knowing there was interest from the Macao resorts in hosting Shiming's fights and others.
HBO, Arum's company Top Rank and fighters Pacquiao and Rios have made extensive efforts to maintain the feel of a U.S.-based pay-per-view event, with a first bell expected to ring around noon Sunday in Macao.
"Come Sunday morning, Pacquiao and Rios, they'll wake up, brush their teeth, step out of their pajamas and put on their boxing shorts, and they're fighting live in China while it's live Saturday night in the United States," Taffet said.
There doesn't seem to be the typical Pacquiao fight week buzz. Maybe that has to do with the luster he lost in getting knocked out by Marquez, or the distance he's put between himself and the U.S. audience, training entirely in the Philippines.
But Top Rank expanded the fighters' availability to members of the media who didn't accept the deeply discounted media-rate airfare to Macao.
The promoter and HBO set up a typical fight-week-like "radio row" headquarters in Las Vegas, inviting stations across the country to broadcast and interview the retained likes of George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Timothy Bradley to discuss the fight and related boxing issues.
"We knew at the outset of the promotion that we had to be very rigorous in setting up a U.S. media presence," Taffet said. "As soon as Bob told us about China, I looked up the time difference and immediately went to work to plan the efforts necessary to create a seamless experience on the time. It's been exciting, exhilarating and rigorous. This is the first time we've done this."
Taffet is hopeful the compelling points of the fight will draw interest. Can Pacquiao prove his best fights aren't behind him? Can Rios produce another fight-of-the-year candidate after two wars against Mike Alvarado and move to a world title shot?
"There's a lot at stake for both fighters," Taffet said.
Pacquiao, in a Friday phone call to The Times, said he has every interest in fighting in the U.S. again, a promise with sincerity that can swing either way.
"Top Rank and Manny understand the importance of the U.S. fan base and pay-per-view revenue," Taffet said. "I'm sure when the dust settles and we all get to look objectively at the buys and revenue, it will be considered appropriately as an important element in any future fights."