By Jake Donovan
A watershed moment for the largest nation in the world came on November 24, 2012. Xiong Zhao Zhong became the first ever male boxer from China to win a major title, claiming a vacant strawweight belt in his hometown of Kumming.
It was an important moment in the sport of boxing, but not one that draws immediate recollection if you ask the average boxing fan.
Exactly one year to the date of that historic occasion, Macau will play host to an event that already has the world abuzz.
It matters little that Manny Pacquiao no longer claims championship status in any particular weight class. Nor does it matter that his last win will have come more than two years prior once fight night arrives, as he enters this fight riding a two-fight losing streak.
All that matters is that the sport’s largest global star is returning to the ring. The former eight-division champ takes on Brandon Rios in a 12-round welterweight fight, in what will serve as his first global event to not take place in the United States.
“As you can see before your eyes, the world is changing,” noted Bob Arum shortly after a brief theatrical display of Chinese culture helped kick off Tuesday’s press conference in Chinatown.
The six-city press tour spanning 24,000 miles between the United States and Asia hasn’t taken its toll on the 81-year young promoter, who feels invigorated after having introduced his latest big event to the global market.
“We started a tour, which began at the beautiful Venetian Macao in Macau, China. Along the way, we’ve stopped at Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and now here we are in New York, The world is changing, but the world stays the same.”
There is a lot of truth to the last part. The press tour ends Wednesday in Los Angeles. By then, Pacquiao and Rios will have been asked the same questions over and over, just in various dialects.
In terms of X’s and O’s, the November 23 fight (which will actually be November 24 in Macau) isn’t very different for either participant, particularly Pacquiao. The card will mark the 15th time that the Filipino icon headlines an HBO PPV event; three more shows airing in other mediums (once on Showtime, twice via Top Rank independent production) make 18 of his last 19 fights serving in a pay-per-view main event.
Where the event creates a new chapter in his life is its global significance. The last time Pacquiao fought outside of the U.S. was in July ’06, when he outpointed Oscar Larios in what presently serves as the last time he played his native Philippines. The bout was entertaining, but hardly made a ripple in terms of relevance, largely due it serving as his own promotion and as an independently distributed pay-per-view show.
That is not at all the case here, where all parties involved have pulled out all of the stops.
HBO’s willingness to come on board comes with the compromise of the show taking place on a Sunday morning local time. “Nothing will be different other than over in Macau we will be starting Sunday morning at 10:00AM – the equivalent of Saturday night in the United States,” Arum clarifies.
The event marks the third time that HBO sends its cameras to China, all coming in 2013 and covering events presented by Top Rank. The previous two trips have centered around the development of three-time Olympic medalist Zou Shiming, whose first two pro fights aired via same-day tape delay on HBO2.
Shiming became the first ever fighter from China to win an Olympic medal, capturing Olympic Bronze during the 2004 Athens Games. The moment came 12 years after China sent its first team to the 1992 Summer Games following the reinstatement of boxing in the nation of more than 1.3 billion.
The sport of boxing was banned in 1959, six years after the death of a prizefighter in the city of Tainjin. Under the rule of Mao Tse Tong (Zedong), the founding father of the People’s Republic of China (ironically, a hero to Mike Tyson, who proudly displays a tattoo of the late dictator on his right arm), combat sports as a whole were banned from the nation during the 1960’s Cultural Revolution.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s when the nation once again began to embrace the sport. It began with the movement led by reformist Deng Xiaoping, aided by a timely visit from Muhammad Ali, an Olympic Gold medalist in 1960 who was in the midst of his third tour as World heavyweight champ at the time.
The emphasis of competing on a global level to earn respect in the sports world lead to boxing being taken seriously in that corner of the world. Such a revolution paved the way for Shiming to capture medals in three consecutive Olympics, including back-to-back Gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games.
Such an achievement paved the way for Shiming’s pro debut to serve as the biggest moment in the history of his nation, far overshadowing that of countryman Xiong Zhao Zhong’s title-winning effort late last year.
The success of the two shows headlined by Shiming, including a blockbuster card just last month, motivated Top Rank to bring the sport’s biggest star to the world’s most populous nation.
“It’s something great to do an event that pulls the world together,” Arum says of the forthcoming show, which will also include Shiming in an eight-round bout. “All over Asia, all over China, fans already knew all about Manny Pacquiao.
“China was a place where, for more than 30 years, boxing was banned. Neither amateur nor pro boxing was allowed. Now with the great success of Zou Shiming, the eyes of 1.3 billion are once again focused on boxing. Now their eyes are focused on another Asian boxer.”
The thought of making a global impact isn’t at all lost on Pacquiao, whose wild fan base in the Philippines can enjoy a much shorter trip to his next fight than having to fly halfway around the world to Las Vegas.
“It’s going to be a memorable fight,” Pacquiao promises. “It’s a good chance to promote the sport of boxing in China.”
It’s also a great chance to promote Manny Pacquiao on the global stage, and the concept of truly global events in general.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox