By Jake Donovan
For years, promoter Bob Arum has talked about taking big fights to Macau, often floating the names Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire as eventual headliners.
The aforementioned stars have become stateside fixtures, with Pacquiao limited to Vegas and Texas in every fight since 2006. That taken into consideration, such comments were taken in the same vein as years long claims of Dubai being in the running to host any given major boxing event – we’ll believe it when we see it.
The believing can officially begin this weekend.
Not only has Arum’s Top Rank company secured a show at the Venetian Macao, but has managed to pull out all of the stops to make sure the show has become a worldwide event. Two major title fights will air on a Saturday afternoon edition of boxing on HBO2, along with the pro debut of one of the greatest amateurs of all time.
Brian Viloria – based out of Hawaii but of Filipino descent – defends his pair of flyweight belts against Juan Francisco Estrada, while unbeaten Diego Magdaleno challenges for his first major title when he faces defending 130 lb. titlist Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez.
The evening’s main event – despite it being scheduled for four rounds – taps into the local market as China’s own Zou Shiming makes his pro debut against Eleazar Valuenzuela. The bout is his first following an incredible amateur career that includes two Olympic Gold medals and Olympic bronze.
“I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be here,” Arum stated during Thursday’s press conference at the Venetian Macao, the hosting venue for Saturday’s event. “My first visit to this location was five years ago. I always had the dream of coming back here for a major event.
“Here we are today… putting on a big, big event.”
The foundation for the partnership leading to Saturday’s show goes back even deeper, by at least a decade. Edward Tracy, president and Chief Executive Officer of Sands China Ltd., was committed to bringing a big event to his establishment since receiving the promotion to Chief Operating Officer in 2010 – and again a year later to his present role as CEO.
“I’ve been asked 100 times in the past two days - why boxing, why Zou Shiming. Things come full circle, one of them being my reunion with Bob Arum,” revealed Tracy. “We did a lot of business together when I worked in Atlantic City, including a great heavyweight who is also here (George Foreman, who will be on the HBO2 broadast).
“I had that opportunity to bring that quality of talent to Macau. We talked about the opportunity. Zou Shiming is a legend in China. We think he’s one of the best ever here. To have HBO here in Macau gives us a chance to separate ourselves from the rest of the pack. When people come to Macau, we want them to think of The Venetian.”
Top Rank has done its part to present a worldwide event, the first of what the company hopes to be many trips to this corner of the world. Saturday’s show will air through various worldwide outlets, including the Philippines, Mexico and of course the United States.
The Mexican representation on the show is not overwhelming, but significant enough for Tecate to remain on board as a sponsor. The beer company has no presence whatsoever in China. “Anyone who finds me a bottle of Tecate here in China gets a free ticket to the fight,” Arum vowed, before proudly introducing boxing’s most loyal sponsor as being along for the ride on this card.
The fights itself make for compelling television. Viloria and Estrada shared a broadcast last November, each involved in separate Fight of the Year contenders on the same Wealth TV-aired card. Viloria came up aces, scoring a 10th round knockout win over Hernan ‘Tyson’ Marquez to continue his incredible run at a point many thought to be the twilight of his career.
“A couple of years ago, everyone said I was done,” stated Viloria, whose up and down career has frustrated critics and fans alike, but never the fighter himself. “Thank God I stuck to the sport. I didn’t think I’d be on this stage this late in my career. I’m glad I stuck with it, that I continued believing I could win a championship.”
A surprise 12th round knockout loss to Carlos Tamara three years ago was thought to be the end of the line for Viloria (32-3, 19KO). He had won seven straight heading into the bout, following a three-fight winless stretch that read as indicative of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Boxing squad as a whole.
Today, Viloria rides a six-fight win streak, the last four having served as the foundation for back-to-back Fighter of the Year-level campaigns in 2011 and 2012.
“I’ve come a long way from fighting in the parking lot,” quipped Viloria while taking in the scenery. Saturday’s bout marks his seventh trip to Asia in the past 10 fights, though each of the previous six took place in the Philippines. This weekend’s appearance in Macau could become the start of a new tradition for the 32-year old.
The same is hoped for Shiming, only six months younger than Viloria, who boasts 13 more years worth of pro experience. The concept behind Saturday’s event is the starting point to build momentum towards a possible head-on collision sometime in 2014.
“As you look at (Shiming) and you look at this title fight, these are the kind of fighters he will be facing when he moves up the ranks,” Arum said of the amateur standout, whom he hopes is just as good in the pro ranks. “This is a fight that will be of greater interest to the fans.”
Of course, any leap towards the future must first begin with the potential success of this weekend’s grand opening to the boxing world.
“We’re not just putting on a fight, we’re giving you an event,” states Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank. “The lights, the videos, the whole show - we’re looking forward to the start of an incredible journey with boxing in Asia.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox