MACAU (AP) – Bob Arum learned something about Chinese boxing fans earlier this year at the promoter’s first fight card in Shanghai, where the crowd yelled and cheered for the home country boxers all the way up until the main event.
Then, with no Chinese fighter in the ring, they suddenly went quiet.
“There was nothing,” Arum said. “Halfway through the fight half the crowd walked out.”
That they stayed that long is an indication that Chinese fans are at least beginning to understand a sport once banned in the country. That wasn’t the case in April last year when two-time Olympic gold medallist Zou Shiming made his pro debut and professional boxing made its debut in the gambling enclave of Macau.
“The first show we did with Zou you could have heard a pin drop,” the long-time promoter said. “They didn’t know how or when to cheer or seem to understand much about it.”
They will be much louder Sunday morning when Zou is the featured undercard fighter as Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring in the main event against New York’s Chris Algieri. Hotel officials expect the arena at the massive Venetian resort will be filled with bleary-eyed gamblers long before the main event.
“The fact it’s on Sunday is a little inconvenient. The fact it’s on in the morning doesn’t seem to matter,” said Ed Tracy, president and CEO of the Venetian. “Most of them have been up all night anyway.”
On the state sanctioned CCTV network, a staggering 300 million people are expected to tune in to a broadcast that, unlike in the US, will be free of charge.
If boxing isn’t exactly exploding in China, there’s little doubt it’s beginning to find its own niche. Pacquiao and Algieri are being counted on to fill hotel rooms this weekend and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in extra revenue from visitors who are as eager to spend money in the resort’s lavish shopping mall as they are in the crowded casinos.