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Kats in Macau: Bob Arum says, in fight game, Venetian Macau is what Caesars Palace used to be


John Katsilometes

Bob Arum sits for an interview with ESPN The Magazine writer Tim Struby during an undercard workout the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, at Venetian Macau.

Pacquiao vs. Rios at Venetian Macau

Manny Pacquiao takes a break as he is interviewed after his Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios listen as Top Rank promoter Bob Arum speaks during a news conference in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, July 30, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

Manny Pacquiao greets the crowd during arrivals at Venetian Macao in Macau, China, for his upcoming fight against former world champion Brandon Rios on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.

Before Bob Arum can start the conversation, there is a fire to douse.

Or at least to explain.

“Apparently, Freddie (Roach) and Robert Garcia got into a shoving match, and Alex Ariza, who has a grudge against Freddie because he got fired from Pacquiao’s camp, punched Freddie,” Arum says, as if market testing a formal announcement in the run-up to the Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao-Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios welterweight bout set for Saturday night at Cotai Arena at Venetian Macau.

Once more, Arum attempts to talk through the surprising development, this time more concisely: “Robert and Freddie got into a shoving match, and Ariza punched Freddie.”

“Wait. Did that really happen?” I ask. “Is Roach all right?”

“Apparently, yeah,” Arum says of the former fighter and one of boxing’s most-respected trainers. “He always took a good punch.”

There are jokes from around the room about a fight matching Ariza-Roach, or Garcia-Roach, being the earliest undercard bout in boxing history. But the history between these camps is no laughing matter.

In 2010, Garcia, Rios and freelance website operator Elie Seckbauch (who is friendly with the Rios camp) infamously recorded a video poking fun at Roach’s Parkinson’s disease. The ensuing scuffle at the Venetian Macau gym (Yahoo’s Kevin Iole, one of the country’s leading fight journalists, has written comprehensively about the chippy history among these individuals) was mostly shouting and pushing.

Nonetheless, Arum, still throwing punches in flurries at age 81, says he is concerned.

“The Chinese will not tolerate this,” says Arum, who says he plans to ask for extra security for the “Clash in Cotai” fight card. “The people in this region don’t accept this type of behavior. If we ask for extra security, we’re going to get extra security. The whole atmosphere is relying on us for suggestions, and (hotel officials) follow through.”

The dust-up has been addressed, at least for a time. Only then does the man who founded Top Rank Boxing and is bringing the biggest fight to the region since the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1974 settle into a seat at the indoor acreage that is the Venetian’s Media Center.

The highlights:

Sitting with you now, I am reminded of the time we talked in Dallas about four years ago. We talked about the effort Jerry Jones was making at Cowboys Stadium, a new venue at the time, to lure major boxing events to Dallas. Here we are again with Macau, a new player in the fight game. Are we at that point now in Macau? Do the officials here want to turn the region into the Fight Capital of the World?

One thing about Macau, particularly here at the Venetian, is they can afford anything. This is like, years ago, at Caesars, which was the big gorilla, and they could afford any event that they wanted because Caesars attracted big gamblers, and these fights like (Sugar Ray) Leonard-(Tommy) Hearns, and so forth, brought in big-money gamblers.

Today, only Pacquiao brings in the big gamblers. The era of the big American punters (gamblers) is gone. In other words, the Americans who come to Vegas come more for the entertainment and the restaurants than they do for the gambling. Here in Macau, it’s like what it like was back then in Las Vegas during the ’80s.

The chief difference, as we’ve been learning over the past few years, is Macau’s all about gambling revenue, where Las Vegas is drawing from all sources outside gaming.

Correct. Exactly. And because the gambling revenue, if it’s handled right, brings in extraordinary amounts of money, a place like Macau can better afford these types of events than a place like MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

But does it have to be that Vegas has to be dependent at all on gambling tourists to put on big fights? Couldn’t you rationalize, as we have more recently, that a big fight will bring in a lot of clubgoers? Or a lot shoppers? Or a lot of people who will spend money at restaurants and on entertainment in Las Vegas?

Yes, yes, you can do that, but your (profit) margins are much lower. And, therefore, you have to watch your pennies, so you will see a press room — and nothing against MGM — you will see a press room at MGM where the spread for the press is rather niggardly. They can’t spend the kind of money they do here, where it doesn’t matter. You’re talking huge gambling revenue. What the [heck] does it mean to feed the press? They have a room next door where they feed the press three meals a day. The press has never had anything like this.

But that’s a barometer, right? The press room is folded into a trend of having the luxury of putting on a top-level event. All of the amenities are at a higher level when you have the money the Venetian has to stage an event.

Exactly correct. Here, there is never any question when you ask for something to be done, and you say, “This is going to cost a lot of extra money.” Money is like virtually irrelevant. … When you’re talking millions of dollars and need you need something for a hundred thousand dollars, it is irrelevant. They can’t do that in Vegas because the amounts they can make from a fight are rather limited, so they have to watch what they spend or else it becomes a disaster for them.

Are there other resorts in Macau that you’ve talked to seriously about staging fights?

There is only one venue here in Macau, and that’s the Cotai Arena, that can handle a fight like this. It’s the equivalent of MGM Grand Garden Arena. It’s really nice.

Now, I talked to Steve Wynn a couple of weeks ago, and he’s putting up a $4.5 billion place on this Strip, and he said, “Bob, should I do an arena? I said, “Steve, you’ve got to be crazy not to.” So he is putting in an arena the same size as this. There will be other events coming in. There will be boxing, concerts, and, in order to keep up in the future, you have to have an arena to attract customers.

As you look around for venues to hold fights, how does the new arena MGM Resorts is planning with AEG factor into your planning?

Todd (duBoef, president of Top Rank Boxing) and I have had lunch with Jim Murren and Bill Hornbuckle (of MGM Resorts), and they’re very optimistic about that arena because it will be state-of-the-art. I think it’s very important for them to be moving forward with that arena because MGM Grand Garden, as nice as it is, is beginning to age. Mandalay Bay is relatively small. So it’s a very good idea for them to put up a 20,000-seat arena because they keep control, in effect, of the big events for Las Vegas.

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Let’s talk a little about Manny Pacquiao and his position in boxing today. Is it possible for him to be considered the greatest fighter of his era if he does not fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., regardless of what happens to Mayweather in his career?

Well, I think probably not. Probably not. I think it’s open for debate, whether he is, but he’s certainly the greatest fighter to come out of Asia, ever, and he has performed tremendously on the professional stage. To say he’s the greatest fighter of this era is a stretch and something I don’t think even he would appreciate or aspire to. That’s not how he thinks.

Does this hit to your ability to promote a fight, when you once had somebody who was arguably the best of his time who now isn’t the best of his time?

Well, you have a guy who has one of the most unbelievable fan bases, and it’s primarily Filipinos, but they’re insane. I walked, last night, through the Grand Arrivals and was besieged by Filipinos. Not because of me, but because of Manny Pacquiao. Sixty thousand Filipinos live in Macau, and thousands have come here from the Philippines to see him. Filipinos all over, all over love him.

There are 5 million to 6 million living in the United States. They are so prevalent that politicians from both parties court me because they believe I can deliver the Filipino vote. They saw what happened with (Sen.) Harry Reid (whom Pacquiao endorsed in Reid’s hard-fought re-election victory over Sharon Angle in 2010). Harry called me, and I flew Manny in from training camp in L.A., and it turned the election.

Well, now Manny gets to call Sen. Reid and ask for assistance from the U.S. for the typhoon that hit the Philippines. Pacquiao has repeatedly thanked the U.S. government for its assistance in that tragedy.

Absolutely. Harry will take his calls.

That is an old-Vegas way of doing things.

Yeah, it is.

You are already committed to coming back to the Venetian Macau next year, right?

In February, we’re going to do a show that resembles the first two shows we did here. We’re calling it “The Ring of Gold.” We’ll have three Olympic gold medal winners from the London Games fighting. Zou Shiming, from China; Ryota Murata, the middleweight from Japan; and Egor Mekhontsev from Russia, the light-heavyweight champion. We’ll do a couple of title fights, and those shows work extremely well.

Pacquiao is a pretty reliable pay-per-view draw. What do the pay-per-view numbers have to hit for this card to be a success?

It’ll be a success with or without the pay-per-view numbers. It’ll be a major success if we hit anywhere near the million homes that Manny generally averages on his pay-per-view fights. ... But the money we’re making from (the Venetian), we have a unique arrangement where they’re giving us a whole pile of money. If the pay-per-view performs well, we have a give-back of part of the pay-per-view revenue (to the hotel).

You might be the best person anywhere to ask this: From your point-of-view, what does Las Vegas do better than other regions that want to stage big events?

You have the experience in Las Vegas. The biggest events have, by and large — with certain exceptions, like Cowboys Stadium, which is an aberration — taken place in Las Vegas. It’s become almost rote for Las Vegas to put them on. It’s not new. They know what to do, how to put it on, they know how to set up the event, and it is not reinventing the wheel. Also, you have all these hotels in Las Vegas that are involved. Here, in Macau, it’s only the Venetian. You don’t get the same type of “Yay! We’re in Macau!” attitude. There is no synergy.

This feels like the Venetian is to Macau, right now, as Cowboys Stadium is to the Arlington, Dallas and Fort Worth region of Texas. Even though this is a huge resort with a lot to do, it’s an insular experience. The fight is happening in just this one place.

Right. You have no buzz over at the Wynn. No buzz at MGM. No buzz at the Chinese casinos. Nothing. This is happening at the Venetian, in a vacuum, and that’s not the way it is — as you know — in Las Vegas. It’s the opposite.

Do you have any conversations with Jerry Jones at Cowboys Stadium? What’s happening there?

We’re very, very close with Jerry. I like him, and we’re talking about maybe doing an event there, and they’re going to set it up like a basketball arena, 25,000 seats. We would do not a Manny Pacquiao fight, but right under that level. Like at the level of a (Timothy) Bradley-(Juan Manuel) Marquez fight. We want that to happen next year, talking to them about sometime in the spring.

It’s amazing how active you are. You’re not slowing down at all.

Oh, I love this. I love it. I am the only person around who remembers the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ — I co-promoted it. We have a special fighter in Manny Pacquiao, and it’s very gratifying to come back here and do it all again.

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