Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was in Beijing this week, along with legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum, to promote his fight against Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios at the end of November in Macao. I had the chance to interview Manny and some of his camp. Here’s what I found out:
Manny Pacquiao talks very, very quietly. I’d never tell him that, of course, because he could lay me out with one punch, but it gives the impression he’s painfully shy, which given the fact that he is reportedly the world’s second richest sportsman, and has voluntarily become a public figure away from the ring, he almost certainly is not. But I was straining just to check if he was still breathing, let alone hear what he had to say.
Manny’s politics could use a refresher course. Pacquiao is not quite up to speed with the whole China-Philippines islands dispute, at least not from the Chinese side. Or if he is, he’s just playing dumb. I asked him during the interview if he was concerned about the Chinese fans cheering against him because of recent events, especially since, as a politician, he can’t just hide behind sports the way others can. His response: we’re all Asian. People have tried that line before – and it didn’t work out so well. Manny has bought out 1,000 seats for his supporters for the November 24 fight, so he’s guaranteed some vocal support, but I’m guessing the rest of those tuning in from China won’t be so keen to see him dominate Rios.
Macao loves boxing. It’s well known that Macao has far surpassed Vegas as the gambling capital of the world, but this was surprising: the Venetian hotel, which staged the Zou Shiming fight on the weekend, did an extra $60 million dollars in business over and above a usual weekend there. In other words, they’d be keen to put on these fights as often as humanely possible, and presumably they’d be happy to foot the bill as well, because the extra revenue far outweighs any costs.
Never, ever believe the numbers. Regular readers will know this is not a new revelation, but it was brought home to me quite how farcical TV viewing numbers in China can be when one member of Zou Shiming’s team told me that an estimated 100 million viewers watched Zou’s fight last Saturday, and then another member of the same team told me that it was 25 million. I’d be surprised if it was even that many, but what does seem likely is that Zou provides a significant enough bump to CCTV-5’s viewing figures compared with usual programming late on Saturday night to keep the TV bosses happy, so expect to see more of his fights shown live in China as long as he keeps winning.
Bob Arum has still got it. At one point during the press conference, I turned around to check if he had a teleprompter, so prepared was his script (he didn’t). Others stumbled their way through much shorter speeches, getting dates and names wrong, but not Bob. Sure, it’s his job and he’s been doing it for years, but at 81 it’s more than a little impressive.
Even motormouths can get nervous. Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios who spent Monday (and presumably most days) shooting his mouth off, cracking jokes of the “That’s what she said” variety and horsing around, was – for once – tongue-tied when he stepped on stage to say a few words. If 100 or so journalists and a few cameras can get to him – and, remember, this wasn’t even the first press conference of this visit, let alone in his 33-fight career – what will 15,000 fans and the bright lights of the Venetian do to him in November?