How’s this for a conspiracy theory? With Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign showing no signs of abating, and all manner of tigers and flies being caught in the net, a particular target of the crackdown is the gambling mecca of Macao, which had grown so fast it was bringing in SEVEN times as much as Vegas as of a year ago.
But with Xi’s squeeze driving Chinese high-rolling “whales” elsewhere in Asia, revenues plummeted by nearly 50% in Macao over the last year. The only bright spot for the territory was the pesky boxer Zou Shiming, who kept fighting – and winning – at Macao’s Venetian resort since turning pro in 2013. A world title belt last weekend could have seen boxing in China take off, with many more multi-million dollar events in Macao certain to attract the undesirable elements.
So word went out from the top, and the judges made sure that two-time Olympic champion Zou lost on points to Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng.
Ok, maybe not. Anyone with any boxing knowledge at all could see that Zou was comprehensively beaten by the reigning IBF world flyweight champion, and it was actually encouraging to see that home advantage – so often the scourge of boxing around the world – made no difference to the scorecards.
Zou is down, and while he is not yet out, it will be a very long road back for a man who turns 34 this month. Here’s an extract from this week’s Sports Talk column:
Zou could return to the ring as early as July, but the buzz that had been building on the mainland as he piled up the wins in Macao has taken a huge hit. Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s Rex Tso looks very promising in the super flyweight division, and there are a couple of Chinese heavyweight prospects, including the giant Dong Taishan, who may yet surprise the world, but the boxing revolution that Zou had been supposed to lead has failed to materialize.
The underlining situation in Macao, though, is perhaps more significant. The partnership between Zou’s promoter, Top Rank, and the Venetian Macao, which has staged all his fights, worked because those who came to watch Zou would also spend hours at the tables. Now that those gamblers are heading elsewhere in search of their thrills, it is hard to see Zou alone – or anyone else – drawing the crowds in equal numbers.
On a brighter note, it looks like we will now be spared Top Rank’s ludicrous claims – shamefully reprinted by lazy journalists – that 300 million people in China watch Zou’s fights, when broadcast numbers show that a figure a tenth that size still looks extremely generous. I’ll leave you with this quote from Top Rank supremo Bob Arum, dated April 2013:
I guarantee you that before [Zou] retires, he will make more money in a fight than [Manny] Pacquiao has ever made in a single fight, more than $128 million – because I know what is happening in that market.
Zou made a reported $750,000 in the loss to Ruenroeng. Now that the bubble has burst, it will be very interesting to see how much he takes home when he next steps in the ring.