This Sunday will be the third time I’ll watch Emmanuel D. Pacquiao live.
The first was nine years ago. It was an open air bout at The Fort in Taguig. Diana Zubiri and Juliana Palermo paraded on stage as ring card girls. On that December 2004 evening, Pacman unleashed a ferocious left hook that smashed Fahsan Por Thawatchai’s ribs so hard that the Thai flew on Manila airspace. Fearless, hard-charging, incredibly confident and en route to superstardom — that was Pacquiao then at 26.
The second time I saw him was upclose — literally, as I sat 10 rows away from the stage, beside Ralph Recto and Ai-Ai de las Alas. That was inside the Araneta Coliseum. Against Oscar Larios in 2006, our Pambansang Kamao was stellar but less impressive. He didn’t hammer the Mexican as hard. Nor did he put him to bed in Quezon City. The fight lasted 12 full rounds and, in the early part, Larios even staggered the usually-unshakable Gen. Santos City native, scaring us all.
Those two contests were fought on home soil. Since then, Pacquiao has fought exclusively in the Land of Barack Obama. Of his last 12 bouts, 10 of them have been in the “Sin City” where gambling collects money 24/7. Las Vegas has been Pacquiao’s home; a place of refuge where he puts opponents to sleep.
This weekend, for the first time, Manny will do battle in China. At 1.36 billion, it’s the world’s most populated nation, dwarfing its nemesis, the United States of America, by a billion residents. China is huge. In land area. In population. In economics.
Add boxing to the list. This weekend, China will be huge — in this sport of Muhammad Ali. It’s like China’s “We’ve finally arrived!” party.
MONTE CARLO OF THE ORIENT. We know Macau to be a gambling den. It’s lured high-rollers since the 1850s. But it’s only been since 2002 when the monopoly was shattered and Macau opened its doors to the entry of U.S.-based giants like Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands.
Speaking of entertainment, while plenty of gigs have been hosted by Macau — concerts (Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga), tennis matches (Agassi vs. Sampras), NBA exhibition games (prior to the 2008 Beijing Games, my brother Charlie watched the U.S. Dream Team there) — it won’t be until this weekend that a blockbuster boxing fight will transpire.
I’m sure Brandon Rios is excited. He should be. Arriving Wednesday last week in Macau, the Texas-born resident of California made sure to be jet lag-free by this weekend. He’s early. (The extra hours in Macau will give him more sightseeing time as he won’t have that luxury this Sunday if he gets pulverized.)
As for our same-blooded Pinoy, he arrived late yesterday afternoon in Macau; by private plane, of course. (Guaranteed $18 million, what’s the tiny cost of a 2.5 hour flight?)
MEDIA SCHEDULE. Sharing with you the Media Itinerary sent to us via email, tonight at The Venetian will be the official Grand Arrivals of Rios and Pacquiao. This will mark their official grand entrances; Rios entering 9 tonight while Pacquiao follows 30 minutes later.
Tomorrow, the festivities heat up. At 12 noon, it gets interesting. It’s labeled the “Zou Shi Ming Comic Exhibition Opening Ceremony.”
Who’s Zou Shi Ming? He’s China’s most successful amateur boxer ever, having won three world titles and two Olympic gold medals in the ‘08 and ‘12 Games. He’s scheduled to fight in the undercard this Sunday together with four other Chinese boxers. (Glad to report that Cebu’s very own boxing judge Salven Lagumbay will be judging the Zou Shi Ming – Juan Tozcano undercard.)
Also tomorrow is the Public Undercard Workout from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Then, scheduled at 9:30 p.m., it’s the Main Event Press Conference featuring Bob Arum and his two gladiators…
Only five mornings remain. The clock ticks and the slot machines ring in Asia’s Las Vegas. Like you, I can’t wait.