It appears WBO world welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao is keen on having his next fight in the United Arab Emirates. With no opponent slated for April 23, Pacquiao is going against all pronounce-ments by Australian promoters that he will fight Jeff Horn in Brisbane, and signing a deal to fight in the rich Middle Eastern city. It will be the sixth country that Pacquiao will be fighting in. A common question though is why.
A large Filipino audience. As a sitting senator of the republic, Pacquiao has a vested interest in being around his constituents, no matter where they are. With an eye on higher office, bringing a world title fight to a state where Filipinos flock to any event from the motherland, he will definitely score a lot of points with the OFW community there and their families back home. By some accounts, up to 20 percent of the population of Dubai alone is already Filipino. They are literally everywhere you go, from airport security to bank tellers, taxi drivers, nurses, teachers, office personnel, radio announcers and of course, hotel staff. And they are in touch with what’s going on back home. That’s a big chunk of voters for any current elected official, or any aspiring president, for that matter.
There is a lot of precedent. A steady stream of Filipino sporting and entertainment events has already played in Dubai, to the delight of the large Filipino population there. The PBA continues to look to endear itself to overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East. ALA Promotions has staged two “Pinoy Pride” events at the convention center. Current and past Filipino singers have performed their familiar songs to old and new audiences there. And Filipino sports events have also attracted a large share of the foreign audience in the Emirates, no doubt from word of mouth from the Filipino workers who seem to be everywhere.
Big-time boxing has rarely been done before. The first major boxing event in the UAE was held only in 1997, with former super middleweight champion Chris Eubank defeating Camilo Alarcon at the Dubai tennis stadium. In a 2008 heavyweight bout, Michael Moorer knocked out Shelby “Bonetown Brawler” Gross in one round. In June of 2013, Filipino Denver Cuello, fighting with a misdiagnosed torn rotator cuff, lost via majority decision to defending WBC minimumweight champion Xiong Zhao Zhong in Dubai. And since it was announced that nearby Doha, Qatar would host the World Cup in 2022, interest in the Middle East among big promoters like Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions has increased anew. But so far, no world title fights have been scheduled in the emirate. UFC, though has been able to build a market in Abu Dhabi. Being able to break through and make a big fight happen will definitely be another noteworthy accomplishment for Pacquiao.
Sponsorship money. Of course, there is a lot of money to be made between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Some of the wealthiest people in the world live there, and as previously mentioned, rarely get to watch world-championship boxing up close. The world headquarters of several airlines (Etihad and Emirates), banks, investment companies, fuel companies and other multinationals are there, and they would welcome the opportunity to court a large global audience that a world title fight brings. The UAE is known for an upscale lifestyle, and has been touted by many as having the potential to rival major tourist hubs like Las Vegas, with the help of big sports and entertainment events. Rent alone is astronomical. With Pacquiao’s new stature as a nationally elected official, these are the kinds of sponsors he would like to deal with. New audience equals new money.
Plenty of possible venues. Of course, the first question that comes to mind when you think of a Pacquiao fight is where it will be held. In 2012, the Dubai Sports Council launched the Sports Destinations Map, which listed roughly 100 venues, including GPS coordinates, contact information and instructions on how to get to each place via rail or car. The government noted five years ago that only 36 percent of the population is active, and would like to increase that number to 50 percent. There are actually more than 500 places for public and private physical activity in Dubai. Given that many of them are stadia built for football and cricket (and even cycling and diving), that still leaves several choices, depending on the size of audience you need to attract. Dubai has also been constructing venues practically nonstop, in the hope of eventually hosting the Olympic Games.
One major adjustment the live audience will have to make is what time they will be able to watch the fight. Assuming that the card will follow US time to pull in whatever pay-per-view money is out there, it will not be the usual late Sunday morning showing in the Philippines. Philippine time is 16 hours ahead of US Eastern time, 13 hours ahead of the West Coast, and four hours ahead of UAE. Unless fight time is adjusted otherwise, that would put the start of undercard at around 5 a.m. in Dubai for a 9 a.m. start in the Philippines. It would, however, be a small price to pay for a rare chance to see Manny Pacquiao live.
All told it is a smart move for Pacquiao to fight in the UAE, more so as his career winds down. It will bring excitement to a new set of spectators, fan the flames of the sport in the Middle East, raise his political stock, bring in new sponsors, and strengthen his brand. When you think about it, first-time spectators may not really care who he fights, as long as he fights in their backyard.