Singapore flexes muscles at Vegas

By Patrick Johnston, Reuters

Posted at May 03 2012 07:47 PM | Updated as of May 04 2012 03:47 AM

SINGAPORE - On the verge of eclipsing Las Vegas as a gambling hub, Singapore has all the ingredients to become a legitimate rival to the American city's home of boxing title, famed ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr told Reuters on Thursday.

Lennon, who has called fights all over the world for 25 years, is in Singapore for Chris John's World Boxing Association featherweight title defence against Japan's Shoji Kimura on Saturday at Marina Bay Sands integrated resort.

The fight is the main event alongside the IBO featherweight title bout between Indonesia's Daud Yordan and Filipino Lorenzo Villanueva, the first time Singapore has hosted two world title contests on the same card.

All 4,000 tickets have been sold, promoters said on Thursday, with Lennon's surprise appearance adding some glitter to a card which offers genuine promise that the sport could find a long term home in Singapore and take business from Vegas.

"Absolutely. As I say, I don't see any doubt in that," Lennon told Reuters when asked if that could happen.

"We have been seeing for years locations with casinos have been taking business away from Las Vegas, all around the world, throughout the United States and certainly it could happen."

While analysts forecast Singapore will overtake Las Vegas this year to become the second biggest gaming location in the world behind Macau, Lennon -- best known for his catchphrase "It's showtime" -- acknowledges it will be a long wait until the duo spar as genuine boxing rivals.

"There is a strong tradition of boxing in Las Vegas and it may take some time, and it won't happen overnight, but the world is moving east in many ways, the economy, the language and so forth making that shift is not out of the realms of possibilities," said Lennon.

Uppercut of reality

While hosts and promoters have been silent on future fights beyond Saturday's bouts, it is highly unlikely these will be the last in Singapore.

Offering an uppercut of reality to Singapore's ambitions, however, is the world class strength of the card taking place in Las Vegas on Saturday, demonstrating exactly where the boxing bar stands.

Undefeated American Floyd Mayweather Jr will defend his WBA super-welterweight title against Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, while the heavy-handed Mexican Saul Alvarez faces Sugar Shane Mosley on an exciting undercard at the MGM Grand.

While the bouts in Singapore will feature only Asian fighters, Lennon believes the continent still needs boxers from the Americas and Europe to help establish itself.

"For now (Asia needs America) yes," said Lennon, whose popularity at Thursday's media conference led to many, including John, requesting a photo of the Hall of Fame announcer.

"Asia does need the rest of the world now, and I'm speaking in the sport of boxing only, because the tradition of boxing is more in the west.

"Certainly when we get more Asian boxers, which is happening and we are seeing right now, but the majority are more from the west, the United States, South America, Mexico and Europe as well so that is the tradition. Could it move? Yeah it could, but it will take a little time."

Asia's and possibly the world's number one fighter, Manny Pacquiao, remains the main draw card and questions inevitably were asked during Thursday's media session if the Filipino could fight in Singapore in the future.

"The Dragon"

While promoters smiled and refused to rule out the prospect, they attempted to instead to point out the talents of John, who is undefeated in 46-0-2 (22 knockouts) and was named by the WBA as their 'fighter of the decade' earlier this year.

However, his failure to fight more often in the United States after a controversial draw against Rocky Juarez in his home town of Houston in 2009, has led to many diminishing his record, something Lennon thinks is unfair.

"I don't know if he needs to prove himself as, in our (U.S. media) opinion, he beat Rocky Juarez twice and Juarez was the best of the time and he went out there and did it. He beat Juan Manuel Marquez the best of the time, so I don't know if he needs to prove himself."

Mexican Marquez, a three-weight world champion and future Hall of Famer, was one of the few top-rated fighters to travel to Indonesia and take on John in 2006.

Lennon believes that should the man known as "the dragon" make Singapore his base for future fights, more illustrious opponents are likely to travel east and take him on.

"Being in a neutral place can be a real advantage because fighters may not want to go to the hometown of their opponent. In some ways Las Vegas is that way for fighters in the U.S..

"Singapore could also be the same and this is the first fight they are doing, they are doing it big with two world titles, but lets see what happens."

(Editing by Ossian Shine)