MACAU -- Arrive at the ferry terminal from Hong Kong, exit past the lines of women done up in elegant garb to pitch casino resorts, board one of the umpteen buses, see the signs and grin.
It's not the ad for the fight that gets you, not the steely faces of Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios, not even that it appears vertically on the faux bell tower of the faux St. Mark's Square of the faux Venice at the Venetian.
It's that little notation at the bottom: "8 a.m."
Yeah, we'll have our Sunday breakfast with a little blood around here.
If you think the United States is fading, here's a curious little reminder that in one vein the answer is not-just-yet. Yet again in 2013 as in 1974 and 1975 and 1990, the world plays to New York time when it comes to a loud bout in an international sport. The Pacquiao-Rios doors will open here on Sunday at 8, with the main event probably between 11 a.m. and noon, and while that might test the athletic biorhythms, those biorhythms defer to American pay-per-view biorhythms, which will perch at a comfortable Saturday 10 p.m.
That's even though we're technically in China, in the largest nation in the world, in a place where one walk through a casino can make you realize that a Las Vegas weekend is just sort of sparsely populous. We're on the islands China rented out to Portugal for trading convenience in 1557, and which Portugal returned as the last European colony in Asia in 1999. We're in a playground people visit from mainland China, which owns and protects Macau even as Macau retains its own currency (pataca) and immigration policy, so that you pass through immigration entering and leaving both Hong Kong and Macau and then again upon entering the mainland, even if a U.S. citizen would need a visa for that last trek. And we're in Macau's Cotai Strip, a landfill zone.
I hope you're suitably confused.
While this event will happen technically in China, a country with more than quadruple the population of the United States, this event still sustains the might of that long-treasured being: the New York viewer. As the promoter Bob Arum is adept at reminding us, two of the most exalted fights in boxing history started at hours you might brand weird.
The "Rumble In The Jungle" in Kinshasa, Zaire, in October 1974 had a staggering starting time of 4:30 a.m. (nighttime on the East Coast of the U.S.). Watching Muhammad Ali and George Foreman enter the stadium in Leon Gast's compelling Academy Award-winning documentary "When We Were Kings," it's good fun to note how awake the spectators look, just as it's bewildering to behold 60,000 people gathered at such an hour.
The "Thrilla In Manila" in Quezon City, Philippines, in October 1975 began around 10:45 a.m. (yet again, nighttime in the East!). Mark Kram of Sports Illustrated wrote: "At ringside, even though the arena was air-conditioned, the heat wrapped around the body like a heavy wet rope." That heat, of course, contributed to Ali's assessment, after beating Joe Frazier, "It was like death. Closest thing to dyin' that I know of."
By contrast, Buster Douglas' upset of Mike Tyson in February 1990 in the Tokyo Dome had a charming little starting time of noon.
While the "Rumble" went to Zaire through the wishes of a president (Mobutu Sese Seko) who later died in exile (Morocco) amid charges of human-rights violations and embezzlement, and the "Thrilla" went to the Philippines through the wishes of a president (Ferdinand Marcos) who later died in exile (Hawaii) amid charges of human-rights violations and embezzlement, Pacquiao-Rios merely marks Macau's bid to play big-league, sports-wise.
With climate control, understanding of nutrition and human comfort all accelerated by 2013, the outdoor weather, so steamy and windless in the Philippines, would not be a factor here. And as trainer Freddie Roach said of Pacquiao during camp in the Philippines (same time zone), "We are getting him used to having two meals before the fight time and I think that's a big factor, as long as he gets those two meals in him it shouldn't be too much of a problem." Said Pacquiao as he left the Philippines, "It's not a problem . . . It doesn't matter."
Ticketholders, meanwhile, can finish with the fight, stream out of the arena into the casino, walk a bit through a labyrinthine mall and take a gondola ride if so inclined, all without ever going outdoors.
Completing that, while New York sleeps, they can always go to lunch.