ZOU SHIMING HAS A LOT MORE THAN A WORLD TITLE RIDING ON HIS NEXT FIGHT IN MACAU, WRITES MATHEW SCOTT.
If there are question marks still hanging over the head of Zou Shiming and his rise through the professional ranks to become a world title contender the Chinese boxer is seemingly unconcerned. On the outside at least.
“My mind is focused on what will happen in the ring,” says Zou. “It’s an exciting opportunity and I have been patiently waiting for it.”
The 33-year-old Zunyi-born fighter can be found in the days leading up to his return to Macau and to the Cotai Arena for his IBF world title bout against holder
Amnat Ruenroeng from Thailand doing what has brought him so far already in his life. For the few months leading up to the event Zou has stuck to the routine set out for him by Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach in his gym in Hollywood.
So Zou’s been pounding away, working on muscling himself up, on packing some extra power into the punches the critics have so far – across his unbeaten professional record of 6-0 – claimed still lack the poison, the venom in them that’s necessary if you are to go all the way to the top in the pro ranks.
He’s an unbeaten pro, for sure, but the quality of Zou’s opponents so far has been questionable and – surprisingly – an amateur career that brought with it two Olympic gold medals and three world championships seems for the most part to have been dismissed as an irrelevance, especially Stateside and in the internet chatrooms which shadow the sport and where everyone today is an expert.
And that’s one of the many intrigues we face going into the 7 March bout.
I AM JUST TRYING TO DO EVERYTING RIGHT, EVERYTHING THAT IS WHITHIN MY POWER TO CONTROL.
Those who have been ringside for all of Zou’s pro fights and who have looked through the hype have seen a progression, a maturation that has come despite all his previously gathered experience, and a hardness instilled thanks to Roach’s constant cajoling for his charge to sit down more in his punches, to work on letting them find their mark, to wait and to land them and hurt rather than just to shoot and score, as he did when he was an amateur.
There’s also the weight of expectation on a man charged – whether he likes it or not – with being the standard bearer as boxing marches its way into China. A world title, the likes of the Top Rank and Venetian Macau organizations believe, will open the floodgates in terms of audience, revenue and participants in a sport that’s popularity has waned elsewhere in the world.
And then there’s Zou’s opponent Amnat. A one-time street kid battled hardened through prison stints his camp have claimed and then denied, Amnat got Zou’s measure when they first met as amateurs – not long after he had walked free from prison – and then lost to him twice before turning pro.
Amnat’s record stands at 14-0, he collected the vacant IBF world title with a unanimous decision over Rocky Fuentes of the Philippines last January, and he has since defended it twice – impressive but still less of a threat perhaps than those holding the weight divisions other major belts, including the WBA’s Juan Francisco Estrada (33-31-2) and the WBC Román González (41-0).
But you can only beat the opponent you face and when we catch up with Zou in LA he says he’s sticking firmly the game plan set out by his mentor.
“Since we think the fight will probably last 12 rounds, Freddie has been instructing me in how to control the rhythm and use my physical strength,” says Zou. “And we have got some really good sparring partners who fight with the style of Amnat. It has helped me a lot so I can expect what Amnat will bring to me during the fight.”
It’s been just over two years since Zou turned pro and at the age of 32 most boxers are looking towards retirement instead choosing to basically go back to the beginning in terms of training and of technique. The fundamentals, though, have never been altered, he says.
“I have trained hard to reach the requirements needed to be a pro boxer,” says Zou.
“Freddie helps me a lot. He improves my power, which is the most fundamental factor when you want to become an elite pro boxer, but he has never compromised my strengths – speed, footwork and so on. So I am much stronger now compared to when I was an amateur. My power is destructive and I feel confident to fight any boxers in my weight division.”
Zou says that regardless of the result on 7 March, part of his mission since turning pro has already been achieved. In signing on with Top Rank, The Venetian Macau and Chinese sports agency SECA, the fighter knew part of his remit would be to fight, but part would also be to promote the sport across China. That there is now a regular series of bouts being staged across the country – the first such pro tour of its kind in China – shows the groundwork has been laid for the development of the sport, says Zou.
“I should say in the past years, we have witnessed a great progress in the sport in China,” he says.
“So far in Macau, I have been lucky enough to fight besides elite boxers such as Manny Pacquiao, Brian Viloria, Vasyl Lomachenko, Jessie Vargas.
“Chinese can now watch fights of these heroes on their home soil. And in Mainland China, world-class standard boxing events have established. More and more Chinese talents are getting opportunities to show their potential, while fans enjoy their boxing feast more frequently. It’s a huge change, it has amazed everyone.”
And then our focus comes back to the fight. Amnat has gone public with his admiration and respect for Zou and while the Chinese fighter says the feeling are reciprocal, all sentiment will be shed once that first bell ring sounds.
“I am just trying to do everything right, everything that is within my power to control,” says Zou.
“I know once I step inside that ring I will release my power and passion. When I made the choice to turn pro in my 30s, I did not only pursue my dream to become a world champion but also expected that this would encourage more Chinese talent to fight for their own dreams. So I am enjoying the support and the expectations that are coming from Chinese boxing fans. Hopefully I can repay them by a victory and become a world champion.”