It was Shiming Zou's toughest fight in years, to say the least.
He established a dominating 21-1 lead in Doha until the referee waved off the bout in the second round when the Chinese light flyweight broke a 16-year gold drought for China in its Asian Games rings.
He renewed his dominance in the Chicago, outclassing his opponents averaging 22-5, claiming the World Championships title and beating all the other 10 gold medalists to receive the honor of the stylistic boxer of the 2007 World Championships.
But when it came to his second bout in Beijing, Zou found himself in a dead heat late, and had to step it up late to move on in the tournament.
China's best candidate for its first Olympic boxing gold, Zou overcame a one point deficit in the last 20 seconds, knocking down the World Championships bronze medalist Nordine Oubaali and evening the score 3-3 before securing a berth in the Olympic quarter-finals at the Beijing Workers' Gymnasium tonight.
Zou, China's two-time world champion and a bronze medalist in the Athens Olympics, entered the ring first, wearing a flowing golden satin robe, emboldened by the roar of the majority Chinese crowd.
You could sense the confidence flowing from every part of his body; he'd earned that, as this was the boxer that swept 21-1 last year at the World Championships semifinal in Chicago.
In the opening round, Zou initiated the first attacks, but it was the Frenchman who landed his scoring punch first. When the round ended, the score surprisingly rested on a 1-1 draw.
"My pressure is big when the score is close," Zou said after the fight.
To say close is an understatement, as the Chinese boxing kingpin was even trailing by one point with under 30 seconds to go, although he was the one that aggressively pressed the whole fight.
The Chinese audience all had their eyes fixed, with urgency and dread mingling in their guts, when the clock ticked.
With a packed partisan home crowd cheering him on, Zou weathered the storm and hit his opponent with a blazing huge right, knocking him down and tying the score 3-3. The 10,000 strong home crowd packing the arena burst into cheers.
Although the final decision for the bout is 3-3, the victory belonged to the more aggressive and more stylistically sound Chinese boxer.
After winning the fight, Zou walked to his opponent's corner and touched his shoulder to express his kindness.
He then bowed and blew kisses in every direction.
"The home crowd is a massive support for me," Zou said. "They helped me so much."
Zou blasted the Frenchman 21-1 in their last confrontation in Chicago, yet when the two met nine months later in Beijing, the Chinese little giant was tied 3-3.
"I did a lot of study on him and he studied me too," Zou said. "We knew each other very well."
The head coach of the Chinese national boxing team Chuanliang Zhang told me that he was a little confused about the scoring and to my eyes, Shiming Zou landed two clear punches that didn't get scored.
Zhenyu Li is a Beijing-based 2008 Olympic journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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