Like Russia and Cuba, China and their communist system of amateur of athletics has seen several of their decorated boxers turn to the professional ranks. When athletes come from a closed system to test themselves in the pro game, well the results can be mixed.
Former two–time Olympic Gold Medal winner Shiming Zou is taking on Brazil’s Natan Santana Coutinho in the main event of the Shangai Sports Center event scheduled for Saturday, January 30th. Zou is far and away China’s most famous boxer, as his Olympic victories were celebrated heavily throughout the country.
Shiming Zou (6-1) is returning to the ring for the first time since March of 2015, when he sustained the first loss of his career in a failed bid for the IBF World Flyweight title. Zou is now 34 years old, and he made his professional debut in April of 2013 at the late age of 31. The loss to Amnat Ruenrong of Thailand for the IBF World Title was Zou and his handlers seeking to fast-track him into a world championship. The formula has worked for several decorated Olympians such as Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux. A victory for Zou would have put him in elite company and potentially earned him world-wide recognition, but the loss was a big setback.
stars of a “reality” style travel show in China where a celebrity father is followed by a camera crew while he travels the countryside with his son. The show, called “Baba, Qu Nali?” translates as “Dad, Where we going?”. Zou appeared with his four year old son and their relationship together captivated a wide viewing audience in China.
Also at the Shangai Sports Center on the 30th of January, Ik Yang returns to the ring to face undefeated Chalermpol Singwacha (16-0) of Thailand.
Ik Yang (19-1) last fought in July of 2015, and he took the first loss of his pro career as he faced Cesar Rene Cuenca (47-0) of Argentina for the vacant IBF World Super Lightweight title.
Ik Yang, known as the “Wildman”, is the anti-thesis of most Chinese boxers in that he does not come with a vast amateur resume but rather honed his skill in 4 and 6 round bouts in neighboring South Korea’s local boxing scene. Culturally, Yang’s story is one of a fighter coming up the hard way and he has earned a lot of fans with his aggressive, tough guy style honed in the smoky fight clubs of Seoul.
The diverse backgrounds of both men seemed to be leading Chinese boxing into a new and modern era. In the world’s most populous country, expectations are high, and both men needed to win and establish themselves on the world-wide scene. With both Zou and Yang experiencing the first losses of their respective careers in their last fights, the air was taken out of their sails, and therefore, the whole of Chinese boxing took a symbolic step back.
Banking on its recovery and co-promoting the event on the 30th is Bob Arum and his Top Rank Promotions. Arum has been working to unlock the Asian market for several years, and he has been tying up talent with representation contracts. He has been responsible for a series of shows in Macau, most famously a pair of Manny Pacquiao fights (against Chris Algieri and Brandon Rios).
Arum has spent the last three years investing in roughly a dozen shows in China, but this event on January 30th is the veteran promoter’s first event outside of the gambling oasis of Macau and in real, “mainland” China. Arum is both showing his reliance on Zou and Yang as draws in the Chinese market and he is trying to earn them a win that is the first step towards erasing the memories of their last outings.
Zou is fighting under a good deal of pressure. Approaching 35 years old, he fights in the Flyweight division and the lower weight classes are getting more and more international attention. Zou is expected to compete at the highest levels, so he must stay on the fast track and start a winning streak on the 30th. Zang fights very much in need of a win himself, as he operates in the talent-rich Light Welterweight division and a second title shot is likely to be a long way away for him.
Pictured: China's “Wildman” Ik Yang celebrating victory.