This Saturday, history is being made...
This weekend marks something historic. Zou Shiming is making his professional boxing debut in Macao. It is a debut that will be watched by an estimated 500 million Chinese people.
But the significance of this event has ramifications beyond one individual’s potential to be a superstar. To explain these ramifications, I must give a bit of a history lesson.
Different cultures like England, Russia, and Greece have an indigenous tradition of pugilism. Likewise, China also has such a tradition.
About 2,000 years ago, a Chinese book entitled The Combat Arts of Two Hands appeared. It was a book exclusively about boxing techniques. Unfortunately, this book disappeared from print. Nevertheless, traditional Chinese martial arts such as Xingyiquan, Choi Lai Fat, and Wing Chun — while implementing techniques beyond boxing — place special emphasis on fist techniques.
When Westerners came to China, they brought Western boxing with them. At first, the sport in China appeared as an unregulated street sport pitting foreign sailers against local fighters who had experience in Chinese traditional martial arts. Western boxing became popular, and the sport grew rapidly.
In the 1920s, a book entitled The Technique of Western Boxing was translated into Chinese. This was followed up with sports academies putting Western boxing classes in their major curriculum. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, China assigned 69 athletes as participants. Two of them were boxers.
Then after World War II, boxing competitions began popping up in all major Chinese cities. The grandest boxing tournament in Chinese history had 142 participants show up in Beijing. The legendary Bruce Lee is known to have participated in an amateur boxing tournament.
Unfortunately, Western boxing was banned in China in 1959. It was believed that boxing was too brutal and too worthless — and had characteristics of capitalism. An entire generation of Chinese boxers were forced to hang up the gloves.
Then in 1979, something changed. At the invitation of Chairman Deng Xiaoping, Muhammad Ali paid a visit to China. In their visit, Ali was seen hugging Deng. After this visit, Deng exclaimed, “If we want to win friends, if we want to win respect, we have to win medals”.
Boxing in China was reborn in 1987 when the ban was lifted. Chinese boxers began training again. Lacking the proper equipment, they used sandbags instead. There was an obvious gulf in quality between China and the rest of the world, but with persistent effort, once again China competed in boxing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Then in 2004, Zou Shiming won bronze at the Athens Olympics. In doing so, he became the first Chinese to actually medal. If this was Shiming’s lone achievement, it would be significant. But he was just getting started.
In 2005 and 2007, Shiming won gold in the World Amateur Championships. It became apparent that Shiming was someone truly special. During this time, he developed a rivalry with Pürevdorjiin Serdamba of Mongolia — who beat Shiming in the 2007 Asian Championship Games.
Then 2008 Beijing Olympics came. Shiming met Serdamba in the finals. Millions of Chinese tuned to watch these rivals compete. In the course of the fight, Serdamba was forced to retire due to injury. Zou burst into tears. He had won China’s first ever Olympic boxing medal.
China would win another boxing gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Zhang Xiaoping would win one at light heavyweight. These two medals marked boxing’s arrival as a power in amateur boxing.
But there was no doubt that Shiming was Chinese boxing’s biggest star. After the 2008 Olympics, Shiming would win gold 2010 Asian Games as well as the 2011 World Amateur Championships. Many began to wonder if Shiming could pull off a rarity and win another Olympic gold medal in London.
At 31-years-old, Shiming entered the finals against Kaeo Pongprayoon of Thailand. With controversy, Shiming narrowly won with scores of 13-10. In this, he won his second Olympic gold medal.
Which now brings us to this moment in time. Zou Shiming, China’s most famous combat sports athlete, is making his debut this Saturday.
China already has a championship fighter in Ziong Zhao Zhong who holds the WBC title at minimumweight. They also have several exciting prospects in the pro ranks — one of whom is Rex Tso who’s promoted by Ricky Hatton.
But just as Zou Shiming marked China as a great power in amateur boxing, his debut next Saturday may potentially mark them as a great power in professional boxing. The whole world will be watching him — including America where the event will be broadcast on HBO2.
What will the future hold? Brian Viloria, who’s also fighting on the card, holds the WBA and WBO flyweight titles. Shiming and Viloria are primed for a showdown in 2014.
Should a Shiming-Viloria fight happen, this will be one of the most watched fights in boxing history.
Entering pro circuit at the age of 31...
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Zou is pretty much in the same position as Guillermo Rigondeaux was when he turned pro. Rigondeaux is one of the greatest amateurs of all time who found himself turning pro a few months shy of 30-years-old. They fast-tracked him big time.
By Rigondeaux's 3rd fight, he fought for and won the NABA title. Then in his 7th fight, he won the interim WBA World super bantamweight title. Next week, he's fighting Nonito Donaire for the unified WBO and WBA titles, as well as the lineal championship.
Not bad for a 32-years-old with only 11 fights, eh?
Anyway, even though Rigondeaux's arguably more talented than Zou, he's not as big of a deal. Rigondeaux didn't get his own Cantopop diva doing a music video for his debut.
Let's forget, though, about the plausibility of Zou becoming a world titlist. It is possible, but that's not why I wrote this whole shebang ;)
Think about what this means for China and combat sports in general. Zou's breaking the glass ceiling. If he can generate big money, other Chinese will know it can be done — and they'll do their damnedest to replicate his success.
We might be seeing Chinese stars in muay Thai and MMA. Seriously, how awesome would it be to see someone skilled in shuai jiao winning a UFC title?
I think this is a taste of things to come.
Hey aren't you atomicpoet?
The most controversial man in martial arts?
It's an honor.
I heard you killed 200 men in single combat.
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