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Zou holds key to $1 billion bonanza

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2014-11-21 07:40

Chinese boxer Zou Shiming, front, poses during the weigh-in for Champions of Gold boxing event in Macao in this 18 July 2014 file photo. [Photo/IC]

Already the biggest name in boxing that the rest of the world has never heard of, China's Zou Shiming on Sunday could transform himself into the wild card that makes or breaks the richest event in sports history: a bout worth $1 billion.

Yup, you read it right-one billion Yankee greenbacks.

MURRAY GREIG

For that scenario to become reality, Zou (5-0, 1 KO) first has to defeat Thailand's No 1-ranked Kwanpichit Onesongchaigym (27-0-2, 12 KOs) in their International Boxing Federation flyweight title eliminator, with the winner guaranteed a shot at world champion Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015.

If Zou beats Onesongchaigym and World Boxing Organization welterweight champ Manny Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KOs) makes a successful defense against undefeated Chris Algieri (20-0, 8 KOs) in Sunday's main event at Cotai Arena in Macao, the stars will align for a long-awaited showdown between Pacquiao and unbeaten World Boxing Council champ Floyd Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs) for the unified welterweight crown.

At this point it is all conjecture, but Zou's enormous popularity in China is the key to the mint. In terms of TV popularity the double Olympic gold medalist from Zunyi, Guizhou province, is the hottest property in the sport, with his fights drawing an average audience of about 350 million viewers nationwide.

As first reported by Britain's Daily Mail earlier this week, the linchpin of the projected billion-dollar bout between Pacquiao and Mayweather is a plan by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum to make that fight-with Zou's title shot as the featured prelim-the first pay-per-view event televised in China ... at a substantially lower cost than for the rest of the planet.

"Zou is the driving force for taking pay-per-view to China; he's a national hero and hundreds of millions of his countrymen tune in every time he's on TV," Arum said earlier this year.

"Combine Zou's massive appeal with the drawing power of Pacquiao-Mayweather, and you're looking at numbers nobody ever dreamed possible. At $5 a buy, even if only 10 percent of the Chinese population signed up, that's around $650 million. It's staggering."

The Chinese PPV would most likely be delivered online or via smart phones. Arum could also bank on another $300 million from pay-per-view in North America, based on an average buy of about $95.

With worldwide PPV accounting for $950 million and additional revenue generated by the site fee in Macao or Las Vegas, live gate sponsorships and merchandising, the $1 billion plateau suddenly becomes very reachable.

The combatants, of course, would get a generous slice of that enormous pie. Even if Pacquiao acceded to Mayweather's oft-voiced demand for a 60-40 split of their purse, the Philippines congressman could expect to walk away with upwards of $120 million to the American's $140-$150 million. As for Zou, $20-30 million would not be out of the question.

None of it will happen if either Zou or Pacquiao comes up short on Sunday. There's big pressure on both men to not just win, but win big-and that's a much taller task for Zou, who will be fighting his first 12-rounder against a dangerous and far more experienced foe in Onesongchaigym. Both men are 33, but the unbeaten Thai has logged 165 pro rounds to Zou's 33.

"I started my professional career after the age of 30, a decision I am proud of and still feel lucky about," Zou said at a Shanghai media conference in October. "Right now I am just learning about professional boxing and the glories that are available ... and I want to inspire the new generation of boxers in China.

"In the past, I only wanted to be a champion because I knew that a runner-up is quickly forgotten by the world. Now I know that even a champion fades away with time, so I must make the most of my opportunity. I want to enjoy boxing as long as I can."

Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who also oversees Pacquiao's corner, has honed Zou to peak condition for what is shaping up as the biggest fight of his young career.

"Zou's punching speed and strength were already exceeding my expectations in the first week of training camp and he's only gotten stronger and faster since," said Roach.

"He's sitting down on his punches more, moving in and out of the pocket quicker and finding his natural punching rhythm. I'm looking for his best performance yet."

Murray Greig is a Canadian author and former boxing trainer. Contact him at: murraygreig@chinadaily.com.cn

Comments posted above represent readers' views only.

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