NEW YORK: American coaches are training top Chinese amateur boxers in the US under a historic agreement that could see China emerge as the next great Olympic boxing power. The coaches are also looking to promote boxing within China.
Amateur boxing, which was practised in China in the 1950s, was virtually banned for more than two decades until it was revived, though on a limited scale, in 1986.
After a strong showing at last year's Olympic Games, China are poised to become a boxing powerhouse, just as the sport's popularity is getting KO'd in the US.
Dino Duva, a New Jersey-based boxing promoter and his partner, Richard Davimos, came up with the idea after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Chinese boxers had their best Olympics ever, winning two golds, a silver and a bronze. The Chinese medal tally was four times that of the US boxing team. Duva and Davimos launched D&D Global and recently formed a joint venture with the Chinese Sports Administration
Zhang Zhilei, the Chinese super heavyweight Olympic silver medalist, is among the top talents who will train in America. Zhang is currently competing in Milan after an intensive, 21-day training program with Duva in Pennsylvania.
Duva believes Chinese boxers could eventually be the world's best.
"The Chinese are great athletes and are determined to succeed," Duva said. "Now they just have to learn and continue to learn boxing skills."
Duva is working in cooperation with the Chinese Boxing Federation, the governing body that oversees all boxing in China. So far, he is not releasing names of other Chinese boxers who will train in the US. But Duva would say that the deal is with the entire Chinese national boxing team - both men and women. Women's boxing was recenty added as an Olympic sport for the London Games in 2012.
"We will discuss which fighters they want to send over here, which makes the most sense," Duva said. The next training camp is planned for November, when Chinese boxers will come to the US for a media and sponsorship tour.
For the most part, the Chinese boxers and coaches will come to the US. But Duva has visited China six times already this year. He said US sponsors are interested in signing on. Adidas is already the apparel sponsor for the Chinese national men's boxing team.
He has continued high hopes for Zhang - as an Olympian and beyond.
"The fighter has unbelievable potential," said Duva. "I believe he can be the best amateur heavyweight in the world. Not long after, he could be a professional heavyweight."
Lou Duva, father of Dino and member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, is also impressed with Zhang. "I only had him for a few weeks but I saw both potential and big improvement in the 6-7, 260-pound super heavyweight."
American boxing enthusiasts are also excited about future Chinese champions training here. Ja Dawson, a boxing blogger at FightInsight.com, said Chinese boxers are starting to grab attention. Zhang had been "aggressively recruited" by Duva, he said.
Dawson said that China, where promoter Don King has tried for years to stage a major heavyweight title fight, is fertile boxing ground. It is home to many people from modest economic backgrounds - the kind of background that boxing has always attracted.
"Add in the increased exposure and support that amateur boxing is receiving in the nation and boxing may well take off in China," said Dawson. "As a boxing fan, I would surely welcome that."
There are others who believe in China's boxing potential. "Boxing is always looking for a Yao Ming," said Dan Goossen, president of Goossen-Tutor Promotions, a boxing promotion company in Los Angeles, referring to China's star basketball player.