Zou gets the glory, but Xiong is a better story

Updated: 2013-07-21 08:24

By Murray Greig(China Daily)

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Zou gets the glory, but Xiong is a better story

As Rocky Balboa was fond of saying: "Let's not get mentally irregular."

While all the hype surrounding Zou Shiming's six-rounder against Mexico's Jesus Ortega on July 27 at the Venetian Resort & Casino in Macao is a boon for boxing in China, any suggestion that it's a make-or-break bout for the two-time Olympic gold medalist is ludicrous.

Let's be clear: Zou is an extraordinary talent and in Freddie Roach he has the best trainer on the planet in his corner. But at this embryonic stage of his career, neither of those assets is as important as his attitude.

Coming off a less than auspicious debut in April (D4 over teenager Eleazar Valenzuela), Zou naturally feels pressure to do better while Roach is still seeking to expunge some of the fighter's bad amateur habits. But that's all there is to it.

Incredibly, some observers (mostly in the US) are already postulating that Zou's pedestrian showing in April signaled the end of a career before it had begun. Others have pompously declared the three-time world amateur champ will never make it big as a pro because his 18-year-old opponent was still standing at the final bell.

What a load of crap.

Like all boxers, Zou is human. And like all humans, he's not perfect. What counts is that he's smart enough to know it will take six or seven pro outings against progressively better opposition in order to gauge his potential to conquer the world.

Until then, his critics need to shut up and cut him some slack.

While Zou's trials and tribulations continue to fuel most of the boxing talk in China, for my money the under-the-radar saga of Xiong Zhaozhong is far more compelling.

Since becoming China's first professional world champion by beating Mexico's Javier Martinez for the WBC minimumweight (105 lbs) crown last October, Xiong, a seven-year pro, has quietly distinguished himself as one of boxing's good guys.

Two months after taking the title at Kunming City Stadium in his hometown, Xiong had an emotional meeting with his hero, Muhammad Ali, at the WBC convention in Cancun, Mexico.

"That was something I will never forget," the 30-year-old said in an interview with boxingscene.com. "I presented Ali with a Chinese painting. We looked into each other's eyes and we just knew that there's nothing greater than being a world boxing champion."

From Mexico, Xiong traveled to Las Vegas and was ringside to watch Manny Pacquiao get KO'd by Juan Manuel Marquez - an experience that steeled his resolve to be a fighting champion.

"Next to Ali, I admire Pacquiao most," said Xiong. "To see him get knocked out like that made me realize that a boxer's glory days are short-lived."

True to his word, Xiong made his first title defense two weeks ago, traveling to Dubai to defeat tough mandatory contender Denver Cuello of the Philippines. Xiong was decked in the opening round but came back to notch a 12-round majority decision in one of the best slugfests of the year to date.

"From the moment I first stepped in the ring to fight, I knew I was fulfilling my life's work," he said afterwards.

"I know I won't always be a world champion, but knowing that makes me want to make the most of what I have."

Spoken like a true man of destiny.

Murray Greig is a Canadian writer and former boxing trainer who's worked the corner in a world title fight. Contact him at murraygreig@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 07/21/2013 page8)