By Sean Crose
Zou Shiming is very popular in his homeland of China. He’s also a two time Olympic gold medal winner. In other words, he’s got real potential to be an international superstar…at least on paper. Truth be told, though, Shiming has failed to impress since he debuted as a professional boxer in April of last year.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
Sure, the guy won his first three fights in a row, but they were against extremely limited competition. Plus, Shiming won those fights by decision, not by knockout. What’s more, the professional version of Shiming has looked more like a wily arm puncher than a seasoned former Olympian who is now ready to blast his way into the big time.
In other words, this is no Vasyl Lomachenko. Still, Shiming walked into the ring at the Cotai arena in Macau on Saturday under the tutelage of the great Freddie Roach. He also had a ready made opponent in Thailand’s Yokthong Kokietgym. In other words, Shiming was supposed to win this one on Saturday, and win it big. He had already made a lot of money during his short time in the fight game, after all, and the eminent Bob Arum wanted him streamlined into a title shot.
It all had to be stressful for the guy, especially when you consider the fact that the western press has rightfully been skeptical of his ability. Truth be told, though, Shiming looked good during Saturday’s bout. Quite good, actually. Not great – but quite good. His hands were fast and his punches crisp. He was also able to avoid the shots of Kokietgym and knocked his gutsy opponent down several times – hard – in the seventh round.
Long story short, Shiming got his first knockout. The fans in Macau were thrilled. Ray Mancini was clearly impressed at ringside. It was a fine display of boxing all around. What did it all mean, though? Sure, Shiming looked good, but – again – he was fighting an opponent who, although tough and game, was far from threatening.
What would happen if Shiming went to Vegas within the next few months to fight, say, Juan Estrada for Estrada’s WBA and/or WBO flyweight title? Would he get the knockout then? Or would he get knocked out himself?
The truth is that Shiming remains a question mark. He looked better on Saturday, but he certainly didn’t look good enough to top a card aimed for a major western audience. That doesn’t mean things won’t look up for him, however. A lot has been made of the fact that Shiming is now close to 33 years old. That’s a problem, no doubt, but it’s not as big a problem as it would have been ten or twenty years ago. If he keeps training with Roach and keeps improving by hitting like a pro instead of like a kid looking for a Golden Gloves Championship, Shiming may end up being embraced outside of Asia, after all.
How heartily he’ll be embraced away from home, however, is another matter. Truth is, flyweights aren’t that popular in places like America to begin with. That’s unfair, sure, but it’s a fact of life. There’s also the matter of how MUCH Shiming can improve over time. That, frankly, is a question no one can answer, not even Roach or Shiming himself. Then there’s the matter of Shiming’s less than thrilling start in the pro ranks. It takes a lot to overcome a bad first impression.
Still, Shiming can indeed be embraced outside his native Asia if he continues to improve and score knockouts. He will probably never rise above the rank of undercard attraction on major cards, but there’s really no shame in that. Especially when you consider the fact he’s enormously popular back home. And even more especially when you consider the fact he’s earning some serious money to take back home with him.