By: Sergio L. Martinez
Boxing, like any other business, is about positioning and having the commodity in highest demand by the consumers. There are many streams from which boxing’s top promoters regularly cultivate fighters but history has shown that Olympic stars can turn into big draws in the paid ranks. There have been several that have come up short but overall, the Olympic banner still carries weight and an Olympic medal guarantees a top promotional company will be calling. Case in point: Zou Shiming and Vasyl Lomachenko.
Both Zou and Lomachenko are incredible amateur boxers that drew the attention of legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum. Although both men proved themselves in the unpaid ranks, they are on distinctly different paths as professionals. For very different reasons, Arum will have to make sure to make it work on both ends.
Take away the marketing potential of Zou Shiming in China, Top Rank’s strategic move to Macau and Golden Boy’s U.S. dominance, and the fact is simple: it does not matter if Zou is a mediocre professional fighter, as his value in the Chinese market will keep him busy going life and death with a bunch of stiffs. Arum needs Zou to be able to salvage his company and have a shot at rebuilding the Top Rank Empire.
If you have ever seen Zou fight, then you know this: The guy has no power, is wide with his stance, has poor balance, throws looping shots and is relatively easy to hit. If it were not for the fact that Zou is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, one would be hard-pressed to believe that Zou is considered the greatest amateur fighter China has ever produced. Although his amateur pedigree certainly suggests that to be the case, his professional career thus far suggests that Zou should have retired as an amateur.
Zou, now 33 years old, has looked so beatable in his first three fights that Arum’s assertion that the Chinese legend will be ready to challenge for a world title sometime this year seems completely preposterous, unless of course Arum is going to consider the I.B.C. or the I.B.A. as titles. Any B-level flyweight operating right now would more than likely take Zou apart over eight rounds. This is not to say that Zou may never develop into a solid professional but considering his age and the timeframe set by Top Rank, the odds are not favorable. Basically, Zou is to Arum what military bases abroad are to the United States: a strategy.
If not for his value in developing the Chinese market, Arum would have dropped Zou after the first round of his professional debut. Because of the Cold War and with Top Rank’s coffers running low, not only is Arum forced to continue showcasing Zou but the Home Box Office network is also forced to put him on its air. Both businesses better hope that Zou continues to beat the walking dead because if the Chinese contingent is lost, Zou will be left with zero appeal to the general market.
The positive thing for Arum is that Vasyl Lomachenko is the “Yin” to Zou’s “Yang.” The former Ukrainian gold medalist is also considered one of the greatest amateurs to have ever laced up a set of gloves. Lomachenko’s amateur pedigree is undeniable as his record reads 396 wins and 1 loss. The loss was avenged twice. He has won multiple world championships and has beaten the world’s best many times over.
Having conquered the nonprofessional ranks, Lomachenko made his paid debut in October 2013. As is a growing trend with highly experienced world-class amateurs, Lomachenko was matched tough; he took on and dismantled competent Mexican professional, Jose Ramirez. Ramirez was a 28 professional fight veteran who had taken on and defeated solid competition. The fight was scheduled for 10 rounds but it took Lomachenko only four rounds to walkthrough and destroy Ramirez via knockout. The Ukrainian looked as good as advertised as he methodically broke down Ramirez with sustained pressure and a malicious bodily assault. Lomachenko showed quick hands, solid footwork, great distance, timing, brutal power and inordinate boxing skills.
The performance was so good that Top Rank immediately moved to get the Ukrainian ranked in the World Boxing Organization and Lomachenko is scheduled to vie for his first world title in his second professional fight. The title shot is scheduled for March 1, 2014 and will fight against the ever-dangerous Mexican banger Orlando “Siri” Salido. Should he win as expected, Lomachenko will throw his already accelerated rise into overdrive and be well on his way to become a crossover star in boxing.
In the end, Arum’s objective remains clear: keep digging up corpses for Zou and hope that fighters will want to continue facing Lomachenko (should he look devastating against Salido). Both of these fighters represent different realities of Top Rank’s future and both are equally important for vastly different reasons. This in itself makes their saga interesting and adds to the theater that is boxing.
Contact Sergio L. Martinez at [email protected]