MACAU — China’s Zou Shiming makes his professional debut later on Saturday in Macau, setting out on a journey that the two-time Olympic champion and his US promoters believe will end in a world title and global fame.
Already a huge name in his homeland — where boxing was banned under Mao Zedong — the three-time amateur world champion faces the little-known Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title flyweight bout that tops the “Fists of Gold” bill.
The light flyweight gold medallist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Zou is reportedly set to pocket $300,000 for his four rounds at the 15,000-seat CotaiArena, in the bowels of the opulent The Venetian resort-hotel.
Anything but a resounding victory for Zou, 31, is unthinkable. The locals — including the estimated millions watching live on Chinese television — will be baying for a knockout against the whipping boy from Mexico.
Organizers have reported strong ticket sales. The cheapest seats, at 80 Macanese pataca ($10), have all been snapped up. The most expensive seats were going at 2,680 pataca a pop.
Zou, who is bidding to become the first Chinese boxer to make a splash on the world stage, has signed with Bob Arum’s Las Vegas-based Top Rank promotions and has been training under the celebrated Freddie Roach.
Roach has drawn comparisons between Zou and multiple world champion Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines, also in his stable.
“Freddie has been incredible, he has made the transition from amateur to professional very easy and I love working with him,” Zou said in remarks emailed to Agence France-Presse in March.
“That is a great compliment,” he said of the comparisons to Pacquiao. “However, I am just starting my professional career and Manny is a world champion many times over.”
Roach and Arum say that Zou, who stands five feet, five inches (1.65 meters) tall and is from Guizhou, southern China, can be a world champion within 12 months.
The action in Macau, the casino haven near Hong Kong for China’s high-rollers, also sees Brian Viloria, the WBO/WBA flyweight champion, defend his title against tough Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada.
Arum has brought the razzmatazz of US boxing — complete with Western ring girls — to Macau with an eye on tapping into the mainland China market and the increasing financial muscle of its 1.3 billion population.
The Zou fight is scheduled to begin at 11:20 p.m. (1520 GMT).