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Can Zou Shiming Be Loved Outside Of China?

by Sean Crose

Let’s face it – Chinese flyweight Zou Shiming is one of boxing’s biggest stars.

Thing is, though, he’s really not that great in the ring. At least he hasn’t proven to be yet. And, at 33 years of age, one has to wonder if and when the guy’s going to enter his prime professional fighting form. Not that such a thing matters to someone in Shiming’s position.

The dude’s won two gold medals for China, after all. That means he’s a celebrity in an enormous, lucrative and densely populated country. While it’s true that Olympic glory doesn’t guarantee professional success, it has earned Shiming a great deal of money and attention, regardless.

This Saturday, on the Pacquiao-Algieri undercard in Macau, Shiming will be the homecrowd hero when he faces the widely unknown Thai boxer Kwanpichit Onesongchaigym in a twelve-round throwdown.

Just how popular is Shiming in China? Well, Bleacher Report claims his pro debut brought in well over double the viewers that last year’s Super Bowl did here in the states.

That’s a whole lot of eyeballs, especially for a fighter most analysts seem to consider to be just. . .meh. Yet China is far from a boxing-mad country. That means most of the population probably doesn’t know what makes a good boxer. Maybe Shiming mania is just a national pride thing with the Chinese public, then – something perhaps akin to non-swimmers cheering wildly for Michael Phelps.

No matter. Shiming is popular at home, iconic even. He’s also a walking, talking, punching, cash flow. Who needs to be all that great when you’ve got so many other things propping you up? Shiming is connected to Bob Arum, yet he could easily be pictured as Al Haymon’s dream fighter – a man who will always bring in a ton of money, no matter who he’s pitted up against.

Here, though, is the rub.

Shiming_Viloria media day_130320_002a
Shiming (r) works the pads with Freddie Roach

Shiming will never go beyond the rank of marginalized celebrity if he doesn’t start raising some eyebrows with his ring skills. Yeah, he may be the key who unlocks Arum’s Chinese pay-per-view dream, but who’s going to remember the guy for that? Notable fighters–and yes, Shiming is notable–generally want to be known for more than their earning power – even in these closing days of the Floyd Mayweather era.

So what can Shiming do to impress those fighters and analysts whose opinions count in making and/or breaking a fighter’s reputation? The truth is he can do everything a little bit better. In all honesty, Shiming is far from terrible. He only has but one knockout in five fights, but he’s active enough in the ring to keep things interesting.

If Shiming can make his speed, timing and power all notably sharper, he might work his way towards becoming a serious professional boxer. At the moment, however, he’s viewed as a marketing ploy come to life: a pawn in a high stakes game of Asian sports promotion. Oh, he’ll be given a title belt of something, but it won’t stand for much if the guy doesn’t prove himself worthy of a belt.

However, I wouldn’t write Shiming off just yet.

His Olympic record may not even be without controversy, but not just anyone can reach the amateur level Shiming was able to operate at for years. There simply has to be some kind of talent present. If not, the man would have never gotten as far along as he did before turning pro.

What’s more, Shiming has Freddie Roach in his corner – one of the best trainers in the business.

Those who feel that Shiming may be too old, or even too washed up, to amount to much need only look at Miguel Cotto’s recent victory over Sergio Martinez. Roach has a way with fighters.

The question now is, will Shiming eventually have a way with fans outside of China?

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