Passion still burns inside Chinese boxer Zou Shiming as he faces moment of truth
Two-time Olympic champion faces must-win bout against Brazilian Natan Santana Coutinho
Zou Shiming faces his moment of truth on Saturday night when he steps into the ring at the Oriental Sport Centre to face Brazilian Natan Santana Coutinho for the vacant WBO International flyweight title.
Win and the Chinese fighter can start looking towards another possible world title challenge later in the year.
Lose, and the rankings drop combined with the march of time might well force the 34-year-old to weigh up his future.
Mere mention of the second scenario produced a few noticeable nervous ticks on Friday from the money men behind the two-time Olympic champion’s professional career, and the spread of the sport across China.
But promoters Bob Arum of Top Rank and Sheng Li of Seca used the official weigh-in to assure the faithful all would not be lost for the man, or the sport, should Coutinho surprise.
“We’re taking things one step at a time,” said Arum. “After this there will be another fight in May or June and hopefully a world title shot at the end of the year.
“We all know what’s at stake. Win and away we go again. Lose and, well, we’ll come up with another plan”
READ MORE: Zou Shiming breaks from reality TV stardom to resurrect boxing career in ‘Return of the King’
Arum let that thought hang in the air. Zou, of course, was refusing to even entertain it.
Still smarting from the loss last March to Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng
in their IBF world flyweight title bout, Zou has looked relaxed to the point of being almost laid back in the build-up to the nine-bout “Return of the King” card.
That’s despite the fact that it’s his debut performance as a pro on the mainland – his previous seven fights having all been staged in Macau – and attention has been heightened by his recent role as the star of a smash-hit reality show.
“Over the past four years [since he won gold at the London Olympics] I have had to start all over again, and it’s a little bit like that again now,” said Zou.
“Every morning when I wake up and think about my life, I think that if boxing wasn’t a part of it I’d be lost. So I want to keep fighting and I want to win.”
Zou (6-1) weighed in at 111.1 pounds for the bout, while Coutinho (12-0) tipped the scales at 111.4.
The 21-year-old Brazilian paid his respects to Zou, but warned he was prepared to spoil the party on the biggest night in history for professional boxing in China.
“I respect Zou’s history but I’m a fighter – I’m not scared of anyone, “ said Coutinho. “I’ve had 10 knockouts in my career and I am hungry for another one.
“I have watched Zou’s fights and he is not so powerful but I am. I know that if I can punch him in the face, I can knock him out.”