Arum aims to conquer China with Zou's help
Veteran promoter hopes to cash in on the mainland after double Olympic champion's move into the professional ranks
Having promoted 25 Muhammad Ali fights and been involved with many other great champions past and present, you would think Bob Arum would be ready to finally rest on his laurels.
Not likely. The 81-year-old is still packing a punch as one of boxing's best promoters and despite more than 45 years in the business, promoting the likes of Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Manny Pacquiao, the Harvard-educated American still gets a kick out of doing what he does best.
"I'm not retiring. Why should I retire when I'm enjoying myself? I will absolutely continue if I can," said Arum, who promoted last night's "Fists of Gold" at the Venetian Cotai Arena.
What excites the Top Rank organisation founder and CEO these days is the huge market China is slowly bringing to the game.
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Zou Shiming made his professional debut last night against Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela and Arum sees a potential goldmine with Zou taking the sport to new heights.
Boxing had been banned for many years during the Cultural Revolution and boxers only returned to the competition fold some 20 years ago. Now, fans are getting excited over the prospect of Zou, who is set to become the sport's first superstar from China.
"When I started with Manny Pacquiao, he came from a nation of 90 million people. He became a worldwide phenomenon. Now, I start with a young man [Zou] who knows boxing and has great skills and he comes from a nation of 1.4 billion. You do the math," said Arum of the financial windfall Chinese boxing could bring to the game.
Arum said interest had returned to the sport on the mainland thanks largely to the exploits of Zou. Last night's Fists of Gold was watched by around 200 million in China alone, with millions more tuned into the fight in the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and the United States.
"You could tell he [Zou] had talent, speed and reflexes from watching his amateur Olympic fights. But you couldn't tell what a professional he could be because professional boxing is completely different from amateur boxing. I put him with the best trainer in the world in Freddie Roach," said Arum.
"Freddie worked with Zou in Las Vegas and Freddie said the kid has tremendous talent. We arranged for Zou and his wife to go to Los Angeles and he continued his training there. He was able to get first-class sparring. I watched him a number of times in his sparring sessions.
"There was nobody he couldn't handle. Freddie is very optimistic as to how Zou will develop. His first professional fight is four rounds. We will raise it to six rounds in his next fight and then eight, 10 and eventually 12 rounds for the title. Freddie thinks he can contest a world championship in the next year."
Roach added: "The talent we have seen from Zou over the past few weeks, we just knew he would be ready for [last night's] fight."
Arum said Zou's emergence had come as a breath of fresh air for China. "All of China was considered lost before. There was no real boxing activity. There was no interest. It is our hope, because of this phenomenal fighter who has won two gold medals at the Olympics, that he will reignite interest in boxing.
"I really believe that can happen. You can see the enthusiasm in spreading the word about their fighter, the music video, the advertising not only in Hong Kong but all over China for this fight," said Arum.
The American said his organisation was concentrating on Zou but added Top Rank's long-term plan was to "sign some other top Chinese prospects".
"We have to tread very delicately because some of these prospects are amateurs and the Chinese government might want them to continue as amateurs so they can compete at the next Olympics," said Arum.
Meanwhile, Arum revealed Pacquiao's next fight could be held either in Macau or Singapore later this year. The Philippines superstar lost to American Timothy Bradley on a controversial decision last year before suffering a devastating knockout defeat by Juan Manuel Marquez in December.
"The best possible fight for Pacquiao could be against Bradley or Marquez in either September or October. It has to be decided whether it's going to be held in Macau or Singapore. In any event, fighting in that event as a co-feature will be Zou," said Arum.