Why going it alone could prove to be a bad idea for Zou Shiming
Two-time Olympic gold medallist and poster boy of China’s boxing scene puts his world title on the line next week, but he’s been left in a vulnerable position for the first time
Remember the original Rocky movie? The scene when Apollo Creed is busy wheeling and dealing over his desk and one of his trainers, intrigued by Balboa punching cow carcasses on the TV news report remarks: “You better see this. He means business” by which Creed angrily retorts: “No, I mean business!”
The movie, as we all know, is one of Hollywood’s beloved fictional sports movies, but it seems the scene is being played out in real life in Shanghai where China’s golden boy, Zou Shiming, is preparing to make his first WBO world title defence.
Creed narrowly won his first fight against Rocky by points – he lost the title to Rocky in Rocky II – but the movie depicted Creed as a boxing entrepreneur, who underestimated his opponent.
Zou is the two-time Olympic gold medallist turned professional fighter, turned professional flyweight champion and he treads into unknown territory after he made the announcement this year that he was going to be his own man and promote his own fight as he steps into the ring for the 11th time on July 28.
Zou raised eyebrows by refusing to renew his contract with US promoters Top Rank, who helped him make the transition from top amateur to leading professional in less than four years. But Top Rank will, this time, not help the 36-year-old Zou in any shape or form – nor will his long-time Chinese sports agent and marketing partner, Seca.
Zou will do it alone and that could backfire, as Seca boss Li Sheng suggested recently. “I think he’s making a big mistake,” Li said. “He made the decision to promote the fight by himself with his wife [Ran Yingying]. If he wants to become his own promoter, that’s his own choice. He made the decision after he won the world title last November.”
Zou, who is also the three-time amateur world champion, might know a thing or two about fighting but promoting is not his forte and it will be a whole new ball game for the Zunyi-born fighter. Promotion is a tough business. Sponsors must be found, fighters have to be paid and tickets have to be sold to make the event a success. A weak undercard is not going to help, too. Since Zou is putting up his own money to promote his own title defence, expenses are going to run up.
Fighters are usually wary about whether they are going to get paid. There have been many cases of unscrupulous promoters taking the money and running. Without a reputable name like Top Rank behind him, it’s going to be a slog for the now entrepreneurial mainlander.
Zou takes on Japan’s seventh-ranked Sho Kimura (14-1-2, 7 KOs) at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Centre but the mainlander could find himself in a vulnerable position this time.
Alisports, which is part of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is helping Zou as a partner to promote the event but the boxer they call “Fists of Gold” needed a lot of help – from Hong Kong of all places – with Rex Tso’s manager, Jay Lau Chi-yuen, helping him find suitable sparring partners to be flown to Shanghai.
“It was significant that I won the belt in Las Vegas, the boxing temple. I want to bring this glory and passion, as well as the boxing culture, to China,” said Zou in an interview with Agence France-Presse this week.
“I know this business back to front: not just the training, but also their minds, their injuries, their illness and their promotion,” he said.
In the past, everything was arranged for Zou – his training, his purse and promotion – but this time, he will have do things himself, something he has no experience in.
There are rumours Zou doesn’t even have a proper coach and his preparations haven’t been going too smoothly although Zou insisted he will be ready to defend his title.
Without the services of Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, who oversaw Zou’s previous 10 bouts, plus all the modern facilities that were at his disposal in the United States before, Zou could be reverting back to his amateur days ... and that’s risky.
Underestimating Kimura, who Hong Kong fans know well, having seen the Japanese knock out his last opponent on the undercard of the Rex Tso-Hirofumi Mukai fight in March, could prove disastrous.
What if Zou loses? Can he fill Shanghai Oriental Sports Centre? Could he end up losing money?
Zou says he is trying to build up the sport and boxing in China. But in essence, he is promoting his own event so that he can earn a much larger slice of the pie.
Nothing wrong with that with a family to feed but if things don’t go well for him and he loses, it will make it that much harder for him to get another world title shot now that he is 36.
It will be interesting to see how Zou fares in Shanghai and whether going alone turns out to be the right decision for him or a bad idea that could spell disaster for his career.