Ruenroeng vs. Zou: the flyweight rout in Macau
Chinese boxing icon Zou Shiming, 6-0 (1), has three world championships and two Olympic gold medals in his trophy case from a celebrated amateur career.
Now, in only his seventh professional fight and less than two years after his professional debut, Zou will challenge undefeated IBF world flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng,14-0 (5), today at the Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena in Macau, China.
Zou is the poster boy for boxing in China and “the engine behind all the activity,” according to Hall of Fame promoter and Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum.
Zou prepared for the biggest bout of his professional career at trainer Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles. While the 2008 and 2012 gold medalist doesn’t feel any undue pressure from his huge legion of fans, it is clear he doesn’t want to let them down either.
In recent interviews, Zou spoke of his desire to fulfill his professional dreams for both the people of China and for himself.
“I swore to fulfill my dreams to become a professional fighter, to achieve world titles and to bring China into the worldwide boxing family. The pressure doesn’t come from my home country but comes from myself,” he said.
While the 33-year-old Zou is massively popular now, his profile is only expected to grow with a win in a world title fight, one that could draw an audience upwards of 300 million people.
Zou is no stranger to punching the clock in Macau as he has been the star attraction there on cards over the last couple of years since turning pro.
The Venetian’s Cotai Arena has hosted all of Zou’s six professional fights thus far along with two world title cards featuring the Filipino eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao.
While Zou has pitched a perfect 6-0 shut-out at the Venetian, he expects a much tougher battle against Amnat, who is making the third defence of his IBF flyweight title.
Zou knows the champion well as the pair met up three times during their amateur careers. Their trilogy began with Ruenroeng winning their first battle, an impressive showing at the 2007 King’s Cup, Ruenroeng’s first international competition. Zou then went on to win their next two fights, including a reverse in their semifinal bout of the 2010 Asian Games that could have gone either way.
Now both professionals, they know the stakes are much higher. They are both fighting for a pay cheque and a future in the game as an elite player.
Zou has stated he would continue his career even if he loses. However, at 33 years of age and coming into the pro game late, a loss in his world title bid would be a huge setback. He also realizes the amateurs are a different game from the pros. Their battle today may look nothing like their amateur encounters.
“[Amnat] is as determined as me to win this fight. He is a tough fighter and the professional experience should give him a bit of an advantage. I have fought Amnat three times and I am familiar with his fighting style. However, he turned professional years earlier than me. This should bring me new challenges. When we were fighting as amateurs, I think we were at the same level, in terms of strength. Now that he’s a world champion, he’s definitely getting stronger but I’m improving as well. One thing for sure is that the fight will be absolutely captivating,” said Zou.
While Zou may be the betting favorite (and most certainly the fan favorite) going into the bout, the fight will be no easy task. He is facing a tough, hardened fighter in Ruenroeng, who has overcome many obstacles inside and outside the ring.
Ruenroeng has defeated both drug addiction and three separate prison terms on his way to finding success and redemption in boxing, winning a bronze at the 2007 World Amateur Championships in Chicago before making his professional debut in 2012. He had made his presence known in the division by his second year as a pro by winning the IBF Pan Pacific and Asia flyweight titles before capturing the vacant IBF flyweight world title in January of last year.
Now, with Zou poised to challenge Ruenroeng for the world title and with their storied past from the amateurs as a pre-fight backdrop, Zou and Amnat are ready to light up the Cotai Arena in the Venetian Resort.
In a perfect world, Zou said he would win the world title and then make a title defense in Las Vegas but he knows that world title dreams can only start with a victory today in Macau. “Las Vegas is always the big stage that all professional boxers dream of,” he said. “At the moment, I am only focused on March 7.”
As Zou wrapped up a workout at the Wild Card Gym in preparation for the biggest professional fight of his life, he said, “I am really excited for this fight; I can’t wait to get in the ring. I have been preparing for this fight two months. From my first professional fight to my title shot and after I win the title, you will see how I have progressed.” Under the watchful eye of Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., Zou reflected on the upcoming task, his biggest as a professional.
“I feel very confident with the professional fighting style now. In my last fight, which went 12 rounds [a unanimous decision victory over Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym], I really felt like a professional fighter. That was a turning point for me, a landmark fight. Ruenroeng and I fought each other three times as amateurs. What I remember most is that he is good at gauging the distance between us to land his punches. He’s very lengthy with his reach. He was also very good at timing his punches,” he said.
Zou is a fighter who appears poised to carry the weight of professional boxing for his whole country on his shoulders. And despite the added pressure of his first world title fight, he seems to be taking it in stride, seemingly relaxed and confident heading into the biggest fight of his pro career.
“I am asked a lot which means more, winning Olympic gold or a world title. They are equally important to me. The March 7 fight is the next step for me. It is the biggest thing for me right now but for me personally, not bigger than winning the gold medals. I really want to win the world title and bring it back to China. It would be the first time a Chinese fighter won Olympic gold and a world championship belt as a professional. No one has ever done that. I want to make my country proud and advance the sport of boxing throughout China. I am ready for my date with destiny,” Zou said. “The three Olympics, the World Amateur Championships and the past two years as a professional have prepared me for March 7. I don’t need any more fights to prepare me for challenging for a world title.”
If he can pull off a win today, the wildly popular cornerstone of professional boxing in China will take his already massive appeal to a whole new level.
“I am very calm, not nervous. I have been prepared for this moment for a long time. I am focused on myself, on executing Freddie’s game plan. This will be the biggest test for me. Expect me to be champion.”