Xiong Zhao Zhong, China's first professional world boxing champion, has been busy preparing himself for a momentous year of the snake.
"This will be my best year," he said. "I was born in 1982 in the year of the dog and everyone knows that snakes fear dogs and I'm a boxing dog."
Xiong spoke while taking a short break in a two-hour hit-out at Bangkok's 13 Coins Gym.
"My manager Liu Gang wanted me to train away from the Chinese New Year celebrations," he said.
"I told him that I'm from the dog zodiac and he didn't have to worry. It's good to be in Thailand and I'm ready to take on any challenger this year.
"Any snakes will have to watch out as dog boxers don't back off from a fight."
Since he won the WBC minimumweight title last October, against Mexican Javier Martinez Redendiz at the Kunming City Stadium, Xiong has become a superstar and was greeted by 15,000 cheering fans when he returned to his village.
While that was a great honour for him, there were other highlights since his historic victory that stick in his mind.
"Meeting Muhammad Ali in Cancun last December was something I'll never forget," he said.
"We looked each other in the eyes and we just knew that there's nothing greater than being a world boxing champion."
After presenting a Chinese painting to Ali, Xiong went to Las Vegas to witness Manny Pacquiao get knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez.
"Next to Ali, I admired Pacquiao most, and to see him get knocked out made me realize that a boxer's days of glory are short-lived," Xiong explained.
"So I'm going to make the most of this snake year and do my best so there's no regrets."
Xiong's will have a voluntary defence of his world title in Las Vegas on April 13.
China's Yunnan TV executives and his manager Liu Gang are staging the event with promoter Gary Shaw, with a live broadcast to China and other countries.
His title defence in Las Vegas is important, as Chinese boxing fans have been urging Xiong to embrace international fame and fight opponents from outside Asia.
He has been approached by Thais Wanheng Menayothin and Pigmy Kokietgym, the Philippines' top-ranked contender Devon Cuello (Singwangcha) and a bunch of Mexican fighters such as Juan Hernandez, Raul Garcia and Jose Alfredo Zungia.
Negotiations fell through with South African Hekkie Budler, who wasn't available for a title shot in the US and now the match-makers are turning to Panama's boxers Walter Tello and Carlos Carlos Ortego.
Xiong's next fight will be in Las Vegas and is likely to set an all-time record for the number of people watching a boxing match in China.
The audience in China is expected to be more than 200 million with several other countries booked to receive the live telecast.
Xiong, now a professional boxer for seven years, said he is aware that there are more than a billion sports fans in China who are following his career.
"There are great expectations, but I am happy knowing that I am becoming a better boxer," he said.
"From the first time I stepped into the ring to fight, I knew that I was fulfilling my destiny.
"It's a big responsibility but that makes me stronger. Boxers have to believe in their ability to overcome the best efforts of their opponents."
Xiong said he was proud to have risen up from his village community to become China's first world champion boxer.
"I know that I won't always be a world champion, but knowing that makes me want to make the most of what I have," he said.
"That means I need to keep on improving to keep on winning. I have learnt from several boxing trainers.
"I know my strength and am overcoming my weaknesses. It's a tough sport."
Xiong said he is looking forward to fighting his China rival, Zou Shiming, who won his second successive Olympic gold medal by beating Thailand's Kaew Pongprayoon in London last year.
Zou will have his first professional fight on promoter Bob Arum's event in Macau on April 6.
"All of China wants to see me fight Zou and I hope that this fight can be arranged soon," Xiong said.
Xiong with Shaw and Zou with Arum, in their respective corners, would make great viewing and signal to the world that China has come of age in international boxing.
Meanwhile, Xiong is looking forward to returning to China and his calligraphy, a painting art form that emphasises life as energy in motion.
Xiong sees his calligraphy as "yin painting the yang dog".
"It's my secret weapon," said Xiong, who holds high hopes that the year ahead will further improve his impressive record of 20-4-1 (11KOs).Tags: Xiong Zhao Zhong