China's most decorated boxer, Zou Shiming, is embarking on a new phase of his career after confirming earlier this week that he will have his first professional fight at the Venetian Macao Resort on April 6.
The 31-year-old two-time Olympic champion unveiled his partnership with professional boxing promotion company Top Rank and his training agenda in Beijing.
The company, based in Las Vegas, is renowned for its successful promotion of world-class fighters, including heavyweight legend Muhammad Ali and Philippine star Manny Pacquiao.
According to Bob Arum, the founder and CEO of Top Rank, Zou will fly to Las Vegas with his wife on Feb 4 to prepare for his first pro bout. He will be coached by two of the world's best boxing coaches - Miguel Diaz and chief trainer Freddie Roach, who has led Pacquiao to 10 world titles in eight divisions.
Zou, who won two gold medals and one bronze at three consecutive Olympics, had thought about retiring from the national team as early as 2008, after winning China's first Olympic gold medal in boxing at the Beijing Games. However, the 2012 London Olympics postponed his pro dreams for four years.
"I clearly remember when I watched the professional boxing matches on the black-and-white television during my childhood and I told myself at that time my ultimate goal is to become the hero of the ring," Zou said.
"I made many efforts to achieve that. I went to sports school, was selected by the provincial team and national team, and took part in the Olympics for my country. I am proud of what I achieved at the Olympics but, from the deepest part of my heart, becoming a professional boxer was my dream from the start."
Though he has won numerous titles in his 10-year amateur career, Zou's prospects in the professional ranks are not all that clear as he is already in his 30s and there are questions about whether he will be able to cope with the intensity of the 12 rounds of pro fights.
Arum believes Zou has a good chance to break the mould.
"Age is just a number, and the Cuban fighters have taught us that lesson. When some of them turn professional they are around 30, but they don't seem to have suffered from age," the 81-year-old Arum said.
"Zou has tremendous amateur experience. He has more than 10 years as a top amateur. I believe he will be like some of the Cuban fighters who, once they turned professional, were able to fight for a world title in their first six, eight fights, because of the experience they gained as amateur fighters."
The American is also confident about Zou's potential to be a major draw.
"The conventional wisdom used to be small fighters from Asia could only reach a certain economic level - however, we have been able to destroy that myth through Pacquiao," Arum said. "Pacquiao made as much as $30 million for a fight, making him one of the highest-paid boxers in the world.
"So the sky is the limit for this young man, and we hope with new improvements and technology, he will end up being the highest-earning fighter of all time.
"I am very well aware of what a national treasure Zou is for this country, and I realize the responsibility that has been given to us to help build his professional boxing career."Tags: Zou Shiming