Two-time Olympic Games champion Zou Shiming is aiming for the top in professional boxing.
Zou is scheduled to make his professional debut next month and intends to become the first boxer from China to make it big on the world stage.
The nimble light-flyweight gold medallist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games begins his quest for a world title in Macau on April 6 when he faces a little-known Mexican, Eleazar Valenzuela.
Zou, also a three-time amateur world champion, is well known in his homeland, where boxing was banned under Mao Zedong. Now he hopes to extend his reputation to a global audience and put China on the map as a force in the sport.
"It's always been a dream of mine to become a professional boxer. Now that I have this opportunity, I want to see if I can become a world champion. That is the goal I hope to achieve," he said this week.
Zou has signed a contract with Bob Arum's Las Vegas-based Top Rank promotions and has been training under the celebrated Freddie Roach, who has drawn comparisons between Zou and Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao.
"Freddie has been incredible. He has made my transition from amateur to professional easy and I love working with him," Zou said.
“I am just starting my professional career; Manny is a world champion many times over. I hope to be on that same stage one day but I need to improve and work as hard as I can."
Zou, who has been training in the United States in the build-up to his professional debut, explained the reason for his move to turn pro at the relatively late age of 31.
"I decided to stay another four years and compete in the London Olympic Games as an amateur. Now I am looking forward to becoming a professional fighter. It's never too late to follow your dreams."
"He picks things up very quickly,” Roach said. “I think he'll be champion in a short time. I told Bob Arum that within a year this guy will be the world champion.
"I know that's a fast track, but with his amateur experience, I think that we can go that way."
Zou, 1.65 metres tall, is from Guizhou, southern China, and is known for his fast hands and footwork. He hopes to inspire a generation of Chinese boxers.
"Boxing is developing in China and more and more people are becoming fans. That is great," he said. "If my performances help to grow the sport it will make me happy."
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