Despite a relatively low-quality bout, Zou Shiming's victorious overseas debut on Saturday should pave the way for Chinese boxing to join the sport's international mainstream.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist scored a 10-round unanimous decision over 19-year-old Hungarian Jozsef Ajtai at Madison Square Garden, New York, making his career record 8-1 since turning professional after the London Games in 2012.
The 35-year-old flyweight's first overseas fight as a pro attracted tens of millions of Chinese fans to watch live at home on TV and via online streaming platforms.
Zou said he felt blessed after winning at the iconic New York venue, which is where his idol, the late Muhammad Ali, fought several times.
"It's definitely different from all my previous fights, as I fought on the center stage that every pro boxer dreams of," said Zou, who has risen to prominence from a village in Guizhou province. "I hope I can prove that a Chinese can succeed on the highest stage of pro boxing. I also want to honor my idol Ali with this victory."
Ali, the former three-time heavyweight champion, died on June 3 in Arizona due to complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 74.
Although Zou's fight on Saturday was cheered by a group of more than 100 Chinese fans, it was far from an exciting battle due to his opponent's defensive style, which saw Ajtai stroll around the ring to avoid head-on contact with Zou.
"I thought after warming up in the first round that he would attack. But until the 10th round, it seemed like his aim was not victory but finishing the fight, that's all," Zou said.
However, he added, "This was my first fight in the US, and it gave me a chance to fight for the golden belt in a bout at the end of this year, which is absolutely the most important for me."
According to Zou's Hall of Fame trainer, Freddie Roach, he will likely next challenge WBA and WBO flyweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada of Mexico.
The Chinese fighter, who is signed to the Top Rank promotion agency, which has also worked with champions including Ali and Manny Pacquiao, said he hopes to inspire young Chinese to fight their way to a world title.
Li Sheng, Zou's agent and CEO of Shanghai-based Sports Entertainment Content Activation, added that Saturday's victory "amplified the ultimate ambition of Chinese boxing, which is to fight and win at the highest stage in pro boxing like Pacquiao did for the Asians".
"It was the first step for him (Zou), but a beginning for all the young Chinese fighters to come," he said.