Zou Shiming is scheduled to take on Eleazar Valenzuela this weekend in his highly anticipated pro debut. If you have no idea who Valenzuela is, don’t feel bad, neither does anyone else.
Shiming, 31, is a little old to be an up-and-comer, but that’s exactly what he is in the eyes of Top Rank boss Bob Arum. The most successful amateur Chinese boxer of all time, Shiming has the potential to be a star, and there is an extremely populous nation of fans who will eagerly line Arum’s pockets if he ultimately lives up to the hype.
What sort of mass, worldwide appeal can a Chinese superstar have? They’re still voting Yao Ming into NBA All Star games. More recently, Jeremy Lin went through a very highly-publicized contract negotiation before linking up with the Houston Rockets. Most of the conversations about him pertained to his commercial appeal, not his actual ability to ball.
Being a Chinese superstar athlete is a big deal.
And that is why on Saturday, at The Venetian Macau, Shiming will have his coming out party against a guy whose name half of boxing writers don’t know how to spell. Mind you, people don’t know how to spell Valenzuela’s name because his name doesn’t matter – he’s nothing more than a stepping stone. A way for Shiming to get his hands dirty, and then begin his tread towards more legitimate opponents.
Speaking to WSJ recently, Arum noted just how big Saturday’s showdown will be:
Saturday's fight featuring Zou Shiming—China's first Olympic gold medalist in boxing—will be the most-watched telecast in the professional sport's history, says his promoter, the octogenarian Bob Arum, who has represented boxers from Muhammad Ali to Manny Pacquiao.
"Such is the demographics of China," he said, predicting that more than 200 million homes in the world's most populous country will tune in to see Mr. Zou, who, at 31 years of age, is a gray beard in terms of a fighter making his pro debut.
It’s a debut that, in all likelihood, will feature the back-to-back gold medalist, Shiming, mopping the floor with his foe in spectacular fashion. That in turn will immediately do two things: a.) thrust him into the world championship conversation and b.) transform him into a global icon.
From there, it will be up to him what happens next. If he can keep winning against more legitimate opponents, he will remain at the top of the mountain. If not, 15 minutes is all he gets.