IN THE RING
It says a lot about the evolution of professional boxing in China that a pint-sized strawweight fighter Xiong Zhao Zhong has emerged as the country's new sporting hero.
Strawweight fighter Xiong Zhao Zhong has emerged as China’s new sporting hero.
Xiao is attracting almost as much attention in China as Yao Ming did when he became an NBA superstar 10 years ago playing for the Houston Rockets.
Xiao, who is 1.5m tall, is barely half the size of the 2.2m Yao but millions of boxing fans in China are betting that he can punch harder than Yao can slam dunk.
Six years ago, Xiao travelled from his village in Wenshen in southern China to Kunming - the gateway city into southern China.
By chance, he walked into a gym where he met Liu Gang, a former boxer who made the Chinese Olympic team and then turned professional as an expat in Melbourne, Australia.
Xiao and Liu hit it off from the first meeting and after taking the Asian Boxing Council championship in 2008, the partnership set their sights on winning China's first professional boxing world title.
That moment of glory will come into focus when Xiao fights Mexican Javier Martinez for the WBC world straweight title at the Kunming Stadium on Nov 24.
"It's been a long, hard journey for Zhong," Liu said.
"He cracked a bone in his hand winning the silver belt against another tough Mexican a few months ago to get his shot at the world title. The hand has healed and he's now getting back into peak condition.
"The whole of China is watching and they believe that he can win. There's a lot of pressure on Zhong but I am confident he will win."
When Xiao first stepped into the Kunming gym and put on the boxing gloves for the first time, he was 23 years old and looking for a job.
Since then his work has been a boxer and, due to his success in the ring, he's been able to give some of his purse earnings to his family.
Win or lose, Xiao knows that his life will change forever when he becomes the first China boxer to fight for a world title in his homeland.
"We are trying to keep things as normal as possible. But his phone is running hot with people wishing him well," Liu said. "For a Chinese boxer fighting his way up from the bottom to being a contender for a world title in his home country, that's a very big deal. It's grand and fortuitous."
Xiao's official record reads 17 wins, three losses and one draw. Nine of the wins were by knockouts and that's why he's known throughout China as 'The Little Mike Tyson'.
Winning the world title will make tiny Zhao Zhong as big a legend as Yao Ming.
About the author
- Writer: Patrick Cusick