by Nat Gottlieb
When Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492, he was looking for a shorter way to China and India in a quest to bring back spices and gold for the King and Queen of Spain. Some 521 years later, another explorer of sorts has also set his sights on China, but this time in quest of a different kind of gold. Gold in the form of a diminutive boxer from China, Zu Shiming, the country's only Olympic boxing gold medalist and a certified national rock star.
Octogenarian promoter, Bob Arum, still one of the great innovators in the boxing world, trotted out his glittering treasure Saturday in Macau. Shiming, all 112 pounds of him, won a unanimous decision as expected, but failed to generate a lot of excitement for the nearly sold-out crowd in the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena, not to mention a staggering audience of reportedly close to 300 million in China that was watching their legendary fighter on free television. Only in the crazy world of boxing could all this pizzazz have been generated by a 31-year-old flyweight making his four-round professional debut!
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Shiming put his dazzling speed and boxing skills on display, but failed to rock the house for any sustained period of time. In fact, an inexperienced 18-year-old Mexican, Eleazar Valenzuela (2-2-2), held his ground and was never hurt by Shiming. Shiming did have his moments, and the partisan crowd reacted accordingly, but on the whole, it was not all that entertaining of a fight. Surely not the kind the millions watching on Chinese TV were hoping to see from their national hero. For now, call Shiming a work in progress.
Still, Arum had to be glowing inside as he took the first step in what he hopes will be a massive marketing bonanza in China and the rest of Asia.
Next stop for Shiming, Arum has said, is converting him into a pay-per-view gold mine. How rich of a mine? In a recent report, Arum expressed confidence that he can milk his Chinese treasure for more money on Chinese and Asian pay-per-view than Manny Pacquiao ever made!
To get there from here, however, Shiming will need a lot more work with his great trainer, Freddie Roach, in order to successfully make the transition from the amateur style, to the pro way of boxing. Shiming looked decidedly uncomfortable, even awkward, trying to adapt to the new style. Off of what he displayed in his debut, Shiming has a ways to go before he can be competitive against the two flyweights who preceded him into the ring, Brian Viloria and Juan Francisco Estrada.
The 32-year-old Viloria (32-4), the former Olympian and defending world champion flyweight, was knocked off his throne by 22-year-old Juan Francisco Estrada (23-2) in a split decision that should have been a unanimous one.
Viloria started off strong against Estrada, taking the first three rounds with effective counterpunching and power shots. But Estrada, who was 10 years younger than Viloria, began to wear down the champion in the 4th round, nailing him with a strong right hand that stunned the Hawaiian and lured him into some in-close brawling.
The 5th round seemed to be a turning point for the challenger. From that point on, Estrada kept beating Viloria to the punch and slowing him down with a steady barrage of body shots. Except for a brief strong round in the 7th, it was all downhill for Viloria, who began to show visible signs of fatigue. Instead of staying outside and counterpunching, Viloria constantly would move in and lean on Estrada, seemingly resting, a tactic that took away the Hawaiian champion's counterpunching skills and played strongly into the hands of the Mexican, who consistently won the inside fighting with a barrage of body shots.
Game and courageous, Viloria kept fighting as hard as his older body would let him, but he took some awful punishment in doing so, especially in the final round. Estrada easily dominated the fight, as two judges' cards reflected with scores of 116-111 and 117-111 for the Mexican. One judge, however, inexplicably scored it 115-113 for Viloria, resulting in a split decision win.
In the opening bout of the HBO-televised card, reigning lightweight champion, Roman Martinez (27-1-2), had to battle hard all the way before defeating a game unbeaten contender, Diego Magdalena (23-1), in a close split decision.
The fight was an exciting, all-action affair, and Magdalena appeared to be taking at least two, if not three of the early rounds, thanks to his aggression against the counterpunching, more experienced 30-year-old, who had seven championship fights under his belt before Saturday.
The turning point came on what seemed like questionable advice from Magdalena's corner after the 4th round, a round in which the challenger was knocked down but didn't appear to be hurt as he got right up and came back hard against the champion. Yet in Magdalena's corner after the round, his handlers instructed him to move more.
By doing so, Martinez was forced into the role of the aggressor, constantly stalking the stick-and-running Magdalena. Martinez's superior work rate undoubtedly earned points with the judges. The change in tactic also sapped energy from the legs of the challenger, which resulted in him slowing down and throwing less punches in the championship rounds, where the fight was decided.
It was another split decision, this time a close one, with Martinez keeping his title with scores of 115-112 and 114-113, while Magdalena earned the nod on one card, 116-111.