by Kieran Mulvaney
A true precedent will be set - and one with potential ramifications for the future - when HBO2 airs a Saturday afternoon card from Macau, China. The card, which is headlined by the professional debut of China's own Olympic boxing sensation Zou Shiming, raises plenty of questions, both inside and outside the ring:
Will Shiming Be Shining?
Junior flyweight Shiming is something of an amateur superstar, having medaled at three consecutive Olympics, including gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and London last year. He's clearly accomplished, but at age 31, can the junior flyweight make a successful transition to the professional ranks? There is some precedent in the form of Guillermo Rigondeaux, who was just shy of 29 when he turned pro but, because of his wealth of in-ring experience, was challenging for a title belt in just his seventh outing.
However good Shiming may or may not be, it's unlikely we'll learn much from his pro debut against Eleazar Valenzuela, who enters the ring with a record of 2-1-2. But, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, that doesn't matter one bit.
"Any time you have a fighter making a pro debut, the goal is to make him look good," says Rafael. "The idea is he's going to put on a show for his people. Potentially, it could have an audience of millions over there."
Can Magdaleno Fulfill His Promise?
For several years now, super featherweight Diego Magdaleno and his super bantamweight brother Jesse have been climbing the ranks and building a solid fan base in their native Las Vegas. Most observers consider Jesse - at 21, five years the younger - to be the better prospect, a young man with the potential to be a real blue-chipper; but it's big bro who gets the first shot at a world title, when he puts his undefeated record on the line against Roman ‘Rocky' Martinez.
Puerto Rican Martinez is a skilled and savvy customer, who is coming off the back of two tough fights - a split decision win over Miguel Beltran Jr. in Las Vegas in September, and a draw against Juan Carlos Burgos in New York in January. It will not be an easy task for the young man from Las Vegas, but it should be a compelling contest of youth versus experience.
"That's probably the best fight on the card," says Rafael. "It's an opportunity that Magdaleno couldn't reject. He's undefeated, looking for a title fight. It's a long way to go, but if you want to win the title you have to make sacrifices. Besides, he told me he'd rather fight Martinez in China than in Puerto Rico."
Can Brian Viloria's Third Act Continue?
The career path of Brian Viloria has been sufficiently dizzying in its ups and downs to almost induce nausea. In its first incarnation, ‘The Hawaiian Punch' raced to a 19-0 record and a junior flyweight world title before losing his belt and going winless in his next three outings. He recovered to win another title at the same weight, only to lose by shocking last-round knockout to unheralded Carlos Tamara in 2010. Since then, though, he's been on a tear, winning a flyweight crown and riding a three-knockout streak. Can this third act continue against Juan Estrada, whose last outing was a close loss to unbeaten Roman ‘Chocolatito' Gonzalez?
"Estrada put on such a good performance in losing to Gonzalez, it'll still be an exciting fight," says Rafael. "When you're at that top level, and when you're 31 like Brian, every fight is tough."
Is Macau The New ‘It' Fight Venue?
Promoter Bob Arum has talked for some time about putting on a fight in Macau; signing Shiming has generated the local interest that has enabled this first card to get off the ground. But Arum doesn't intend to stop there; he has stated fairly definitively that he intends for Manny Pacquiao's next fight, be it against Juan Manuel Marquez or another opponent, to take place in September, either at the same locale or at a casino in Singapore. As much buzz as will surround Shiming, imagine the fanfare that would accompany arguably Asia's greatest-ever boxer returning to fight in the region for the first time since 2006 and only the third time since 2003.
Of course, much depends on smooth progress this Saturday, inside the ring and out of it. Between the ropes, certainly, it promises to be a solid and entertaining first meeting between China and US fight fans.