If you took away all the hype, glitz, and glamour of the fabulously over-the-top Macau casino, and the 300 million people watching on free Chinese TV and HBO, what you would have left in Saturday night's headline fight was a rare phenomenon in boxing: a 112-pound flyweight who could demand extraordinary attention.
The object of all this affection was a two-time Olympic gold medalist from China, Zou Shiming, who turned pro just this past April at the ripe old age of 32. But turning pro and fighting like one are two different things.
In his four-round debut in April against a veritable body-to-be-named-later, Shiming readily admits he was so daunted by the raucous 15,000 fans watching in the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort, that he sought refuge in an old, comfortable friend: his amateur boxing style.
The result was a lackluster, unanimous victory that disappointed the fans and did nothing to bolster promoter Bob Arum's grand vision of turning China into his own personal gold mine. "Yes, I reverted to the old Olympic style," Shiming said recently, "but believe me, I will be better for my second bout. I wasn't used to the environment. I think I was overawed by it all, fighting in front of 15,000 passionate fans."
Saturday night, he was back in the Cotai. There were just as many rabid fans, the environment was equally as daunting, but this time, Shiming didn't disappoint the crowd. Although he wasn't able to knock out his opponent, 19-year-old Jesus Ortega (3-3), in their scheduled six-rounder, the Chinese medalist did thrill his fans by abandoning his stick-and-move amateur style and going toe-to-toe in what proved to be a pleasing, exciting fight. All three judges scored it 59-54 in favor of Shiming.
Right from the start, Shiming showed the signs of being trained by Hall of Famer, Freddie Roach. He actually looked more like a Mexican fighter than a Chinese one. Not only did he stand toe-to-toe, but he was firing hard body shots, working upstairs and downstairs, and using a picture-perfect uppercut, certainly a new wrinkle to his arsenal. His punches, unlike in his debut, were short, compact, and crisp. He was also showing the ability to throw counter punches. Not surprisingly, every punch the Chinese Olympian landed with any authority drew roars from the highly-partisan crowd.
The cost Shiming paid for standing in the pocket was that he was taking more shots to the head and body than he probably ever had as an amateur. But Shiming didn't seem fazed by the young Mexican's shots. He kept coming and firing combos with the high-hand speed that made him a great Olympian. That being said, not a single blow by the Chinese fighter appeared to have much effect on the Mexican, either. One had to wonder whether Shiming's chin could have withstood the shots he was taking from an experienced and harder-hitting pro, but it is far too early to assess the Chinese fighter's whiskers.
In the fourth round, Shiming landed a huge right hand, and although the Mexican didn't seem fazed by it, the crowd raised the roar several decibels, encouraging the Chinese fighter to go all-out for the knockout. But after a ferocious assault for nearly 30 seconds, Shiming wisely realized he wasn't going to get the knockout, and toned down his attack.
In the fifth round, Shiming began to show the effects of throwing far more punches at a faster pace than he had ever thrown in his countless amateur fights. The Olympian began to tire, and looked a bit ragged. For much of the round, he fought with his hands down, a sign not only that was tired, but also an indication he wasn't particulary worried about the Mexican's punches hurting him.
By the sixth and final round, Shiming was fighting flat-footed and holding at times to rest. It appeared questionable that he could have fought four or six more rounds at this pace, but Roach, who undoubtedly was not too thrilled with his fighter standing toe-to-toe in a hyper-aggressive fashion, will surely tone down his boxer's aggression and pace a notch or two in future bouts.
While Shiming (2-0) remains a work in progress, after this fight it can be said that he's now officially a pro boxer. His next fight will be back in Macau on Nov. 23 on the undercard of a Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios slugfest on pay-per-view TV.
In the co-feature, flyweight champion, Juan Francisco Estrada (26-2, 18 KOs), made the first defense of the title he won in an upset of Brian Viloria in April, by scoring a unanimous 12-round decision by a wide margin over previously unbeaten Filipino, Milan Melindo (29-1, 12 KOs). Melindo managed to keep the early rounds competitive, but the Mexican gradually began to dominate the later rounds, punctuated by his knockdown of the Filipino in the 11th. Although Melindo was competitive throughout the fight, the scorecards didn't seem to reflect this, 117-109 and 118-109 twice.
The opening event on the HBO card featured undefeated lightweight champion, Evgeny Gradovich (17-0, 8KOs), fighting against an outclassed Argentinean, Mauricio Munoz (24-4, 12 KOs). Gradovich is a stablemate of Rios and is also trained by Robert Garcia, last year's Trainer of the Year. The super-aggressive Russian Gradovich pounded Munoz at will throughout most of the fight, but was unable to finish him off. The scorecards reflected the one-sided beating, 120-108 and 119-109 twice. Although Gradovich is certainly exciting to watch, with just eight knockouts in 17 fights he'll have to gain more punching power before will be considered the kind of star who can draw crowds.