A new generation of boxing stars is popularizing the sport in China more and more. According to DW columnist Frank Sieren, international groups are benefiting from the hype.
Most people barely know him as the heavy hitting gentleman from the blockbuster action film, Transformers 4: Age of Extinction. 33-year-old Zou Shiming (above) makes a short cameo appearance for a few seconds in the movie, saving a main character in front of a Hong Kong elevator. Otherwise, fairly unknown outside China, within the country, he's a star.
Zou was the first Chinese boxer ever to win the title of Amateur World Champion in 2005. Though his category of flyweight boxing, measured up to 48 kilograms (106 pounds), holds little interest in the West compared to heavyweight boxing. In Asia flyweight and lightweight boxing are the most favored forms of the sport.
In 2007, Zou again won the world championship and qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where he again made history as the the first Chinese boxer to bring home the gold.
In April, 2013, Zou debuted as a professional under the International Boxing Association. Just a year later, in July 2014, he secured his position with a professional world championship title.
Previously Zou had fought seven fights and won six of them, one with a knockout punch. Zou holds special meaning for the multibillion-dollar international boxing circus. Sure, he's a new face on the scene, but already garners around 350 million viewers per fight.
The boxing consortiums see the obvious; if they manage to build and market talent similar to Zou, TV and marketing income will vastly overshadow previous numbers. Just how well marketing of Chinese athletes functions is visible in other sports, such as soccer at the top division German Bundesliga level. Since VFL Wolfsburg strengthened its team during the winter break with midfielder Zhang Xizhe, more and more fans in the People's Republic of China turn on the television when the team plays in Germany. And even jersey sales in China are rising for Wolfsburg.
However, world-class talents, who hold their own, still need to be found in China. The same principle applies to soccer as much as boxing. World boxing star Manny Pacquiao from the Philippines hopes he doesn't have to seek out those talents but rather that they will come to him. To that end, Manny plans to open a chain of boxing schools in China. The first branch is slated to open mid-2015 in Beijing. The U.S. boxing promoter, Golden Boy, on the other hand, is betting on Chinese newcomer Dong Taishan, putting one of the country's rare heavyweight talents under contract.
A prize fight
The 2.13-meter (7-foot) giant - huge even by heavyweight standards -found his way from basketball to wrestling, then to Kung Fu and kickboxing and then, finally, to just boxing. The “Great Wall” (of China)'s professional Los Angeles debut under promoter Golden Boy was already promising. Dong won his first three fights, no problem, and now is in the running for a title bout. Before reaching that stage, he'll certainly have to continue distinguishing himself. Until then, lightweight Zou remains the undisputed star of Chinese boxing. And as far as the monetary returns are concerned he is that anyway.
U.S. boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, who, for a long time, was the best paid world boxer with an annual income of 78 million dollars, will doubtless have to look around for a new nickname - because the name 'Money' will soon be tied to Zou. His projected income for 2015 is estimated at 110 million dollars.
DW columnist Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for 20 years.