By Robert Coster
Last month in Tokyo, flyweight Xiong Zhao Zhong made history by becoming the first Chinese boxer to fight for a pro world title, losing a hair thin decision to WBC champion Daisuke Naito. Xiong is a member of the stable of Zovi Boxing Team, a pioneer of pro boxing in China. “Xiong come so close to winning and, if he had, it would have been momentous, but there will be other opportunities,” says Zovi President and founder Liu Gang, himself a former boxer who represented China at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. For many observers, Xiong’s performance was proof of that pro boxing is making slow but steady inroads in the giant Asian nation. To shed light on the matter, Fightnews reached Liu to discuss the state of the game in mainland China and what is needed to insure its continuing progress and growth.
Q: Mr Liu, Xiong Zhao Zhong came very close to becoming the first Chinese world champion. Was it a disappointment?
A: A disappointment, yes, but also a cause for hope. We have no doubt that it is only a question of time before a Chinese fighter becomes a pro boxing world champion.
Q: Could you tell us about Zovi boxing ? When it was founded and were you China’s first boxing promoter?
A: Zovi Boxing started operating in Kunming, Yunnan in May 2003, initially opening a training facility and recruiting former amateur boxers to turn professional. Zovi Boxing’s first event was held at the City Sports Stadium on September 29 2003 and featured Wu Xiao Song on the undercard, the first Chinese boxer to appear on a card on the mainland that we know of. I was the first Chinese born promoter to begin promoting events on the mainland on the very same night. To this date we have presented over 40 boxing cards
Q: Of Zovi Boxing’s female and male boxers are there any PABA/Asian title holders among them?
A: We are proud to say that a number of our boxers have won these titles: Xiong Zhao Zhong, of course; then we have Super-Featherweight Xu Cong Liang (10-0,5KOs), PABA Champion; Wu Zhi Yu (5-0) , Cruserweight, Asian Council Champion, has fought in Europe; Cheng Jing, female boxer, WIBA Super-Flyweight champion; Xia Yu Qing, ABCO Super-Featherweight Champion among others–7 boxers to be exact but 3 titles were won last year and that is very encouraging.
Q: Is your staff both Chinese and foreign? Do you have any internationally reknown trainers training your boxers at present?
A: Well,we have a small staff of volunteers both Chinese and foreigners who help out on the logistical and administrative side both before and during events and we recently had Abraham Darwish from the United States assisting us for six weeks prior to the event last year at the WBC Convention in Cheng Du.
Q: China won four boxing medals at last year’s Olympics . Are there any plans for those Olympians to turn pro in the forseeable future?
A: Let me explain the situation: the Beijing Olympians are state supported boxers and as such are supplied housing, a regular monthly allowance as well as other perks that would well exceed anything a Chinese promoter could presently offer. In short, there is little financial incentive for them to give up their amateur career to turn pro locally. In fact there is the situation where we have a reverse drain from local pro ranks back to the amateur ranks. It happened last year with three pro female boxing champions.
Q: So, in China pro boxing seems to play second fiddle to amateur boxing. Is it a case of people being reluctant to embrace pro boxing?
A: In fact the idea of pro sports and pro boxing in particular is quite new to China . There is very little in the way of pro sports in China at the moment. The layman has to be educated into the culture of pro sports competition. There is slow but steady progress in that direction.
Q: What is needed for pro boxing to take off in China? Are you getting support from sponsors, TV, or support internationally?
A: At the moment what China is lacking is the actual infrastructure needed for boxing , dedicated pro boxing gyms, capable trainers, knowledgeable promoters, experienced ring officials such as referees and doctors etc. This has led to China having a small pool of boxers with limited experience, also being technically deficient due to poor coaching. We are conscious of all these difficulties and limitations but we are addressing these problems
There are sponsors interested in sponsoring bona fide pro boxing events but the problem is that they have to be convinced that your organization is credible and offers quality spectacles. The Chinese loves sports and if there are quality shows, they will support you at the gate. If you offer the right product at the right price the public will support it.
At this time free to air networks are not actively seeking to televise pro boxing events most likely due to the fact that we lack a legitimate world champion hence public interest is limited. We expect that the entry of cable TV operators and possibly down the road PPV operators might be interested in local pro boxing events if such content is exclusive to their own networks
Q: What do you foresee for pro boxing in China in the next five to ten years?
A: We foresee that the number of boxers will increase along with a greater number of boxing centers located in more cities and provinces.We have good hope that the central government will back the development of pro boxing. The central government’s role on pro boxing’s future is very important because they control all the major free air networks and many government-backed sponsors. One thing is sure: China has all the potential to be big in pro boxing in the next decade. For us, Xiong Zhao Zhong was a pioneer by coming so close to being the first Chinese world champion. Others will follow suit – have no doubt about it.