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Boxing: Chinese amateur star dreams big

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Two-time Olympic champion Zou Shiming says that he is aiming for the top, ahead of his professional debut next month, as he bids to become China's first boxer to make it big on the world stage.

The nimble Zou, light flyweight gold medallist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, begins his quest for world domination in Macau on April 6 against the little-known Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela.

Zou, a three-time amateur world champion, is well known in his homeland, where boxing was banned under Mao Zedong. Now he hopes to extend his reputation to a global audience and put China on the map as a force in the sport.

"It's always been a dream of mine to become a professional boxer, now that I have this opportunity, I want to see if I can become a world champion, that is the goal that I hope to achieve," he told AFP in an exclusive interview.

Zou has signed with Bob Arum's Las Vegas-based Top Rank promotions and been training under the celebrated Freddie Roach. Roach has drawn comparisons between Zou and another brilliant Asian, the Filipino Manny Pacquiao.

"Freddie has been incredible, he has made the transition from amateur to professional very easy and I love working with him," Zou said in remarks emailed to AFP.

"That is a great compliment," he said of the comparisons to Pacquiao, "however, I am just starting my professional career and Manny is a world champion many times over.

"I hope to one day be on that same stage but I need to improve and work as hard as I can."

Zou, who has been training in the United States in the build-up to his highly anticipated professional debut, explained the reason for his move to turn pro at the relatively late age of 31.

"I decided to stay another four years and compete in the London Olympic Games as an amateur.

"Now I am looking forward to becoming a professional fighter."

And what would he reply to people who say he left it too long?

"It's never too late to follow your dreams."

Standing at five feet, five inches (1.65 metres), Zou, who is from Guizhou, southern China, appears to have impressed Roach, who has worked with some of the best in the business.

"He picks things up very quickly and I think he'll be champion in a short time. I told Bob (Arum) that within a year this guy will be the world champion," Roach said.

"I know that's a fast track, but with his amateur experience, I think that we can go that way."

Zou, who is known for his fast hands and fast footwork, says that he hopes to inspire a generation of Chinese boxers.

"Boxing is developing (there) and more and more people are becoming fans of the sport, so that is great to see," he said.

"I hope that more and more people can enjoy the sport of boxing, and if my performance helps to grow the sport, then that makes me happy."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130325/boxing-chinese-amateur-star-dreams-big