Boxing: Chinese Olympic champ turns pro

China's two-time Olympic boxing champion Zou Shiming makes his professional debut on Saturday in Macau, embarking on what he and his ambitious US promoters hope will be a fast track to a world title.

A household name in his homeland -- where boxing was once banned under Mao Zedong -- the three-time amateur world champion faces the little-known Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a four-round non-title showdown that tops the bill.

It ought to be a formality for Zou and anything but a resounding victory, preferably by way of knock-out, would be a shock result.

"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," Zou told AFP last month.

Zou's trainer, the highly respected Freddie Roach, has predicted big things for his new charge. Turning professional at the relatively late age of 31, Zou and Roach know that there is little time to waste.

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 has said.

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

Zou has signed with Arum's Las Vegas-based Top Rank promotions, with the hugely successful Arum eyeing the untapped China market and its 1.3 billion population as a new frontier.

The highly anticipated Zou debut takes place at the "Fists of Gold" event, held at the 15,000-seat CotaiArena which is part of Sands China's The Venetian resort-hotel.

It will also see Brian Viloria, the WBO/WBA flyweight champion, defend his title against tough Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada. Viloria is a potential future opponent for Zou.

The event is also a chance for the casino enclave of Macau, close to Hong Kong in southern China, to put itself on the map as a major host of top-class boxing.

Philippine icon Manny Pacquiao -- another Arum-Roach protege with a huge Asian following -- may fight there this year.

"High-profile sporting events like ‘Fists of Gold' help strengthen Macau's foothold as a regional entertainment hub and a world centre for tourism and leisure," said Edward Tracy, president and chief executive of Sands China Ltd.