Trailblazing Chinese boxer Zou Shiming is being fast-tracked towards a world title fight in November, less than two years after turning professional, a report said on Friday.
The two-time Olympic champion will draw closer to a title shot if he wins Saturday's flyweight bout against Thailand's Yokthong Kokietgym in Macau, the South China Morning Post said.
Promoter Bob Arum said Zou, 32, was being lined up to fight International Boxing Federation (IBF) world champion Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand "if everything goes to plan".
"We are not going to rush him towards a world title fight and then see he's not ready," Arum was quoted as saying. "When we see him fight on Saturday, we will have a better idea.
"Zou will have another fight lined up early this summer, in May. That will be a 10-round fight... Trainer Freddie (Roach) thinks he can be ready (for a world title fight)."
A world title would dramatically raise the profile of boxing in China, a huge untapped market which is now being targeted with a series of fights in the Chinese autonomous territory of Macau.
Zou's late plunge into the pro ranks follows an amateur career in which he became China's first Olympic boxing medallist, first world amateur champion and first Olympic champion.
The exploits made him a household name in China, where boxing was banned under Mao Zedong, and where his three professional wins against unheralded opposition have been closely followed.
Saturday's eight-round, non-title fight tops the bill at Macau's Venetian casino, ahead of an IBF world lightweight title bout between defender Miguel Vazquez and Denis Shafikov.
Zou's pro debut last April was only four rounds but he has progressed to eight against Yokthong, 19, his toughest opponent yet with 15 wins, including 11 knock-outs, against three losses.
"It's my first eight-round fight but I am getting stronger and more confident," Zou said, according to the Post. "We are working on a world title fight. Let's get through this fight first."