Golovkin look-alike forges his own path

Rian Scalia
22/11/2016 8:02am

Photo courtesy of Zovi boxing

Bai Shan Bo is already a bit like Kazakhstan’s national hero Gennady Golovkin, known by the popular moniker 'GGG.' After all, the resemblance is uncanny.

An ethnic Kazakh born and raised in China, like the more than one million fellow native inhabitants of the country’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, he’s forging his own path in unlikely territory. Pro boxing is still in its infancy in China but is rapidly developing as combat sports boom throughout the land.

At just 22 years of age he’s one of the now many fighters across China trying to make it in the pro ranks in a still-developing landscape. Campaigning in the super lightweight and welterweight divisions, he’s a tall, wiry figure for the weight and seems poised to one day grow into being a middleweight like his look-alike Golovkin.

Though the two are extremely similar in appearance, borders and languages separate them. Golovkin, despite being from Kazakhstan, is not an ethnic Kazakh and does not speak Kazakh. He is mostly an ethnic Russian, with his mother being half Korean. Russian is the most spoken language in Kazakhstan.

Bai Shan Bo, on the other hand, being an ethnic Kazakh, speaks Kazakh and Standard Chinese by virtue of not only being born and raised in China but also by having lived outside of Xinjiang for some time, as some Kazakhs and Uyghurs in China don’t speak any form of the language. Most Kazakhs in China aren’t able to speak Russian because they were never part of the Soviet Union, or some fled to China from the Russian Empire and Soviet Union in the early part of the 20th century. The Kazakhs, traditionally a nomadic people, have lived over a vast area of land in Central Asia and thus, when borders were drawn up, some were in Chinese territory or migrated there.

Golovkin and Bai Shan Bo met once at the WBC Convention in China last year. Seeing them side by side is really something else. Golovkin, after all, is who Bai Shan Bo aspires to fight like, saying, “I’m a fan of GGG. I watch videos of him in my spare time and try to imitate his movements and fighting style.”

Maybe one day the two will meet again. Bai Shan Bo, like most prospective boxers, has aspirations of fighting in the United States, the place where Golovkin has become a star in the boxing world.

“I hope one day that I can fight there,” he longed, right after adding, “I hope that I could get the chance to train with him.”

His real name being Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, it’s quickly apparent what the circumstances he’s fighting under are. To be a successful pro boxer in China is an uphill battle in itself, with barely any footsteps to follow in. Add in that he’s not ethnically Han Chinese or even a Miao, like the only two Chinese world boxing champions in history - Chao Zhong Xiong and Zou Shiming - and there are even more obstacles in the way. That’s part of the reason why simply calling him 'Bai Shan Bo' works and has a nice ring to it.

Through observing many fights in China, one thing sticks out – Kazakh and Uyghur fighters will be cheered by the crowd when they’re representing the Chinese flag against a foreigner, but when they’re opposing another Chinese fighter that happens to be Han or something culturally closer to Chinese than the Muslim peoples of Xinjiang, the crowd often erupts with patriotic chants of that fighter’s name followed by “China!” This happens despite both competitors being of Chinese nationality.

But make no mistake about it, Bai Shan Bo is a proud Kazakh and dons a Kazakh cultural robe to each and every one of his fights, of the same type that Golovkin wears when he walks to the ring. This isn’t some elaborate promotional gimmick, this is just who he is.

In his most recent fight on 6 November in Zhengzhou against the Philippines’ Stephen Gelawa, the crowd was on his side, with chants of “Bai Shan Bo, China!” He even had his full name announced.

He won the fight via fourth round knockout, bringing his record to 10-0-1 (5). Despite the fashion in which he was victorious, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Speaking of his win, the young Kazakh fighter said, “I got hit in the right eye in the third round. After that I knew I had to finish the fight ASAP or else I would have left myself in danger.”

The training conditions leading up to the fight weren’t ideal either. Formerly trained by an American trainer Abraham Darwish in Kunming, he’s now trained by two Filipinos, Darinton Colas and Allan Alegria in Zhengzhou. For reasons unknown to him, the two trainers had to go back to the Philippines and thus he trained under Chinese coach Han Zong Zhen for the remainder of his camp.

“I kept in touch with them online,” he said, speaking of Colas and Alegria. “The local training regimen was still tough.”

Coming from humble beginnings in a village within Habahe County, Altay Prefecture in Xinjiang, Bai Shan Bo got into boxing seriously in 2007 after joining the boxing team of his junior high school. There - under the tutelage of his coach Mulati Boshayiwulei - a man who also trained 2008 Olympic bronze medallist and current undefeated professional Kanat Islam - he went to various regional and national amateur tournaments, becoming champion of Xinjiang in 2011 at bantamweight (56kg/123.5lbs), culminating in a fifth place finish at the 2012 Chinese National Youth Championships. Losing in the quarter finals by way of a judges’ decision which he called “unfair,” he decided it was time to pursue boxing as a professional.

To this day he still credits his old trainer, telling Kazinform Agency after his most recent fight: “I would like to thank my coach Mulati Boshayiwulei. He has trained a lot of champions and is still teaching all of his experience to young boxers at home.”

“I’ve been following Kazakh boxers. I watched the broadcast of Kanat Islam’s fight and I’ve been learning a lot from watching them,” he also noted, mentioning his first trainer’s pupil.

In 2014 Bai Shan Bo met promoter and manager Liu Gang. Gang was one of China’s first ever Olympic boxers in 1992 and the first ever pro boxer from the country. The retired fighter has been promoting pro boxing in his homeland since 2003 and it was that night in Kunming on September 8, 2014 that he discovered the Kazakh fighter at an event he was promoting. Two months later he signed the young boxer from Xinjiang to a contract.

Gang also runs Zovi Boxing in Kunming, which includes a gym that his stable trains at. For a time Bai Shan Bo was training there under Abraham Darwish and made his professional debut on February 22, 2015, defeating Australia’s Steve Spark by way of majority decision over four rounds.

Since then it’s been full steam ahead. Scheduled for a ten round fight in his eighth contest in February of this year, he ended up knocking out Ghana’s Tackie Annan in the first round. Gang was actually a bit disappointed because he had made the fight hoping to get some rounds in for his fighter. The first round stoppage, even though it might sound great, was made up for by two consecutive ten round unanimous decision wins after that fight.

Nonetheless, against Annan in Kunming, Bai Shan Bo won the WBC Youth Super Lightweight title, a nice piece of hardware that he showcased to his friends, family and village on arrival back home after the fight. Any kind of belt and achievement of a fellow comrade is a big deal, and he also donated 10,000 yuan to Habahe County, approximately $1,475 USD.

That may not seem like much but the circumstances of trying to make it as a pro boxer in China really have to be considered, and it’s the gesture that counts. It’s clear that he is a hero to the Kazakh community there.

The rising prospect spends most of his time on the other side of China, away from home. That’s the sacrifice he’s making in order to pursue his dreams in boxing. He notes that sometimes he misses his parents and his two younger brothers. His mother also suffers from hypertension, abnormally high blood pressure. He still goes back home to visit after some of his fights. The rest of the time is dedicated to living the life of a fighter.

For now he’ll keep striving forward in his boxing career, hoping to even sniff the success of his idol Golovkin. On 17 December he’ll be back in the ring in Hangzhou, once again scheduled for ten rounds. As he progresses in his pro career and works his way up the ladder, he never forgets where he comes from, emphasising: “I just want to give my family a better life through boxing.”

Photo Zhou Chao She (Sina Sports)