Zou rips Coutinho, eyes Ioka

Mathew Scott
31/01/2016 10:07am

Zou Shiming, the poster boy for pro boxing’s foray into mainland China, lived up to his billing, outclassing Brazilian Natan Santana Coutinho on his way to a TKO with 2.17 gone in the eighth round that saw the Chinese star pick up the vacant WBO International flyweight crown. 

The 34-year-old Zou has been in the game for almost as long as his 21-year-old opponent has been on Earth and he drew on all that experience after an even first round at Shanghai’s Oriental Sports Centre on Saturday night.

Zou had begun to pick his opponent apart at will before referee Sawaeng Thaweekoon waved the fight off, landing flashy combinations and showing far more power than previously on display during a fledgling pro career that now stands at 7-1 (2 KOs).

Put that down to six weeks locked away in Shanghai under the command of former heavyweight Justin Fortune who had warned coming in that “the little fucker is hitting hard.” 

Coutinho was game throughout – and threw some tasty shimmies as he tried to egg Zou forward, and the home fans on. But the thinking that his 12-0 record coming into the fight had been padded out with powder-puff opponents seemed on the money.

The scorecards read 70-63, 69-64, 68-65 by the time the Brazilian was battered into a corner, giving the referee no choice. Even those numbers seemed to flatter the visitor and he would claim simply afterwards: “Zou broke my face.”

The campaign to steer the two-time Olympic gold medalist to a world title – intrinsically linked to the sport’s Top Rank-funded push into China – had been on hold for the 10 months that followed Zou’s loss to Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng in their IBF world flyweight titlebout last March.

In the interim, Zou has recovered from the torn rotator cuffhe claims cruelled his chances in that bout, while launching himself (and four-year-old son Eros) as a major reality TV star in a wildy popular show titled ‘Dad, Where Are We Going?’.

Promoter Bob Arum said his charge now has a shot, maybe at WBA flyweight champ Kazuto Ioka by the end of the year after another fight in May or June. The sport in China needs a world champ and Zou was under no illusions when it came to what he had to achieve on his return. 

“I knew I had to win and I wanted to show my fans here in China what boxing is all about,” said Zou. “Once I got into a rhythm I was able to control the fight.”

The nine-bout ‘The Return of the King’ was promoted as the biggest pro event ever staged in mainland China and it drew a raucous crowd of around 10,000. Hardened fight fanatics were treated to 29 fights over the day – starting at 10am – with the early action part of the League of Fists elimination series that is also selling the sport in China, and being run by Top Rank and Chinese partners Seca. 

The fact that it’s reaching an estimated TV audience of 10 million would seem to show the plan is working.

Arum was in Hong Kong early last week to announce a three-bout deal with rising super-flyweightstar Rex Tso in the former British colony that he hopes will lead to a title shot come December, and make up for the loss of the Chinese enclave of Macao as a fight venue. The gambling mecca has been crippled by dropping revenues linked by observers to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption and, it would seem, temptation.

Sharing top billing on the night was another London Olympics gold medalist Ryota Murata of Japan, like Zou a major star in his own land. The middleweight showed why his reputation in the pro ranks continues to grow, setting up Argentine journeyman Gaston Vega with a straight left then sending him down and out with a wicked right with 2.23 gone in the second round.

The knockout took Murata’s record to 9-0, with six KOS, and Arum was telling anyone who wanted to listen that the Japanese fighter is likely to now head to Europe as he works his way towards his own world title shot. 

And why not let the 84-year-old have the last say, as so often has been the case over the years.

Coutinho is promoted by Arum’s long time rival Don King and held a flag holding the wild-haired wonder’s image on it whenever he faced the press. 

As Zou prepared to lead the post-bout press conference, Arum grabbed the mic for one last time with glee.

“Victory is always sweet,” he said. “But it is always sweeter when one of your fighters beats someone who fights for Don King.”