As an amateur boxer, flyweight Zou Shiming was one of the best in history. He won three Olympic medals -- including two golds -- and became the symbol of boxing in China and one of the nation's most famous athletes.
As a pro? Well, he's still popular and famous, but let's just say he needs some more work. A lot of work.
The 32-year-old Zou was underwhelming, to put it mildly, in his professional debut in April in Macau, China. He slapped his way to a four-round decision win against Eleazar Contreras of Mexico. But whatever deficiencies Zou has as a pro, he is great for business. Without him, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum would not have been able to load up the April card with a number of other interesting bouts, including two world title fights.
Zou was the main event of that April card because, to the Chinese, he was the star of the show. Arum is using the same formula when Zou moves into a six-round bout for his second pro fight against Mexico's Jesus Ortega (3-1, 2 KOs) on Saturday (HBO2, same-day tape, 5:30 p.m. ET/PT) at the CotaiArena at the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel.
While Zou gets the main-event treatment, the undercard fights are really more interesting: unified flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (23-2, 17 KOs), who won his belts on the April undercard, in his first defense against Milan Melindo (28-0, 11 KOs), and featherweight Evgeny Gradovich (16-0, 8 KOs), also in his first defense, against Mauricio Munoz (26-3, 12 KOs).
Another undercard fight matches heavyweight prospects Andy Ruiz (18-0, 12 KOs) and Joe Hanks (21-0, 14 KOs). Their bout will air on tape delay on Saturday night on Spanish-language network UniMas (midnight ET/PT).
Assuming Zou wins, he is already penciled in for his third pro fight – an eight-rounder – on Nov. 23 on the Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios HBO PPV undercard in Macau. But will Zou improve enough to warrant Arum's drumbeat that the boxer is a future world champion, or will he continue to fight like an amateur?
Trainer Freddie Roach is trying to work his magic as Zou's pro trainer. Roach is working hard to get Zou to embrace a more professional style, mainly to sit down more on his punches to get better power and leverage.
"We are working on his footwork and his power," Roach said. "We have to be more mobile and he has to sit down more when he punches. He doesn't always want to sit down when he punches. Guys get a little nervous because they can be hit. In amateur boxing it's about touching your opponent and getting out."
It's been hard for Zou to break his old habits after such a long amateur career.
"I'm certainly improving. After so many years of amateur boxing, your body and mind think a certain way when you enter the ring," Zou said, speaking through a translator. "However, after my first fight, I have a much better idea of what to expect and I feel that I'm adapting well to the professional style."
Roach is also encountering issues because of the language barrier.
"Working through translators is very hard because they don't really understand what I'm saying," he said. "I'm talking boxing, but they don't know boxing. So if I can't get my point across, I physically show him what I want him to do, plus his English is getting a little better.
"So we have to push a little harder and I show him exactly what I want. He picks it up quickly. He's not on his heels anymore and he's not allowed to turn southpaw anymore because he was getting square and stuck in the middle of switching. In a fight, you get caught in the middle and you're in trouble. He's not allowed to do it anymore. I whack him if he does it."
Roach said he is pleased that Zou has held his own in sparring sessions against former flyweight champ Brian Viloria. But Roach wants to see Zou fight more the way he did against Viloria in the gym than in his pro debut.
"I told [Zou] I like when fights end in knockout, and I told him he can do that if he sits down on his punches," Roach said. "His managers told me we need a great performance. I'm doing my best to make that happen. If he does what I say, he'll win by knockout and it will be fun to watch.
"If he reverts to his amateur style again, it's really hard to pull him out of it because he's been doing it his own life. It's a process."