When the time comes to pull punches

Late in the bout, a cham­pion boxer dis­cov­ers another side to life

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS - By LUIS LIU luis­liu@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

The first time Zou Shim­ing’s son said “daddy”, Zou was not there to hear it, and the first time the boy took a foot­step, Zou was not there to see it.

Zou had im­por­tant things to do, such as seek­ing glory as a pro­fes­sional boxer. That has kept him away from home, but Zou was well aware of the re­wards — fi­nan­cial and oth­er­wise — this could reap, given his ear­lier suc­cess as an am­a­teur, when he won world cham­pi­onships and two Olympic gold medals and gained fame through­out China and be­yond.

Even­tu­ally, though, Zou, re­al­ized that suc­cess in the ring could never make up for his miss­ing out on see­ing his son grow up, and he de­cided to throw him­self whole-heart­edly into that task.

That re­al­iza­tion came about as the re­sult of an of­fer to ap­pear on a pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion show, Dad, Where AreWe Go­ing? Now, it seems, Mingx­uan, 4, has be­come al­most as well-known in the coun­try as his fa­ther, ap­pear­ing al­most ev­ery week on the hot top­ics list of the mi­croblogWeibo. Of course, a cute tod­dler who con­stantly says funny things is a quick-fire way of win­ning an au­di­ence over, but Mingx­uan seems to have ex­ceeded even these ex­pec­ta­tions.

“I re­ally didn’t ex­pect him to be that smart,” Zou says, laugh­ing. At one stage of the showMingx­uan was be­ing the per­fect lit­tle gen­tle­man and hold­ing the dress of a girl called Poppy, whomMingx­uan would re­fer to as his el­der sis­ter, and he was gen­er­ous enough to share his food with other chil­dren. Zou takes no credit for teach­ing the boy these so­cial skills.

“Formethose things were the nicest dis­cov­ery I made in do­ing the show.”

Zou, as some­one used to fame, says he hopes be­ing a celebrity does not go toMingx­uan’s head, and he is al­ways re­mind­ing him of the im­por­tance of good man­ners.

In do­ing the show, which is filmed through­out the coun­try, Zhou says, he and his son have be­come much closer, and at home in Bei­jingMingx­uan now talks and plays with his fa­ther much more. Ear­lier, all this had been left to the boy’s mother, Ran Yingying.

Zou says that as a teenager he was painfully shy and could barely com­plete a sen­tence. His par­ents vir­tu­ally gave up on him, he says, and at one stage his mother be­rated him, say­ing he had no fu­ture.

“Re­cently I met a few of my pri­mary school class­mates and they re­called that al­most ev­ery­one in the class could beat me up.”

It was box­ing that even­tu­ally gave him self-con­fi­dence, he says.

“Look­ing back on it now, I think the un­pleas­ant things I went through as a young­ster may have greatly con­trib­uted to my turn­ing into a more res­o­lute per­son, some­one who re­fuses to give up.”

Zou says he is keen to help Mingx­uan avoid go­ing through what he went through. But he will “let him try what­ever he wants to do”.

“My job is just to pro­vide guid­ance, and we will en­cour­age him al­ways to be open, just like he is now.”

That will­ing­ness to be frank is ap­par­ent in the­wayMingx­uan talks, and may help ex­plain his pop­u­lar­ity with TV au­di­ences. At the drop of a hat he will blurt out “I love you so much” to his mother and fa­ther, and, if he is feel­ing down, will sim­ply say, “I’mvery un­happy”, Zou says.

The boy is said to be a good drum­mer and, to Zou’s de­light, a tal­ented boxer.

“It’s ob­vi­ously in the genes,” Zou says proudly. “I have not gone out of myway to teach him any­thing about box­ing; he just seems to be gen­uinely keen on it.”

Mingx­uan boxes with Zou for half an hour ev­ery day, some­thing the boy wants to do, Zou says, adding that in those cir­cum­stances he is the per­fect coach for his son.

“Box­ing is a very good life coach. When you bleed, you must wipe it away, and con­tinue fight­ing. That’s what it takes to be a man.”

Af­ter win­ning his third Olympic medal in 2012, (be­fore win­ning that gold in Lon­don he had won gold in Bei­jing in 2008 and bronze in Athens in 2004) he made his foray into pro­fes­sional box­ing, at the age of 31. Many ques­tioned the wis­dom of this move, not only be­cause of how old he was but also be­cause China’s Olympic cham­pi­ons are well looked af­ter once their sport­ing ca­reers are over.

How­ever, as a young­ster he had watched many of the clas­sic ti­tle fights on black and white TV, he says, and fight­ing as a pro­fes­sional had been a dream for him.

“I would give any­thing for a taste of it.”

Even though their son had been born only a year be­fore, Zou reached this mo­men­tous de­ci­sion, his wife, a well-known tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter, was fully sup­port­ive, he says. In fact she quit her job and was on hand to see him when­ever he was in the ring.

At first, Zou says, he felt she was a bur­den be­cause he needed to snatch 10 of the60sec­onds be­tween­rounds to en­sure she was OK.

“It was a huge dis­trac­tion, es­pe­cially if I was hurt and she was cry­ing.”

But when she missed one of his fights, he says, he re­al­ized how im­por­tant it was for her to be at ring­side. They then made a pact: Zou would do all in his power to box wisely and pro­tect him­self, and she would do all in her power to stay strong.

He won half a dozen fights, in­clud­ing the World Box­ing Or­ga­ni­za­tion in­ter­na­tional fly­weight ti­tle in July last year, and in one of those fights knocked out the Thai Yok­thong Kok­i­et­gym. How­ever, in March he lost to another Thai, Am­nat Ruen­ro­eng, in a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion, for the In­ter­na­tional Box­ing Fed­er­a­tion fly­weight ti­tle.

Zou says that this de­feat in­Ma­cao was eas­ier to swal­low than his de­feat at the Athens Olympics in 2004 to a Cuban who even­tu­ally won the gold medal.

“I used to put my­self un­der huge pres­sure by be­ing so des­per­ate to win,” Zou says. That was when he car­ried the hopes of the na­tion on his shoul­ders each time he en­tered the ring.

Nowhe is a lot more re­laxed as he pur­sues his pro­fes­sional ca­reer, he says.

“I just do my best. Re­sults and ti­tles are no longer so im­por­tant.”

Of course, that does not­mean­that he does not still have other fights to fight, ones in which he is not up against a sin­gle op­po­nent.

Re­cently he and his wife joined a char­ity drive in his home­town in Guizhou province that helps poor chil­dren and the el­derly. He also ap­peared on a ra­dio pro­gram, My Olympics, a Dream Come True, in Hong Kong’s sole public broad­caster— Ra­dio Tele­vi­sionHong Kong— aimed at en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple in the city to pur­sue their sports dreams and to get to know the coun­try bet­ter.

Zou says he is keen to give back to so­ci­ety some­thing in re­turn for the suc­cesses he has been al­lowed to en­joy. That re­flects a credo of his, he says, that you can­not be a win­ner for­ever, but that you can be a hero for­ever.

Apart from be­ing there with his wife bring­ing up Mingx­uan and tak­ing part in the film­ing of Dad, Where Are We Go­ing? Zhou is now in train­ing for his next fight, ex­pected to be in­Ma­cao, in­Novem­ber.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Zou Shim­ing is a Chi­nese pro­fes­sional boxer who is the cur­rent WBO In­ter­na­tional Fly­weight cham­pion.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Zou Shim­ing at Ra­dio Tele­vi­sion Hong Kong.

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