When the time comes to pull punches
Late in the bout, a champion boxer discovers another side to life
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.
Zou Shiming is a Chinese professional boxer who is the current WBO International Flyweight champion.
Zou Shiming at Radio Television Hong Kong.