Xiong has a champ’s for­ti­tude

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

Just in time for Christ­mas, Xiong Zhaozhong wrapped his pres­ence on the world box­ing scene with a com­mand per­for­mance last Satur­day in Maguan, Yun­nan prov­ince.

But if you blinked, you missed it.

Xiong, who be­came the first Chi­nese boxer to win a ma­jor pro­fes­sional world cham­pi­onship when he de­feated Mex­ico’s Javier Re­sendiz for the WBC strawweight crown (105 lbs) 13 months ago, scored a sen­sa­tional fifth-round KO of Thai­land’s Lookrak Ki­at­mung­mee in a ti­tle de­fense that aired live na­tion­wide on CCTV 5.

While the bril­liant ef­fort by the hum­ble 31-year-old from Kun­ming — capped by his first KO in nearly two years — was largely over­shad­owed by the af­ter­glow of the glitzy Nov 24 ‘Clash in Co­tai’ card in Ma­cao fea­tur­ing Manny Pac­quiao and Zou Shim­ing, it did man­age to gar­ner some neg­a­tive at­ten­tion.

On some box­ing web­sites Xiong and his han­dlers have been as­sailed for turn­ing the bout into a cold-blooded de­mo­li­tion of Ki­at­mung­mee, who was a late sub­sti­tute for Aus­tralia’s Omari Kimw­eri. That’s a load of rub­bish. Xiong, who im­proved to 22-41 with his 12th KO, was merely do­ing his job. It wasn’t his fault that visa is­sues pre­vented Kimw­eri (15-3, 5 KOs) from en­ter­ing China, or that the WBC then ap­proved Ki­at­mung­mee, who stepped in with a mod­est record of 7-4, with four KOs.

And few crit­ics have men­tioned the Thai went the dis­tance in los­ing an eight-round de­ci­sion to Kimw­eri in his pre­vi­ous out­ing.

In­stead of be­ing raked over the coals for beat­ing up a game but in­ex­pe­ri­enced op­po­nent, Xiong should be ap­plauded for re­spond­ing like the cham­pion he is. Af­ter four rounds of his stylish dom­i­nance, the end came via a text­book left up­per­cut to the torso that dropped Ki­at­mung­mee to his hands and knees, writhing in pain. The ref­eree didn’t even bother to count.

What the know-it-alls who are chas­tiz­ing Xiong have con­ve­niently over­looked is how dif­fi­cult it is for any fighter — let alone a world cham­pion — to men­tally and phys­i­cally ad­just to a last-minute sub­sti­tute af­ter train­ing for weeks to fight some­one else. It ain’t like chang­ing socks. And box­ing his­tory is rife with in­ex­pe­ri­enced un­knowns ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion when they get a crack at a world ti­tle. Does the name Leon Spinks ring a bell?

“From the mo­ment I first stepped in the ring to fight, I knew I was ful­fill­ing my life’s work,” Xiong said af­ter his first ti­tle de­fense, against Den­ver Cuello in June. “I know I won’t al­ways be a world cham­pion, but know­ing that makes me want to make the most of what I have now.” He has done that and more. There’s an old ex­pres­sion that the best re­venge is just liv­ing well. In Xiong’s case, that’s par­tic­u­larly true. Like his idol, Muham­mad Ali, years ago, he ex­udes a pal­pa­ble joy at be­ing able to earn his liv­ing do­ing some­thing he loves.

The pint-sized puncher who has made so much his­tory for his home­land de­serves to be rec­og­nized and cel­e­brated to the same de­gree as Olympic gold medal­lists Zou Shim­ing and Zhang Xiaop­ing.

Any­thing less is an in­sult to his achieve­ment. Mur­ray Greig is a Cana­dian au­thor and for­mer box­ing trainer who has worked the cor­ner in a world ti­tle fight. Con­tact him at mur­ray­greig@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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