Xiong has a champ’s fortitude
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 firstname.lastname@example.org