Xiong feels he
convinced me to try boxing professionally, so I moved to Kunming,’’ he says. He adds that he was looking for a job when he walked into a gym and met Liu Gang.
Now his manager, former boxer Liu, who made the Chinese Olympic team and then turned professional as an expat in Melbourne, Australia, still remembers meeting Xiong for the first time. “I looked at him and almost laughed,” says Liu. “He was so small.”
But the moment he walked into the gym, Xiong knew this was where his career lay. “I wanted to become a boxer,’’ he says. So he did anything he could to pay for his boxing lessons at the gym. “He was 24 when he started training, but went on to win the Asian Boxing Council championship in 2008,’’ says Liu.
Xiong became the first Chinese world champion in his category at 29. He still retains a childlike innocence, despite his obvious ferocity in the ring.
He giggles when asked if he wanted to learn martial arts as a kid. “I used to watch movies of Jackie Chan and other martial arts heroes as a child,” he reveals. “Li Lian Jie [Jet Li, a popular martial arts movie star] was my hero!”
Liu is optimistic of Xiong’s chances of retaining his title. “Xiong has what it takes to be a champion,” he says. “He’s strong, and has a big chin (to take knocks). But most of all he has a big heart. He keeps going.”
Denver is no quitter either. He trains rigorously for three months before a big fight. When he’s training he has little contact with his family. “It’s very tough,” he says.
“The only contact is through phone calls. I practically live in the gym for two months. Physically and mentally I have to be there.” But is there ever a point where he feels like giving up? “Give up? Never! Only when I am 35,” he grins. “I have to win, the belt is for me.”
Xiong has no such distractions vis-à-vis family. He’s single and has no girlfriend. “I only concentrate on training,” he smiles.
“His parents are constantly urging him to get married!” Liu laughs. “In China most men get married at 17 or so. Xiong, he has no such thoughts.’’
A tough sport that changes lives
Xiong has never had an injury, and does not smoke or drink, says Liu. He’s such a role model that when he became champion, his local government gave him two apartments.
His family – parents and two brothers, one of them married with two children – moved in with him.
“Most amateur Chinese boxers are supported by the government with money and training,” says Liu, 40. “Xiong had no support at all. He had to work and pay for the gym, and the trainer, and turn professional.”
Says Xiong, “I know I won’t always be a world champion… that means I need to keep on improving to keep on winning. It’s a tough sport.’’
Becoming a professional boxer has changed all aspects of his life, says Xiong. “I’m more confident now and have learned a lot. I’ve had new experiences visiting places and seeing people. Before I decided to box, I’d never flown in an aeroplane or left China before.’’
Now he travels frequently to Thailand and other parts of China for bouts.
In Denver’s case, it’s his faith that keeps him going. “I pray every day – morning and night – to get the strength. I do all this because I don’t
has only a few more years to box and dreams of opening a gym for poor boys, while Denver plans to box until 35 before returning to run his store