Xiong feels he

Friday - - Inside -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.