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Chinese Fight Expected to Attract Most TV Viewers in Boxing History (Report)

Zou Shiming P
Getty

The debut professional match of Chinese amateur champ Zou Shiming will be broadcast for free in his home country, where promoters say it will reach an audience of over 200 million.

Who is the most popular fighter in boxing history? Muhammad Ali, George Foreman – maybe Manny Pacquiao?

Measured by TV audience, Chinese flyweight Zou Shiming is expected to knock out these greats and all the rest when his debut fight as a professional is broadcast live across China on Saturday.

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Weighing in at slightly more than 100 pounds, the 31-year-old Zou will face off against Mexico’s Eleazar Valenzuela at the Venetian Sands in the southern Chinese casino enclave of Macau. Zou’s promoter, boxing legend Bob Arum – former rep of both Ali and Pacquiao, incidentally – says the fight will attract between 200 million and 300 million TV viewers in China, where it will be shown for free by state broadcaster CCTV and regional subsidiaries, making it the most-watched telecast in the sport’s history. The fight also will be broadcast on the boxing-loving Philippines' giant broadcast network ABS-CBN on Channel 2.

Stateside, the fight will be carried on HBO2 at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday.

"Such is the demographics of China," Arum, 81, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.

Zou is China’s most accomplished amateur boxer ever, having won gold medals in the 108-112 pound weight class at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. He was born in Guizhou, one of China’s poorest provinces, and began boxing at age 12. But he is making a late start to professional prize-fighting at 31. Nevertheless, bookmakers are predicting Zou will handedly beat Valenzuela, who is entering the ring with a record of 2-1-2.

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Arum has been angling to get a premier fight held in Macau -- which now generates more than eight times the gaming revenue of Las Vegas -- for some time. He told the Journal he hopes the interest inspired by the free broadcast of Zou’s first pro fight will eventually allow him to arrange pay-per-view fees in China for premier matches, as is commonplace in the U.S.

The Venetian Macao, Sheldon Adelson’s most lucrative casino operation since its opening in 2007, has been hyping the fight heavily in Hong Kong and China. The casino commissioned Hong Kong pop star Stephanie Cheng and local rapper Kevin Chau, aka "Gold Mountain,” to produce a theme song for the event. According to the Journal, Cheng sings a chorus in auto-tuned Mandarin about the Boxer Rebellion, an early 20th century antiforeign movement in China; and Chau raps: "I got 1.3 billion wishin' / Two fists of gold will elevate their position."

In preparation for Saturday’s bout, Arum is said to have flown Zou to the Hollywood gym of super-trainer Freddie Roach. Zou trained with Roach for several weeks starting in February and learned to speak his first few words of English during his stateside stay. According to the Journal report, Arum took "the kid" to Beverly Hills’ Mr Chow for a “Chinese dinner” to help him feel somewhat more at home. "There are no Chinese people here," Zou said, amused, when they arrived at the restaurant.