This Saturday, April 6 is a busy day for combat sports fans. You've got the UFC running in Stockholm, Sweden, Glory presenting a huge main event in Istanbul, Superkombat launching their 2013 season... But the fight that perhaps will have the biggest long term ramifications takes place on HBO, live from Macau, China.
Zou Shiming makes his professional boxing debut here, and it's a debut that deserves attention. That's largely because of Shiming's decoarted amateur career - he's a three time Olympic medalist, winning bronze in 2004 at age 22, then gold twice - first in 2008 and then again in 2012. Add in a host of other world amateur boxing titles, and Shiming becomes a prospect to watch. Guillermo Rigondeaux has shown that a decorated amateur with an Olympic pedigree can make a big splash on today's professional boxing circuit - can Shiming replicate that success?
Of course, Shiming's debut is about more than just those medals. It's also about what country he represented when he claimed those honors. China is a potentially huge market that right now boxing is not fully reaching. In the past few years, we've seen an interest in combat sports in China grow - MMA companies and kickboxing companies are running their regularly, and last year the UFC brought the Octagon to Macau. Now, HBO looks to throw boxing into the mix in China, and in Shiming, they believe they have an ace up their sleeve. There's already talk about what the future may hold for boxing in China, as Bob Arum has discussed his desire to bring Manny Pacquiao's next fight to either Macau or Singapore. Of course, take everything Arum says with a grain of salt, but the fact that he is even talking about China to host one of the sport's biggest draws says a lot about this potentially untapped market.
To fully tap into that market, HBO is banking on a big success on Saturday and beyond. They're hoping for Shiming to deliver on his promise - to follow the path of Rigondeaux, not the countless decorated amateurs who have crashed and burned when turning pro.
Will we know Shiming's potential after Saturday? Probably not. After all, this is a 4 round fight against a 2-1-2 Eleazar Valenzuela, who has been picked to allow Shiming to shine. So expect him to shine. In truth, we won't know his real potential as a professional for quite some time. And maybe that doesn't matter. What really matters is if the fans in China turn out to support their Olympian. If they do, then expect big things from the international boxing scene in China in the coming year as a new, potentially huge market, opens up.
HBO certainly thinks things will go that way, and that Zou Shiming will be the key. They'll put their theory to the test this Saturday.
Join us here at Bloody Elbow for HBO Boxing Shiming vs. Valenzuela live from Macau results, discussion, and live fight coverage this Saturday, April 6 at 2:00 p.m. ET on HBO2.