MACAU (AFP) – China's great boxing hope Zou Shiming notched up an unconvincing second professional victory against Mexico's Jesus Ortega on Saturday, failing to answer questions about his lack of punching power.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist, topping the bill at the Fists of Gold II event at Macau's Venetian resort-hotel, went the six-round distance but tired well before the bout ended, resorting in the final three minutes to clinging on to his equally inexperienced opponent.
With millions expected to have tuned in to watch the nation's boxing icon on China's state television, much was riding on the shoulders of the man many hope will become the country's first professional world champion.
In front of an electric crowd buoyed by two earlier 12-round toe-to-toe bouts, 32-year-old flyweight Zou came out more technically proficient for the first three rounds than in his previous bout, but largely failed to rattle the 19-year-old Mexican in his fifth professional fight.
Ortega shrugged off Zou's combinations in the first two rounds, showboating at the end of the second and dropping his guard, only to receive minimal punishment.
In the third Zou ramped up the pressure with a slew of combinations, but soon tired, grabbing at his opponent by the fifth and spending much of the final round alternating between trading flailing punches and clinging on.
Despite the performance, judges handed Zou a unanimous victory, scoring the bout 59-55, 59-55, 59-55.
The exhibition is unlikely to impress his legendary trainer Freddie Roach, who earlier this week described Zou's debut performance against Mexico's Eleazar Valenzuela as "playing around".
Zou has been talked up by his US promoter Top Rank, whose founder Bob Arum, 81, sees nurturing the amateur champion as a way into the lucrative China market.
At a press conference following the bout, translated from his native Mandarin, Zou said he was "pleased with myself" and hoped the fight demonstrated he had learnt lessons since his April debut.
"I'm taking all this in. I'm taking all the experiences and I know what I need to work on. I know what I need to do," he said, adding that he would be working even harder to reach his goal.
Roach said he thought his charge "needed to learn a little quicker" and that training alongside stablemate Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines in the coming months meant he was "going to see what it takes to become a world champion".
Earlier Saturday in a brutal 12-round encounter, Russian IBF featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich stretched his record to 17 undefeated contests, giving spirited Argentinian challenger Mauricio Munoz a lesson in punching accuracy. Judges scored the fight 119-109, 119-109, 120-108, leaving Munoz with 26 wins to four losses.
Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada dented Filipino Milan Melindo's 28-fight unbeaten record to retain his WBA and WBO flyweight titles, with a knockdown in the 11th round and a devastating display in the 12th, leaving him with 25 wins to two losses.