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HONG KONG (AFP) – China's two-time Olympic boxing champion Zou Shiming says it is his dream to make it big in the United States, ahead of just his second bout as a professional fighter.
The 32-year-old Zou, who is also a three-time amateur world champion, is attempting to become the first Chinese to make a name for himself on the global stage in a sport that was once banned in his country.
His US promoters Top Rank are hoping the flyweight's fame in China will open the door to a lucrative and untapped market. But Zou, Olympic gold medallist in 2008 and 2012, is looking in the opposite direction.
"When I first started practising boxing, I saw from television that a lot of fights were held in the US, so it's my dream to fight there," he told AFP ahead of his fight on July 27 in Macau against Mexico's Jesus Ortega (3-1, 2 KOs).
"In recent years, China is paying more attention to boxing. I will start by fighting in Macau or Asia first, and then hope finally I will have the chance to fight in the US."
The softly spoken Zou, who is from Guizhou province, in southwestern China, says that he wants to be challenging for a world title "within one or two years". But he admits that it is a steep learning curve.
He defeated the unknown Eleazar Valenzuela on points on his pro debut, in Macau in April, failing to deliver the knock-out that the 15,000-capacity CotaiArena was baying for.
"I think in the first fight I was very inexperienced," he said at a promotional event in Hong Kong, speaking through a translator.
"Though I have been boxing for many years, it was mainly in the Olympics. I showed many shortcomings in the first fight, but I think that I will be more mature after more bouts."
Zou has been hard at it in Hollywood with the highly respected trainer Freddie Roach, trying to iron out the habits he has picked up after so many years as an outstanding amateur.
"At the Olympics you can win the fight in a short time. But for the prizefight there are more rounds, so it is more demanding physically. The way you use your strength to punch -- or be punched -- makes it much more intense."
Roach, who has trained some of the best in the business including Manny Pacquiao, admitted that he had been disappointed by Zou's debut.
With the fight later this month set to be shown again live on state television in China, meaning a potential audience of hundreds of millions, Roach hopes Zou will showcase his speed to pull off a convincing win.
"I've seen an improvement in the last few months, but then I saw that last time and it didn't show in the fight obviously. The crowd got to him," said Roach.
"He didn't perform as well as I thought he would. But we've had another great training camp and the sparring has been going well.
"I have told him that he needs to give the crowd what they want, which is a good fight and not just playing around, like he did in the first fight.
"We are on a little bit of a fast track (to a title shot). But after so long as an amateur I think we can put him on a fast track and get better opponents as we go.
Prior to Zou's debut Roach had spoken of a world title within two years, but he now admits that timeframe might be a stretch.
"In the fight he got nervous and a little gun-shy. These things happen, but now we need to see that go away before we make a prediction about a title fight. If he looks sensational in this fight, as he should, then we will talk about moving out."