- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Flyweight Zou Shiming, the Chinese national hero and three-time Olympic medalist (two golds), is on the ultra-fast track.
If all goes well, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said, Zou is probably looking at a world title shot before the end of the year. It could come as soon as his sixth or seventh professional fight. But he still has to win in order to get there.
The 32-year-old Zou (3-0, 0 KOs) is largely responsible for the boxing boom in Macau, and once again will headline a card at the Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena when he faces 19-year-old Yokthong Kokietgym (15-3, 11 KOs) of Thailand on Saturday (HBO2, 5 p.m. ET/PT, same-day tape). The bout will be Zou’s first scheduled eight-rounder.
In the other bout HBO2 will televise, 27-year-old lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez (33-3, 13 KOs) of Mexico will make his sixth defense when he faces mandatory challenger Denis Shafikov (33-0-1, 18 KOs), a 28-year-old southpaw from Russia.
An interested onlooker is expected to be at ringside for Zou’s bout. That would be Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng (12-0, 5 KOs), who outpointed Rocky Fuentes on Jan. 22 to win a vacant flyweight world title.
According to Arum, Ruenroeng is coming to Macau for the fight “on his own dime to get a feel for the place and, hopefully, if Zou continues to win, he will face the Thai boy for the title end of the year.”
Arum said he believes Ruenroeng, 34, must really want the fight with Zou, otherwise why would he pay his own way to the fight?
“All he asked for was for two rooms for him and his manager and tickets to the fight,” Arum said. “That was no problem. But he didn’t ask for anything else, so you know he’s serious.”
After Saturday’s fight, assuming Zou wins, he is expected to next fight in May, also in Macau.
“Then may be one more fight, a 10-rounder, before a title fight or maybe after the May fight he will go right into the title fight,” Arum said. “But end of this year, November or December, is when we think he will fight for the title against the Thai champeeeeen.”
Zou said he will be ready. He said he is familiar with Ruenroeng because they fought as amateurs.
"We were rivals and have fought many times in the amateur setting and it will be interesting to fight at a professional level if given the chance,” Zou said through a translator. “I'm hoping to be at a stage in my development where Bob and my team feel that I will be ready for a title fight at the end of the year. I'll put in the work and train with Freddie [Roach] to be ready for any opportunity."
In just three pro fights, you can already see Roach’s imprint on Zou. In his previous fight, on the Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios undercard in Macau in November, Zou fought more professionally than he had in his first two bouts. He threw punches with more leverage, rather than slap amateurishly at his opponent.
Roach knows Zou still has a lot of improvements to make, so he isn’t getting carried away with title-shot talk. At least not yet.
"We will take it one fight at a time. Shiming is a work in progress and I want to emphasize 'progress' because Shiming is progressing,” Roach said. “We are not looking ahead of this fight. Shiming makes 112 [pounds] very easily. I think if there was a world title opportunity at 108 pounds, we would consider going that route. It's the same weight [at which] Shiming won his Olympic gold medals."
Although Roach isn’t pressing the issue for a title shot, he did say he believes that with a good performance on Saturday, Zou would be ready to advance beyond an eight-round fight.
"If Shiming performs well on Saturday, we're on board for moving up to 10 rounds in the next fight,” Roach said.
And then could come a 12-rounder -- for a world title.