Amnat Ruenroeng (15-0) scored a convincing victory over Zou Shiming (6-1) by unanimous decision (116-111 on all three scorecards) to retain the IBF flyweight title at the The Venetian Macao in Macau, China.
Zou entered the fight carrying the weight of a country on his shoulders. He's been pegged as the fighter who can lead a boxing surge in China after winning two straight Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012 before deciding to turn pro.
The 33-year-old amateur sensation understands his place within Chinese sports. Through a translator, he recently told Greg Beacham of the Associated Press (via Yahoo Sports) about the pride he feels every time he fights.
"I stepped into the ring with a flag on my back, and I have Chinese people on my back," Zou said. "No matter if it's in the Olympics or in the pro arena, as long as I stand in a ring—anywhere in the world—I stand as a Chinese."
He even received high-profile support ahead of the bout from Manny Pacquiao. The pair both work with legendary trainer Freddie Roach:
Manny Pacquiao @MannyPacquiaoTR
Happy Birthday, @FreddieRoach. Good luck on Saturday with Zou Shiming.2015-3-5 17:40:30
Although it was the first meeting between the pair in the professional ranks, they had met three matchups at the amateur level. Zou won two of them.
Yet, Aris Pina of PunchZone noted it was Ruenroeng who came out firing on all cylinders this time around:
Aris Pina @PunchZoneAris
Ruenroeng easily wins the 1st, it's still early but I think this will be the story of the fight #boxing #ShowdownAtSands2015-3-7 14:33:35
The lackluster start was seemingly a wake-up call for Zou. He bounced back with a strong second, including a knockdown of the Thai star, as noted by Bad Left Hook:
Bad Left Hook @badlefthook
Ruenroeng looks to open up in counter, but Zou clips him and Ruenroeng is down!2015-3-7 14:34:36
Top Rank Boxing pointed out after the round that Ruenroeng was debating the reason for his trip to the mat:
Top Rank Boxing @trboxing
Amnat Ruenroeng is standing in the corner and complaining that he wasn't knocked down in the 2nd. http://t.co/HhgfjfBiJt2015-3-7 14:37:59
The unique nature of the fight continued in the third as the champion took down Zou with a pseudo-body slam usually reserved wrestling.
Ryan Songalia of Ring Magazine noted the referee opted against taking away a point. Perhaps due to the questionable knockdown call in the previous round:
Ryan Songalia @ryansongalia
Ref probably making up for the slip knockdown in round 2, doesn't take a point from Amnat for judo tossing Zou Shiming2015-3-7 14:41:24
The fight finally started to settle down in the fourth. Ruenroeng was able to gain an edge by slowing the fight to a less hectic pace. He was able to use his terrific movement to land some shots and back off before Zou could counter.
Boxing Monthly stated the Chinese star simply wasn't able to land the shots he was looking for during the first half of the bout:
Boxing Monthly @BoxingMonthlyED
Zou unable to get his shots off in the fifth and finding no antidote to Ruenroeng’s trickery and fast hands. Needs to take risks.2015-3-7 14:49:55
Very little changed after that point, especially as Ruenroeng became confident he was leading the fight and backed off to avoid any major mistakes. He maintained his distance, attacking his jabs to win rounds without too much risk.
It wasn't the most entertaining fight aside from the active crowd. But that was of little interest to the champion, who put together the workmanlike performance he needed to keep the belt in his possession.
Ryan Bivins of Sweet Boxing confirmed the result:
Ryan Bivins @sweetboxing
Amnat Ruenroeng UD12 Zou Shiming (116-111, 116-111, 116-111) #boxing #ShowdownAtSands Amnat "upsets" Zou & retains his IBF flyweight title2015-3-7 15:20:05
Top Rank Boxing passed along post-match comments from Zou:
Top Rank Boxing @trboxing
"This is not the end. This is just the beginning." - Zou Shiming2015-3-7 15:26:49
Still, Nigel Collins of ESPN wonders what comes next for boxing in Macau:
Nigel Collins @NigelBoxing
What happens to boxing in Macau now that Zou Shiming has lost to Amnat Ruenroeng?2015-3-7 15:25:29
In the end, Ruenroeng deserves a lot of credit. He entered the fight as an underdog despite holding the title. He ignored the hype and stuck with his plan of attack throughout the bout. The result was a relatively routine title defense.
Zou tried to take more chances in the second half of the fight. He just wasn't able to sustain the type of offense necessary to impress the judges, though. A more complete performance is necessary in order to win a championship.
He's right to say it isn't the end, but there are definitely more question marks after his first professional loss.