By Zhenyu Li
"Western boxing in China is now revived!"
More than two decades ago when Menghua Li, the Director of National Sports Committee declared in a resonant voice filling up the sky, it turned a whole new chapter in the story of Chinese western boxing.
By the turn of the year 2006, China has depicted a tale of two decades since the rebirth of the sweet science, two decades of renaissance and reforms, two decades of smiles and tears, two decades of challenges and achievements.
The year 1986 and 1987 are two significant years for Chinese western boxing. In March 1986, boxing officially returned to validity. The next year in April, the China Boxing Association was officially founded. In May, the first national boxing championships were held and in June, the China Boxing Association was officially admitted into the International Amateur Boxing Association as the 159th member. From then on, China began to appear on the international boxing stage.
The Chinese national boxing team had taken part in a number of international boxing events during this period of time including the Pyongyang International Invitational Boxing Tournament in August in which China reaped two bronze medals.
The first ray, golden 24k, shined in the darkness of Chinese western boxing after a three-year slump. Light heavyweight Chongguang Bai bagged the first gold medal for China at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. It greatly elevated the morale of boxing professionals in China.
However, this perfect storm was followed by a grilling tranquility. China suffered a 16-year gold drought in Asian Games ring. In the meantime, boxing had undergone a stage of stillness in China for the first decade.
At the 1992 Olympic Games, competitors were delighted to face off against Chinese opponents. The best that the Chinese coaches hoped for was that each fighter might stay on his feet a bit longer than the one before him.
The reasons for this are both simple and complex. First and foremost, in the 90s, China was still on the road to glory lacking the fundamental support for the sport of boxing. Equally important is that China had never won a worthy medal in any prestigious international boxing tournament. Besides, pugilism was mainly carried out in the military and rural areas practiced by a very limited number of people, mostly the poor. It lacked adequate participation and attention of a large fan base. Last but not least, there had been little support for the Noble Art from government, media people and promoters for the first 10 years since the revival of this combat sport in China.
But as it turned out, the stillness was temporary. Maybe it’s the silence before the storm.
Amateur light flyweight Shiming Zou, the most popular boxing athlete in China, achieved a series of historic breakthroughs for Chinese western boxing, as he seized three medals in a row by 2006. Zou captured the silver medal for the 2003 World Amateur Boxing Championships, the bronze medal of 2004 Athens Olympic Games and a gold medal from the 2005 World Amateur Boxing Championships.
Admittedly, at that time, the talent pool of Chinese boxers was lacking, with Zou playing the solo and the others lagging far behind. The second best the Chinese achieved in the 2005 World Boxing Championships was two boxers entering the quarterfinal.
The talent-sparse predicament ended in Doha one year after when China bagged five boxing medals in the 2006 Asian Games.
In Doha, Zou broke a 16-year gold drought in Asia boxing by completely outshining Thailand’s powerhouse Suban Pannon with an impressive 10-1 lead in the first round before the referee stopped the contest in the second. Lightweight Qing Hu added another gold medal to China’s drought-breaking haul when he used some powerful combinations to beat Mongolia’s Munkh Erdene Uranchimeg 38-22. China finished with two gold and three bronze medals in the Doha 2006 Asian Games, which exceeded the mighty Manny Pacquiao’s home country of the Philippines with one more bronze medal advantage. Bo Yang, Hanati and Jianting Zhang were the other three Chinese counterparts who captured the three bronzes, respectively in the 51kg, 69kg and 75kg division.
With boxing powerhouses such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in line, China still secured five medals from five separate weight classes, indicating that the ancient nation had integrally reached a whole new level in amateur boxing.
The breakthroughs in the two decades were not only achieved in amateur boxing, but in professional stage as well.
The first intercontinental professional boxing champion in Chinese history was born on May 17, 2005 when Congliang Xu with only three professional fights won the WBA Intercontinental Lightweight title by knocking out Thailand’s veteran Pongsit Wiangwiset, who had made 13 title defenses in his illustrious professional career.
In April 2006, female fighter Xiyan Zhang became China’s first ever world professional boxing champion by defeating Alicia Ashley for the WBC women’s lightweight crown. The hard-hitting brawler Zhiyu Wu captured the second intercontinental title for China by stopping the defending champion New Zealand’s Bruce Glozier in only 26 seconds in the WBC Intercontinental Cruiserweight title bout.
It showed, as early as 2006, that the Chinese could also compete with such Asian boxing powerhouses as Thailand, the Philippines and Korea on the international battle field.
When the chapter was closed, two decades after the rehabilitation of the fight game, China had produced two world champions and two intercontinental champions in the square ring.
And the best is yet to come...
Zhenyu Li is the bilingual sports and culture columnist for People’s Daily. His agent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org