ZOU SHIMING has to win on Saturday (March 7). China’s most popular boxer by far, the double Olympic medallist fights for his first world title against Amnat Ruenroeng, the IBF flyweight champion, in Macau. Top Rank’s ambitious project to break into China, potentially a huge market, depends entirely on Shiming. But his trainer, Freddie Roach insists the Chinese star can deal with the weight of expectation.

“I don’t see any pressure he’s handling it very well. He had a great workout [yesterday]. He was a pound under weight. He’s never not made weight in his life, so it’s not a problem. The opponent we have is a little more experienced. They fought in the amateurs, he’s had a lot more experience as a professional. He has long arms and so forth, he’s a bit of a counter-puncher, he fights off the backfoot quite a bit. I think Shiming’s speed, his quick jab is really going to control the pace of the fight for us,” Roach told Boxing News. “The way to beat this guy, he has long arms and so forth but he is mostly a counter-puncher, he fights off the backfoot quite a bit. I think right down the middle Shiming can beat him with the one-two, a double jab. But he can’t stay in the pocket for more than two punches. Two punches out, make him miss – because the guy counters – two punches, make him miss, then back in quickly. I think our strategy’s pretty good for this guy, I’ve studied him quite a bit.”

Roach has had to build up his rapport with Shiming in an accelerated timeframe. “He knows what I want. We’re on the same page,” Freddie explained. “He fought this guy three times before, so they have history but I had a long talk with him about how he can’t fight this guy like he did in the amateurs because that was a long time ago and that was only three rounds. I said you have to fight a much different fight in this one. He’s had a little more experience as a professional and he’s a little more seasoned pro than Shiming is.”

Breaking Zou out of his amateur habits has taken longer than Roach would have liked. They had to address issues from Shiming’s last fight, which was a surprisingly exciting points victory over Kwanpichit Onesongchaigym. “I was happy with the beginning. But then he told me mid-rounds he was going to run, protect his lead. I said you’re not an amateur anymore. We had a bit of problem in the late rounds, we had a long talk afterwards. Everything’s straightened out. He understands what I want. That amateur programme protecting a lead just doesn’t really work in the professional ranks, it’s way too boring and so forth,” Roach said.

Zou came through a cut to his head and a bad swelling, though he was discomforted by it. “I had Miguel Diaz working as a cutman and he tried to push the swelling down and he’s very old school and direct pressure is the best way… He knows that I want direct pressure on the cut and not pushing it out. He was actually hurting the fighter he was pushing so hard,” Freddie revealed. “[Shiming is] not the toughest guy in the world, he’s a real nice kid and stuff like that. If it was me I’d say push as hard as you can, it doesn’t bother me that much. He’s a little more sensitive than I am.”

Although the 33-year-old has got to a world title fight after seven professional contests, Shiming has actually progressed more slowly than Roach initially expected. “Working out with Shiming for the first fight,” said Freddie, “he did everything perfectly. His sparring partner was Brian Viloria and he’d beat Brian up every day. Not just a little bit, he would beat him up every day. I said, ‘We’re going to have a world champion in his second pro fight.’ But then the first fight happened and all the amateur stuff came back and I said, ‘Oh s***.’ It was a good learning process for myself.

“Everything went so well in the first training camp, it was perfect. He was such a talented kid. Then he got in the ring, he went back to what he always does.”

He believes he’s adapted Shiming into being appropriately aggressive. Intriguingly for the trainer of the attack-minded Manny Pacquiao who’ll be going in with consummate counter-puncher Floyd Mayweather on May 2, Roach believes counter-punchers are becoming increasingly rare. “Because usually they’re losing fights until they knock you out, when they finally get that shot in there, when you rush in and they’re on the backfoot and look for that big hook and so forth,” he said. “The counter-punching is very old school but I think it’s a thing of the past. You don’t see that a lot and I think Shiming, who’s won two gold medals, with one-two out will beat him all day long.”

SUBSCRIBE TO BOXING NEWS – established in 1909 – FOR JUST £5.99