MACAU - Double Olympic gold medallist Zou Shiming is aiming to put China on the world professional boxing map and start a "Shiming dynasty" when he fights Thailand's Amnat Ruenroeng for his first world title in Macau Saturday.
The softly-spoken three times amateur world champion said he will put aside his long-standing friendship with International Boxing Federation (IBF) flyweight title holder Amnat once they step in the ring at Cotai Arena as Zou targets his first global crown in the pro game.
China has only once before had a world champion outside of the amateur ring, and that was at the little recognised WBC "minimum weight" (light flyweight) category which Xiong Zhaozhong won in 2012 and defended twice.
But it is Zou's rise to superstar celebrity status in China -- including a cameo in the movie 'Transformers 4' -- that is propelling a sport once banned under Mao Zedong into the consciousness of the world's most populous nation.
Veteran fight promoter Bob Arum claimed that an estimated TV audience of 300 million will watch the fight when it is beamed live across the national CCTV5 network on Saturday night from a packed 14,000-seat auditorium in the southern Chinese city.
And he declared that should Zou win, it would not only be a "great start to the Chinese year of the sheep", but would also "usher in the start of the Shiming dynasty in boxing".
Zou, 33, groomed for boxing greatness by the elite China sporting programme since shining as a schoolboy in southwestern Guizhou, won gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and London 2012 to add to his bronze in Athens 2004 as well as three amateur world titles (2005, 2007, 2011).
His opponent from Thailand took an altogether different path to the ring.
Former drug addict Amnat, 35, had been sentenced to his third jail term for drugs and robbery offences back in 2006 when the tough street kid found solace in the Thai tough correctional system's boxing programme.
Within a year he had won the Thailand national championship, despite still being in prison on a 15-year sentence. His success meant he was released the next day for "good behaviour" after serving just a year.
He never looked back and in his next fight caused a huge upset when he beat Zou, already a world amateur champion and Olympic bronze medallist, in the prestigious King's Cup.
They fought twice more as amateurs with Zou winning both bouts on tight points decisions. And the pair have been firm friends ever since.
But they agreed that would go out of the window once the bell rings on Saturday night.
"We are professionals and although it's true we are good friends, when he is in the ring I will want to hurt him, to try to kill him," said Zou, who under Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach has a perfect professional record of six wins from six.
But Amnat is confident of retaining the title he has already defended twice in his 14-fight unbeaten pro career and doesn't mind being tagged the underdog on Zou's home soil.
"Before our first fight (in Thailand's King's Cup in 2007) my team didn't expect me to beat Zou because I was a replacement fighter," said Amnat.
"But I did. Now we are confident I will do it again. Zou says he will take the belt to China, but I can tell you it will stay in Thailand."