MACAU - When the announcer declared victory for the defending champion, Zou Shiming still carried his Chinese flag and waved to the home audience.
The flag-bearer for Chinese boxing lost his first title fight on Saturday, as IBF flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand defeated him by unanimous decision.
"I didn't get the victory today, but it's the beginning of a new journey. Boxing is just like life, so it doesn't matter," said Zou at the post-fight press conference. "Boxers are like this, we Chinese people are like this, I will give another shot and start all over again."
Zou is propelling boxing's surge in popularity in China, but he came up short in the biggest test so far with the record in his short pro career falling to 6-1 (1 KO).
The challenger said what he took from his first title fight was "one more experience" as he didn't think he was outclassed.
"I don't think my technique lost to his; perhaps the reason is he had more experience dealing with this type of title fight," he said. "I don't think my opponent was aggressive either. On the contrary, I think I was the more aggressive one in a state of stalemate."
Amnat landed more effective jabs than Zou, and kept him at bay with his 13-centimeter (five-inch) reach advantage to successfully defend his flyweight title for the third time. All three judges scored the bout 116-111 for Amnat (15-0, 5 KO), who overcame being knocked down in the second round.
Zou's trainer Freddie Roach said they "lost the fight to the judges."
"His opponent was really an awkward, awkward fighter. He gave us a lot of trouble. We watched a lot of tape on him, he never fought like he did tonight. He was running around, very defensive, a good counterpuncher, fast hands," said Roach.
"I didn't see this kind of fighter on the tapes coming, so we didn't get ready for a lot of those things he was doing. So we have to get back to the gym just to become a more complete fighter."
Zou dropped Amnat with a left in round two, and when Amnat threw down Zou in a wrestling fashion in the next round, the Thai champion drew boos from the audience.
Amnat received a warning for putting Zou in a head-lock on the ropes in the eighth, but his jabs were already building up a points advantage, while comfortably managing to handle whatever Zou tried.
Near the end, Zou was advised by Roach to land more combinations and pick up the tempo, but Zou was frustrated from having to chase Amnat. In the final round, Zou landed a couple of rights but couldn't follow them up, and the final seconds were chasing Amnat amid boos from the audience.
"He took a punch in the eye, and he was 20 feet away. It was very difficult when a guy can move at a speed like he did," Roach said.
Zou has played a leading role in promoting boxing in China. After winning the nation its first boxing gold medal in the Olympics in 2008, he then chose to delay turning pro to successfully defend the gold for his motherland.
Describing himself as "a child coming out of the mountain to see the world," the 33-year old moved to the pro ranks two years ago, aiming to "show the spirit of boxing" to his country and the "spirit of Chinese people" to the world.
The bout hosted in China's gaming enclave was broadcast live throughout the mainland via several state-owned and regional sports channels.
"China doesn't lack boxers, nor boxing fans, it's just that we don't have a representative figure coming out to draw their attention," Zou said. "Now as we have our own boxers coming out, this sport will receive more and more support in China."