By Keith Idec
Zhang Zhilei hasn’t boxed a single round as a professional prizefighter, but one of the most accomplished heavyweights in boxing history sees real potential in the huge Chinese prospect.
Four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield feels the 6-foot-6, 259-pound Zhilei is skilled enough to become his enormous nation’s first heavyweight champion.
“We feel that he has the heart, we feel he has the size, we feel that he has everything that’s necessary to be [a heavyweight champion],” said Holyfield, an adviser and goodwill ambassador for Dynasty Boxing, Zhilei’s promoter. “The honest thing you have to tell him is he has to want to be it. If he wants to be it, he’ll be it. … If he does the right things, there’s no reason he won’t be successful.”
The retired Holyfield, 51, is mentoring Zhilei, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist who is trained in Paterson, N.J., by Paterson’s Joe Grier and Harold Knight, of Plainfield, N.J. Zhilei, of Henan, China, is scheduled to make his pro debut Friday night against Oakland, Tenn.’s Curtis Lee Tate (7-4, 6 KOs). Their four-round fight will open an ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” telecast (9 p.m. ET) from Churchill County Fairgrounds in Fallon, Nev.
The Zhilei-Tate fight also will be televised live in China, where Zhilei already is a national celebrity. Holyfield will help lead the 31-year-old Zhilei into the ring.
“I do believe I will make a lot of progress and I will learn a lot from Evander, mentally and physically,” said Zhilei, a technically sound southpaw who moved to the United States in March to begin training for his pro debut. “I watched his fights growing up. I was really inspired and my dream was to become a fighter like him.”
ESPN2’s tripleheader will be headlined by a 10-round junior-middleweight match between Cleveland’s Willie Nelson (22-1-1, 13 KOs) and Mexico’s Luis Grejada (17-2-2, 13 KOs). In the co-featured fight, Hungarian super middleweight prospect Norbert Nemesapati (14-0, 13 KOs) is set to square off against Jason Escalera (14-2-1, 12 KOs), of Union City, N.J., in an eight-rounder.
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.