Advertisement
Advertisement
Boxingscene.com

China's Zhilei Eager to Avenge Loss to Joshua, Become Big Star

image

By Keith Idec

PATERSON, N.J. – Zhang Zhilei is thinking about Anthony Joshua as the huge Chinese heavyweight trains far from the bright spotlight shining on the British superstar.

While England’s Joshua is getting ready for another heavyweight title fight before a stadium full of adoring fans Saturday night in Cardiff, Wales, Zhilei is preparing for his own breakout year at a boxing gym in this gritty city about 25 minutes outside of New York. The 2008 Olympic silver medalist hopes that by the end of 2018, he gets an opportunity to avenge his loss to Joshua in their super heavyweight fight at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“I want to fight him very, very much, and as soon as possible,” Zhilei said through a translator before a recent workout. “I can’t say enough how much I wanna fight Joshua. When I’m punching the heavy bag, I imagine that’s Anthony Joshua.”

Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs) and Zhilei (18-0, 14 KOs) have similar records and are exactly the same size (6-feet-6, roughly 250 pounds), but they have taken vastly different professional paths since Joshua won their bout by a slim margin, 15-11, five years ago in London.

While Joshua was fast-tracked toward a career-changing knockout of long-reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko on April 29 at London’s Wembley Stadium, Zhilei has been brought along at a much more moderate pace by Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports.

The 34-year-old Zhilei has been very active since making his pro debut in August 2014, but mostly has fought journeymen or worse while building his record and learning to box like a professional. His handlers, Roc Nation’s Dino Duva and manager/trainer Shaun George, hope to match Zhilei against a ranked heavyweight when he returns to the ring December 9 in Guangzhou, China.

After a first-round technical knockout of Byron Polley (30-22-1, 19 KOs, 3 NC) on September 23 in Park City, Kansas, the powerful southpaw feels he is more than ready to take on more daunting challenges in the ring.

“I have been training very hard in the gym every day, all for one goal,” said Zhilei, who has already fought five times in 2017. “As of right now, Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker, they have all the belts. I want those belts. That’s why I’m training hard, to take those belts from them.”

joshua-zhang-zhilei_1

George, a retired light heavyweight contender who has worked extensively with Chinese Olympic teams, is encouraged by Zhilei’s development.

“I would say within a year Zhang [pronounced John] will be ready to fight any one of those guys,” George said. “He’s very bright, very smart. He adapts well and he can really fight.

“He has history with Anthony Joshua. I thought he lost to Anthony Joshua [at the 2012 Olympics], but that’s a fight that, with the right game plan, he will win. There’s levels to this sport. What it comes down to is being mentally ready, and he is. He’s showing it in the gym and he’s showing his willingness to learn. He’s willing to fight anybody out there.”

Zhilei is ranked No. 8 by the WBO, which means he is in best position to challenge New Zealand’s Parker (24-0, 18 KOs) for his title. Joshua owns the IBF, IBO and WBA championships, and Zhilei is not ranked in the top 15 by any of those three organizations.

The hard-hitting contender clearly wants to move into position to avenge his loss to Joshua, though.

“I was over-anxious,” Zhilei said regarding his Olympic loss to Joshua. “All I had in my mind was offense, to go get him, and I forgot about defense. That fight was in London and Joshua is from England. So all that was in my mind was to go get him. I thought otherwise the judges would give it to him.”

 Watching Joshua’s career closely, particularly seeing him get off the canvas to stop Klitschko in their unforgettable fight, has made George understand that beating Joshua won’t be easy if Zhilei gets that opportunity.

“What Anthony Joshua has been doing is very impressive,” George said. “He’s a young heavyweight who can really punch and do everything else. We’re not underestimating Anthony Joshua. We’re aware of what he’s doing. He’s doing great things for the sport of boxing.

“But when Zhang comes into the ring with him, they’re gonna know they’re in with a hungry fighter – a real hungry, aggressive, smart fighter. He’s big, he can punch and his defense is gonna be much better. He’s on a different level right now, mentally and physically.”

If Zhilei can beat Joshua or win one of the other heavyweight titles, he, too, can become a huge star in his home country of nearly 1.4 billion residents.

Chinese sports fans have embraced boxing, a relatively new sport there, in recent years and have strongly supported Chinese champions in lower weight classes. Former WBO flyweight champion Zou Shiming, Zhilei’s longtime Olympic teammate, is the most notable among them.

Like fight fans everywhere, they love heavyweights, which leads Zhilei’s handlers to believe he can become boxing’s answer to basketball legend Yao Ming in China. Though he stands a full foot shorter than the 7-feet-6 former Houston Rockets center, Zhilei is often mistaken for Ming by American sports fans.

Duva and George also want to capitalize on the large concentration of Chinese-Americans in the New York metropolitan area by showcasing Zhilei on cards there.

“There’s no heavyweight boxer from China that is internationally recognized,” said Zhilei, who has resided and trained in northern New Jersey for 3½ years. “I’m the first one to take that challenge. Right now, Chinese professional boxing is developing very, very fast. But there’s no hero that you can look up to. I want to be that guy.”

The two-time Olympian didn’t turn pro until he was 31, yet remains relatively young for a heavyweight. Duva and George think this is the perfect time to begin exposing Zhilei to bigger audiences, against tougher opposition.

“He walks into a room and everybody lights up,” George said. “He has a fan base and that’s a key to all of this. He can fight, he’s a big guy and he has a great personality. So it’s just time to show it.”

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.

User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by sammybee on 10-27-2017

He should fight his way to the top and at the right time he may get Joshua. He needs to come into the limelight.

Comment by lowblows420 on 10-27-2017

Taishan dong 6-0 3kos signed to golden boy trained by buddy mgirt but hasn't fought in like 2 years

Comment by BodiesInFlight on 10-27-2017

Whatever happened to that Taishan dude?

Comment by Snoop Frog on 10-27-2017

He's with Roc Nation: Has Roc Nation helped anyone's career?

Comment by bigjavi973 on 10-27-2017

[QUOTE=Slowhand;18165680]He´s not even #1 HW in China, Jun Long Zhang has a Wilderish record of 18-0, 18 KOs. Old journey men and bums of course. :boxing:[/QUOTE] All hail the Dragon King!!!!! [IMG]http://media.gettyimages.com/photos/chinese-boxer-zhang-junlong-celebrates-after-he-defeated-thailand-picture-id475582481?s=612x612[/IMG]

Post a Comment - View More User Comments (12)
Top Headlines BoxingScene Pound for Pound: April 2019 Update Chisora's Coach Does Not See Usyk as The Right Fight Enock Poulsen vs. Michal Syrowatka For Vacant EU Title in Play Amir Khan: Retiring at The Wrong Time Would Haunt Me Dana White: After Summer - I'm Making All of My Boxing Moves Froch Believes Time is Right For Dave Allen vs. David Price Rolls Admits on Golovkin: I've Got Mount Everest Ahead of Me! Victor Ortiz Raises Hand: Willing To Do Marcos Maidana Rematch Sergey Kovalev: Facing Artur Beterbiev is a Priority For Me Danny Roman Breaks Down His Unification With TJ Doheny Joe Noynay Stops Kosuke Saka, Wins WBO Regional Belt in Osaka Andy Ruiz Confirms He is in The Mix To Face Anthony Joshua Bob Arum is Pleased, Saw Improvements in Felix Verdejo Joshua: Jarrell Miller Does Not Deserve To Be in The Ring Estrada: I Feel Very Strong, Very Fast - I'll Take Sor Rungvisai's Belt Khan: People Will Still Want To See Me Face Thurman, Pacquiao 14 Day Weights: Canelo 165.4-Pounds, Jacobs 166.8 Terence Crawford: I Felt Amir Khan Took The Easy Way Out Rolls: This Isn't A Tune-Up For Golovkin; I'm Coming to Fight! Dusty Harrison Knocks Out Fred Jenkins in Fourth Round Bilal Akkawy To Face John Ryder, Replacing Injured Lemieux McCaskill vs. Sanchez Unification Added To Usyk-Takam Card Verdejo's Coach Admits That His Boxer Did Not Fight as Expected Golovkin Disagrees With Canelo's Stance on 'Title' For Trilogy Photos: Gennady Golovkin, Steve Rolls - Face To Face in New York John Jackson Facing 15 Years, Indicted on Sexual Offense Charges Yamaguchi Falcao-Chris Pearson Lands on Facebook Watch Kash Ali Suspended For Six Months, Fined 10K For Biting Price Khan: The Fight Was 100% Turning, Crawford Was Slowing Down Regis Prograis Helping Youth As Big WBSS Fight Nears Apti Davtaev, Umar Salamov Ready For More After KO Wins Danny Garcia: I Hope I Didn't Scare Manny Pacquiao Away Commey Eyes June Return, Future Unifications - On His Terms Arum: Danny Garcia Is Not A Real Fight For Terence Crawford Terence Crawford-Amir Khan: Afterthoughts BoxingScene Championship Stats, Records: April 2019 Update Hatton: Kid Galahad To Provide Very Tough Test For Warrington McGuigan Comes To Khan's Defense in Wake of Quitter Claims Khan: I'll Always Have World Title Fights, Brook Will Be There Too Jeremiah Nakathila Wins Big, Targets Masayuki Ito Title Shot
Advertisement

Latest Active Forum Threads
Advertisement
Advertisement