Meng Fanlong figured he would weigh in today for the biggest fight of his life.
The unbeaten Chinese challenger was supposed to test himself against Artur Beterbiev on Saturday night at Videotron Centre in Quebec City, Canada. They were scheduled to fight for Beterbiev’s IBF and WBC light heavyweight titles in a 12-round main event ESPN would’ve televised.
For Fanlong, it would’ve been the relatively unknown southpaw’s opportunity to prove that he can succeed at boxing’s elite level.
Instead, a disappointed Fanlong is trying to pass the time in the condominium he rents in Bloomfield, New Jersey, waiting for the Beterbiev bout to be rescheduled once the coronavirus pandemic ends. Self-isolation is even more challenging when you’re in a foreign country, half a world away from your wife, 2-year-old daughter and the rest of your family.
“I’m very frustrated,” Fanlong told BoxingScene.com through his translator. “This is the longest training camp I’ve ever had and I’m very well prepared. The fight was around the corner, but I understand they had to cancel it because of the pandemic. Even if I’m frustrated, I believe everybody’s health and safety is the most important thing.”
Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs) trained for 3½ months in nearby Paterson, New Jersey, before promoter Bob Arum announced March 16 that the Beterbiev-Fanlong card had been postponed indefinitely.
The 32-year-old Fanlong contemplated returning to his hometown of Chifeng, China, once his title shot got pushed back, but going home comes with complications.
“My plan is to stay here in New Jersey because remaining here as of right now is the safest thing to do,” Fanlong said. “Going back to China right now, I would face a 14-day quarantine and I would have to follow up with a lot of procedures. So, I would say that for the foreseeable future I would stay in New Jersey. With this current situation, we don’t know when or where the fight is going to be. So, I would like to wait a little bit more to see what’s going to happen with this fight before I make a further decision.”
Fanlong’s family is healthy in China, where that country slowly but surely is returning to normalcy. That gives the 2012 Olympian peace of mind and hope that the United States is on a similar path, but the frustration is obvious in his voice.
“It is difficult because the only thing I can do right now is stay home, basically,” Fanlong said. “I can’t train. Going to the gym is a risk. I have a limited area where I can stay active. Between that, and then not having my family here, it’s very difficult. But I believe that the U.S. administration is working very hard in controlling this virus. I wish things will get back to normal soon. That would really encourage me a lot.”
The 6-feet-2 Fanlong came to the United States to train in September 2014, along with fellow Chinese prospects Zhang Zhilei and Zhimin Wang.
Zhilei, a 6-feet-6, 260-pound heavyweight who won a silver medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, is 21-0 and has produced 16 knockouts. The huge southpaw is ranked by the IBF (No. 13) and the WBO (No. 10).
Wang, who has competed at junior welterweight and lightweight, is 11-3 (3 KOs). Two of his losses were decision defeats to former IBF junior welterweight champ Ivan Baranchyk (20-1, 13 KOs) and emerging contender Shohjahon Ergashev (18-0, 16 KOs).
Fanlong, who is promoted by Roc Nation Sports, is the first of that trio to earn a title shot. He has been matched moderately, but he became the IBF’s mandatory challenger last year.
That designation at least guarantees that he’ll get his shot at the hard-hitting Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) once the boxing business resumes. Fanlong still spent approximately $20,000 on a training camp that he can’t recoup.
“A lot of money was wasted in training camp and Fanlong had to cover the costs,” said Shaun George, Fanlong’s trainer. “A lot of money came out of his pocket just to get ready in training camp. Him staying here in the United States, paying sparring partners, bringing sparring partners in. There’s a lot of different things that were happening in training camp. But the sport of boxing isn’t like the NBA, where they still get paid even if they don’t play.
“But he works hard, he never complains and he’s a student of the game. He was definitely ready for the fight. I believe that it would’ve been a major upset. I know what they’re expecting him to do, and I know what he’s going to do. After all that hard work, I’m just sad to see that the fight didn’t happen. But it’s understandable with what’s happening right now.”
George, a retired light heavyweight who worked with the Chinese Olympic teams, has a close relationship with Fanlong. He feels for his fighter, however, because Fanlong is dealing with this pandemic without the support of his family.
“He’s here by himself, he doesn’t speak English, and his wife and his kid are in China,” George said. “They went through the whole coronavirus thing without him there. And now, for him to leave the United States it would cost him a lot of money. It’s hard for him. Can you imagine being in a country by yourself, when you have no family or friends here?
“It’s not an easy thing for him to do. The only thing he does is box. He doesn’t have a day job or anything else. Now he can’t box and he’s missing out on a big payday. This is his livelihood. I’m upset for him that he didn’t get this fight because I know it would’ve been a spectacular fight for him.”
Fanlong is trying to remain optimistic while waiting for the chance to get back to work.
“I did this for my daughter, for my family to have better lives,” Fanlong said. “So, I have to be somebody. I have to do something. That’s why I train so hard. That’s why I’m challenging for a world title.
“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices and I’ve given up a lot in pursuit of the ultimate goal, which is to become a world champion. But my love and passion for boxing is still there. It hasn’t changed.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.