MIAMI GARDENS, Florida – Zhang Zhilei seemed well on his way to knocking out Jerry Forrest emphatically Saturday night.
The huge Chinese heavyweight dropped Forrest once in each of the first three rounds and appeared entirely too strong for Forrest. The undefeated contender couldn’t finish Forrest, though, and paid dearly for it on the Canelo Alvarez-Avni Yildirim undercard at Hard Rock Stadium.
Forrest’s remarkable comeback in the second half of their fight enabled him to fight an exhausted Zhilei to a 10-round majority draw. Judge Rose Lacend scored their fight for Forrest, 95-93, but she was overruled by judges Fernando Barbosa (93-93) and Rocky Young (93-93).
Referee Frank Gentile deducted a point from Zhilei for holding Forrest down in the ninth round. Had that point not been taken from him, Zhilei would've won a split decision.
The 37-year-old Zhilei remains undefeated (22-0-1, 17 KOs), but the 2008 Olympic silver medalist wasted an opportunity to record an impressive knockout on a high-profile undercard.
The final six rounds of their fight weren’t nearly as entertaining as the first four, as a clearly fatigued Zhilei didn’t throw many punches in the second half of the bout.
The 32-year-old Forrest (26-4-1, 20 KOs), of Newport News, Virginia, displayed a huge heart by surviving those three knockdowns, landing some hard shots on a tired Zhilei and making it the distance.
Forrest even rocked Zhilei with a right hook with just under a minute to go in their fight. Forrest tried to finish him, but an exhausted Zhilei held and moved his way to surviving to the final bell.
It was Forrest who mostly continued to hold in the eighth round, but he occasionally uncorked lefts to Zhilei’s head and body shots in that round. Zhilei obviously was tired by then and didn’t throw many punches in that eighth round.
Zhilei continued to allow Forrest to hold him in the seventh round, though he did step back and unload power shots on Forrest more than he had done during the fifth and sixth rounds.
Forrest, way down on the scorecards and wary of Zhilei’s power, leaned into Zhilei and held him for much of the fifth and sixth rounds. Zhilei cooperated and essentially allowed Forrest to take those two rounds off.
Zhilei rocked Forrest with two left hands with about 40 seconds to go in the fourth round. Those shots made Forrest back up, but he withstood Zhilei’s power better during the fourth round, the first round of the fight in which he didn’t go down.
After flooring Forrest once apiece in the first and second rounds, Zhilei sent him to the canvas again just 10 seconds into the third round. This time, Zhilei put Forrest down with a right-left combination.
Forrest was on shaky legs when he got up, but he drilled Zhilei with a left several seconds later that got Zhilei’s attention.
Zhilei’s right hook rocked Forrest early in the second round and made him stumble backward. Later in the second round, Zhilei landed a left hand and then a short right hook that dropped Forrest for the second time in the bout with 1:35 remaining in it.
Forrest landed a left hand up top with about 45 seconds to go in the first round. Another left hand by Forrest got Zhilei’s attention toward the end of the first round, but Zhilei came back to blast Forrest with a short, left hand that sent Forrest to the canvas just before that opening round ended.
A stunned Forrest beat Gentile’s count and the bell sounded a couple seconds later to end the first round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.