Comment & Analysis @JamesDielhenn
Last Updated: 27/09/18 5:59am
Anthony Joshua’s growing worldwide popularity would be enhanced by another fight with Zhang Zhilei, his old rival believes.
China’s Zhilei was floored and outpointed in the quarter-finals of the London 2012 Olympic Games by Joshua who went on to claim the gold medal.
Six years later Zhilei is unbeaten in 19 fights as a professional and, based in New York City but with his next fight in China on Friday, he believes that he could help Joshua unlock two new markets and increase his global appeal.
- Joshua’s US debut is at least a year away, due to his April 13 commitment to Wembley Stadium, and New York resident Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller has been mentioned as the ideal opponent to eventually welcome him stateside.
- Zhilei trains in New York, which has a population of over half-a-million Chinese people, by far the biggest of any American city.
Is a world title fight in China your goal?
That’s one of my dreams. China has a top market and great business opportunities.
Joshua wants to fight all over the world. Should he fight in China?
Zhang Zhilei: He always fights in the UK. If he doesn’t want to take the chance and fight in China, we should fight in the US.
How popular is heavyweight boxing now in China?
Zhang Zhilei: Chinese fans are starting to follow professional boxing a lot, plus China has great atmosphere for boxing.
I’m the only heavyweight people want to follow in China. I got a lot of fans from China asking me when my fight will be and what my training looks like. People want to know about me. This is one of my biggest motivations.
We’re two years away from saying we can sell out the Bird’s Nest in China. I think Joshua’s going to be a global figure, and therefore I’ve got to give him a global platform. I was in Shanghai last week and we were talking. As soon as you show people pictures of Joshua knocking someone out, they get excited.
Barry Hearn in 2016
Four years prior to their 2012 meeting, Zhilei had won an Olympic silver medal in his home country. He was beaten by Italy’s Roberto Cammarelle in the final. In 2012 he was knocked down by Joshua and lost 15-11.
What do you remember from your Olympic fight against Joshua?
Zhang Zhilei: I do remember very clearly. I went inside the ring thinking the only way to win that fight is to knock him out, which was the wrong strategy and got me over anxious. Now me and my trainer Shaun George are working on a lot of good stuff in the ring. People will see that I’m totally different.
Did Joshua’s power impress you?
I respect Joshua as a fighter and a man. He has good power and skill as well as sportsmanship.
Do you want revenge?
Zhang Zhilei: Yes.
How close are you to fighting the world’s best heavyweights?
Zhang Zhilei: I’m ready to step up and fight the best fighters out there. I’m just waiting for my promoter to negotiate and work together internally to approach that goal.
Are you targeting the world titles held by Anthony Joshua?
Zhang Zhilei: I’m targeting all belts. I believe in order to be the best I have to beat the best. Now everyone is saying that Joshua is the best fighter so I will go against him to get those belts.
At 6’6” and approximately 18-stone he is one of the few heavyweights who can match Joshua’s physical dimensions. But aged 35 and having not yet beaten a ranked opponent, time is against him. ‘Big Bang’ Zhilei is ranked No 6 with the WBO but not at all by any other governing body. The southpaw fights for the interim WBO oriental heavyweight title in a 10-round bout against Don Haynesworth in China on Friday.