Zhilei Zhang: the new Luis Ortiz

By Romer Cherubim: There was a time when Luis Ortiz was the most feared man in heavyweight boxing. Fighters would make a point of avoiding Ortiz in the ring. That man has now become Zhilei Zhang. Zhang has an impressive professional record of 26 wins, with 21 coming by way of knockout. His only loss was to Filip Hrgovic in a fight, which some commentators thought Zhang won.

As boxers, the similarities between Ortiz and Zhang are striking. Both fighters are knockout merchants. However, it is perhaps the fact that Ortiz and Zhang came to professional boxing late, that springs to mind most. ‘King Kong’ Ortiz had his first bout at the age of 30, while ‘Bing Bang’ started his career when he was 31.

Zhilei Zhang’s stock has risen massively this year. His two fights with Joe Joyce made people sit up and take notice. The first in April showed that Zhang is a skilled tactician, resulting in his win by TKO in the sixth round. However, it was Zhang’s performance on Saturday night that earned him the plaudits he so richly deserves. It was a commanding display from start to finish, ending in a devastating knockout in the third round. It was all the more noteworthy, as it was the first time Joyce had been on the canvas in his professional career. These two wins are also remarkable, as Joyce himself was touted as a potential future champion.

The response from the world heavyweight champions to Zhang’s win on Saturday has been non-existent. Oleksandr Usyk has not responded and is rumored to be making his next defense against the mandatory IBF challenger Filip Hrgovic. After his second win against Joe Joyce, Zhang called out Tyson Fury. There has again been no response from Fury, and nobody seems quite sure what the WBC Champion will do after his bout with former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou on 28 October.

The emergence of Zhang as a credible threat to the current world champions is a refreshing development. The heavyweight division was previously dominated by the Eastern Europeans during the era of Nikolai Valuev and, more particularly, the Klitschko brothers. In more recent times, the titles have been in the hands of Brits, with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury sharing them. Zhang would break this monopoly of power if he became champion.

In the meantime, the question is who would be prepared to fight Zhang now. There is talk that Joshua may be willing to fight him in China. If this fight happens and Zhang wins, it would arguably be only a matter of time before Zhang was fighting for a title.

For heavyweight boxing to be a truly worldwide sport, it has to break barriers and appeal to fans from all parts of the globe. That is why more and more fights are now happening in parts of the world, not previously connected to boxing. In this regard, there have been two world heavyweight title fights recently in Saudia Arabia. There will be probably more, as the heavyweights are enticed to Arab countries with the promise of big money.

A world heavyweight title fight in China is, therefore, not a far-fetched proposition. If ‘Big Bang’ were challenging for a title in the country of his birth, that would be a welcome development. If Zhilei Zhang were to become Heavyweight Champion of the World, that would be good for boxing. Forget boxing, it would be good for the world!