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  • Anthony Joshua vs Zhang Zhilei within two years? Don't be surprised

Anthony Joshua vs Zhang Zhilei within two years? Don't be surprised

Lee Cleveland Updated
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The United Kingdom's Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KO) beat China's Zhang Zhilei (20-0, 16 KO) in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and Anthony and Zhang won a gold and silver medals, respectively.

Will the Olympic medalists meet again in the ring as professionals?

Don't be surprised if they do.

Joshua, of course, is the consensus heavyweight champion and both fighters are unbeaten as pros six years after their epic Olympic match-up.

Zhilei faces Alexander Ustinov (34-2-0) on November 22 and guess who has a hand in the promotion...

Answer: Eddie Hearn, Joshua's manager.

It's no secret Hearn & Co want to make Anthony an international star so endearing him to China, the world's most populous nation, makes sense.

Can Joshua, Zhang and Hearn unlock what is still an untapped market?

"Chinese fans are starting to follow professional boxing a lot, plus China has great atmosphere for boxing," Zhilei told Sky Sports.

"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."

Standing 6'6", the 35 year old Zhilei hasn't faced a name opponent but is ranked No. 5 by the WBO despite not being ranked in the top 15 by any of the three other recognized sanctioning organizations.

WBO Heavyweight Rankings as of Nov 2, 2018
Champion: Anthony Joshua

1. Dillian Whyte
2. Bryant Jennings
3. Tom Schwarz
4. Jarrell Miller
5. Zhilei Zhang
6. Kyotaro Fujimoto
7. Tyrone Spong
8. Agit Kabayel
9. Otto Wallin
10. Junior Fa
11. Dereck Chisora
12. Ali Eren Demirezen
13. Richard Lartey
14. Filip Hrgovic
15. Alexander Povetkin

"We're two years away from saying we can sell out the Bird's Nest in China," Hearn told Sky Sports.

"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."

Given China's population of roughly 1.38 billion, if Hearn can achieve his objectives it would be a major win for the sport, the Chinese and, of course, Hearn's promotional outfit.

But let's not forget promoter Bob Arum had his then superstar, Manny Pacquiao, fight Brandon Rios in Macao in 2013. And while Pacquiao vs Rios didn't bomb there, it wasn't exactly The Beatles coming to America either. And Bob Arum didn't exactly accomplish there what President Richard Nixon did some 40 years prior.

And let's not forget about Zou Shiming, the Chinese professional boxer who held the WBO flyweight title from 2016 to 2017. As an amateur, Shiming is China's most successful boxer of all time, winning three consecutive Olympic medals (bronze in 2004 and gold in 2008 and 2012), as well as three World Amateur Boxing Championships gold medals in 2005, 2007 and 2011.

Zou was a star of sorts but didn't generate ridiculous sums of money.

Perhaps, by now, the Chinese are more familiar with boxing? Or maybe it'll take two big heavyweight titans, with one being their own, to generate the kind of press that'll help put boxing on China's radar?

China facts
(Source: Random Facts)

  • Boxing was banned there from 1959 to 1986
  • The Boxer Rebellion between 1898 and 1901 in northern China, launched by the "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists" (Yihequan or I-ho-ch'uan), got its name because its members practiced weaponless martial arts as well as secret rituals. Westerns called it "shadow boxing" and the members "Boxers."
  • One in every five people in the world is Chinese
  • Fortune cookies are not a traditional Chinese custom. They were invented in 1920 by a worker in the Key Heong Noodle Factory in San Francisco.Despite its large size (4th largest land area in the world) all of China is in one time zone.
  • Many historians assert the sport of soccer (football in Europe) originated in China around 1000 B.C.
  • Ping-pong, which started in Britain and is known there as "table tennis," is one of the most popular games in China.
  • Stamp collecting is the most popular hobby
  • Martial arts are practiced throughout China and were largely developed from ancient farming and hunting methods
  • The bicycle is the primary transportation for millions of Chinese


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