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Zhang can hit the jackpot in Monaco

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-29 09:08
Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei will defend his WBO Oriental title against Andriy Rudenko on Saturday. Photo provided to China Daily

Title defense could propel Chinese star onto bigger stage

Undefeated Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei will roll the dice on the biggest fight of his career at Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco on Saturday night.

After a 14-month hiatus, Zhang - aka "Big Bang" - is putting his 20-0 record (16 KOs) on the line against Ukraine's Andriy Rudenko (32-4, 20 KOs) in a clash for the WBO Oriental championship that will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in the UK and DAZN in the US.

"This is my time - I'm thrilled to be fighting in Monaco on the Matchroom Boxing card on Nov 30," Zhang this week told worldboxingnews.com.

"It's always been a dream of mine to chase greatness and make the world aware that the Chinese heavyweight is coming to do damage. I have been preparing and training hard for whoever they put in front of me. The heavyweight division is wide open now and I'm here to make my presence known."

Heavyweight boxing has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, with Americans Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr and Britain's Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury grabbing the imagination of fight fans and living up to the hype by delivering drama in the ring.

Last Saturday, Wilder produced a devastating seventh-round stoppage of Cuba-born American Luis Ortiz to retain his WBC title and set up a February rematch with the unpredictable Fury. On Dec 7, the division will be further clarified when Ruiz defends his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO titles against Joshua in another eagerly awaited rematch in Saudi Arabia.

Roc Nation Sports promoter Dino Duva is already anticipating Zhang going toe to toe with the division's big guns next year.

"This is Zhang's time and opportunity to shine and convince everyone that he's ready to become China's first world heavyweight champion," said Duva.

"The heavyweight division is rocking right now. It's perfect timing for him, with this bout sandwiched between the Wilder-Ortiz and Joshua-Ruiz title fights.

"We all know what Zhang is capable of and have always believed in him, but now it's time for him to step up and show the world what he can do. And if he performs on Saturday like I know he can, 2020 will be a historic year for him because he'll be right at the top of the list of worthy challengers."

The 6-foot-6, 260-pound southpaw from Zhoukou, Henan province, won a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and dropped a close split decision to gold medalist and future world champion Joshua at the 2012 London Games.

The 36-year-old Zhang was ranked in the world's top 10 early last year. He was in ruthless mood in his last bout in September in Changsha, Hunan province, where he knocked out American Don Haynesworth in the third round to retain the WBO Oriental title. Rudenko's last fight was a narrow points defeat to Germany's Agit Kabayel in Magdeburg, Germany.

A victory over the veteran Rudenko, who has scored as many knockouts as Zhang has wins, would put the Chinese brawler right back in the mix.

"I can't wait to get back in the ring," Zhang told boxingscene.com this week. "I've had an excellent training camp and I am ready. I'm very confident. I want to make ring history as China's first world heavyweight champion, so every bout is crucial."

Zhang's adviser, Tommy Lane, said Saturday's result will impact the entire heavyweight division.

"Boxing fans will pay attention to this fight because they know it has enormous implications," said Lane.

"Zhang is one big win from returning to the top tier of title challengers, which means monster fights for him in the coming months."

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