By: Kirk Jackson
The heavyweight star from China intends on leaving a “Bang” in his return bout this weekend after a long time stretch of inactivity.
Boxing Insider caught up with Zhang Zhilei (20-0, 16 KO’s) to gather his thoughts about his upcoming return bout. After experiencing 14 months of inactivity, Zhilei is slated to face Andriy Rudenko (32-6, 20 KO’s) in a ten round contest at the Casino de Monte-Carlo on Saturday November 30, live on Sky Sports in the UK and DAZN in the US.
• Nickname – Big Bang
• Date of Birth – May 2, 1983
• Division – Heavyweight
• Stance – Southpaw
• Hometown – Zhengzhou, Henan, China
• Record – 20-0 (16 KO’s)
• Zhilei made his professional debut on August 8, 2014 on ESPN
• Zhilei captured two consecutive gold medals at the China National Games
• To pursue his dream of becoming the first-ever professional Chinese Heavyweight champion, Zhilei forfeited his Chinese national amateur status and broke from government dependency
• Before Zhilei considered boxing, he had dreams of becoming a professional canoe sprinter
Awards and Accomplishments:
• WBO Oriental Heavyweight Title (2017)
• Two-time Olympian
• Gold Medalist – Asian Amateur Boxing Championships (2009)
• Silver Medalist – 2008 Olympic Games (2008)
• Bronze Medalist – World Championships (2007)
• Silver Medalist – Asian Amateur Boxing Championships (2007)
• Bronze Medalist – World Championships (2007)
• Won eight medals in total spanning over the Olympic Championships, World Championships, Asian Games and Asian Championships
The Interview with Boxing Insider:
Boxing Insider (BI): How was your fight camp, how are you feeling?
Zhang Zhilei (ZZ): My camp went well. I trained very hard and I’m dedicated. I have sparring partners flying in to give me solid work. I feel great.
(BI): Entering this fight having last fought in September of 2018, are there things you do differently in training camp to prepare your body after a long lay-off, or is it business as usual?
(ZZ): I have been working out during my long lay-off. This training camp we focus on keeping improving my craft and stamina, just like before.
(BI): Can you talk about your experience living, training in New Jersey and can you talk about your experiences training and living with (Meng) Fanlong?
(ZZ): I got used to Jersey life. It’s really helpful to have someone like Fanlong with me. We learn from and encourage each other in the gym. We were team mates back in 2009 and have become like brother.
(BI): Can you expand on your living situation; are you living full-time in New Jersey? How often do you go back to visit home?
(ZZ): I live full time in New Jersey. My wife and son are in China. I have to stay here to in order to work hard and consistently. I go home once or twice a year to see my family.
(BI): This upcoming fight was supposed to be against Sergey Kuzmin, – were you able to find a replacement?
(ZZ): Yes Andriy Rudenko. He’s a very good boxer and I respect him a lot for taking this fight in such a short notice.
(BI): How does that affect your preparation and state of mind – not knowing to expect?
(ZZ): This doesn’t affect me at all. I have different sparring partners throughout the camp and I’m ready for any situation.
(BI): Your fight is scheduled for Monaco next Saturday, what is your preparation process for acclimation into the environment; weather, food – things of that nature?
(ZZ): I’ll arrive 7 days before the fight so I’ll try to blend in the environment when I get there.
(BI): Can you describe your hometown? What were some of your experiences growing up?
(ZZ): I grew up in Shenqiu City. There’s nothing special about it, as any regular cities in China, but I love my hometown.
(BI): You’re college educated, which isn’t something we normally see with professional fighters. How did boxing affect your pursuit of your education? Did your search of education affect your focus on boxing?
(ZZ): I majored in sport training in university. I think a person should receive good education no matter what kind of identity he has. Boxing is my job and my passion that’s why I searched education related to boxing.
(BI): Do you apply some of the lessons and experiences from higher education to your craft as a professional boxer?
(ZZ): Boxing can’t be learnt behind the desk. It’s done in the gym. But education helps me to think smartly outside of the ring.
(BI): Can you provide greater insight as to how you got into boxing? What attracted you to the sport and was there a specific moment when you realized this is what you want to do?
(ZZ): It’s more of a combination of my love for the sport and the guidance from my then coach. I started boxing just to get in shape. But after winning a national gold medal in 2 years made me want to take this as a career.
(BI): Growing up, you idolized Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali. Can you expand on their influence and what you like specifically about each fighter?
(ZZ): They are pure fighters. They are good for the sport and have been, and will always be recognized as idols.
(BI): Are they still your favorite fighters currently and if not who?
(ZZ): Yes they still are.
(BI): Anyone currently fighting that impresses you?
(ZZ): (Vasyl) Lomachenko and (Meng) Fanlong.
(BI): Can you give me a list of your pound-for-pound top five fighters?
(ZZ): Lomachenko, (Deontay) Wilder, (Canelo) Alvarez, (Terence) Crawford and myself.
(BI): Excluding yourself, who is the best heavyweight currently fighting?
(BI): Can you speak on your experiences as an Olympian and the transition from amateur to professional?
(ZZ): Being an Olympian taught me the valuable concept of self-discipline. Transitioning has been hard in the beginning but also a lot of fun. I think I made the transition with my coach Shaun George, who was an outstanding boxer himself, then hired by Chinese national team. He knows both and he’s really good at what he does.
(BI): Can you provide insight on how boxing is received in China? Do you see the sport growing with the success of your National Olympic Teams and with recent success of fighters on the professional level?
(ZZ): It’s the fastest growing sport. You can see movies, TV series, reality shows and commercials about boxing everywhere. You just don’t see a heavyweight champion. That’s why I’m so hungry to be the one.
(BI): Do you have a list of specific goals you want to accomplish before calling it a career?
(ZZ): One goal, the heavyweight champion of the world.
(BI): Can you speak on the importance of achieving your dream of winning a world title, becoming the first Chinese heavyweight champion of the world?
(ZZ): I think everybody knows how massive Chinese market is and how few Chinese boxers are above featherweight. I’m going to change a lot of things of the sport, as well as sport in general, if I become the heavyweight champion of the world.
(BI): Have you discussed a timeframe or mapped out a plan for how long you intend on boxing?
(ZZ): I feel like I’m at my peak right now. I can keep fighting.
(BI): The shelf life of heavyweight fighters usually extends further compared to other weight classes. With your physical attributes and skill set, do you believe you can take your time and wait for the right situation for a world title shot? Or do you have the approach of fighting with a high sense of urgency in regards to a busy schedule?
(ZZ): I think time will come very soon. I have been looking to fight contenders all the years. As long as I stay focused, time will come very soon.
(BI): You faced Anthony Joshua in the 2012 Olympics, can you speak on that experience and your progression as a fighter since then? Can you speak on his progression as a fighter?
(ZZ): I made no excuse for that loss. He was a better man of that night. But thinking back, I went in the fight with wrong strategy as I was told that I had to knock him out to win. I’m happy to see him doing good and contributing to the sport of boxing. I wish him the best for the Ruiz fight.
(BI): Do you have a list of names of who you would like to fight?
(ZZ): (Joe) Joyce, (Dereck) Chisora, (Adam) Kownacki and (Jarrell) Miller. I respect all these guys and I’m friendly with some of them. I want to fight them because of respect. Nothing personal.
(BI): From your experiences, what is the best thing about being a fighter?
(ZZ): It’s fantastic being a fighter. It has taught me so many things I can’t really say what’s the best of it. I encourage all the kids and teenagers out there to try out the sport. It may change your life in a positive way.
(BI): What are your greatest traits as a fighter?
(ZZ): I’m a heavy handed, skilled, smart southpaw.
(BI): What are some of the cons to being a fighter; something that may not necessarily be discussed often enough?
(ZZ): Everything has its cons. I want people to look at boxing as a positive, life-changing sport that will teach people a lot of things you can’t learn from everyday life.
(BI): How did you get the name Big Bang?
(ZZ): It’s the beginning of universe. I’m the first from my country. And I’m big.
(BI): Why is Chinese representation in boxing important to you?
(ZZ): I’m proud to fight for my country. That’s why I have national flag on my truck. China supports me and I want to make my people proud too.
(BI): Can you please speak on the importance of annual Hong Kong Dragon about Festival held in Queens, New York.
(ZZ): It’s a great annual event. Dragon Bout is symbolic for Chinese culture and is a lot of fun too.
(BI): Do you have a message for your fans of boxing?
(ZZ): Thank you guys for the support. Please tune in on November 30 on DAZN for my fights. It’s going to be exciting.