Heavy hopes

By Lu Wenao Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-23 23:13:01

Zhang Junlong (right) in action during the match against Thai boxer Gibbons on February 28 in Qingdao. Photo: Courtesy of Zhanqi Boxing Club

 It seems three regional championship belts are far from enough for China's heavyweight boxer Zhang Junlong, as the 32-year-old has already set his sights on the world championship.

Having claimed the WBF Asia Pacific Champion, WBA Asian Champion, and WBO Champion of China after turning pro in 2012, Zhang, dubbed the "Dragon King," said he wants to prove to others that a man from China can win the prestigious heavyweight world champion title.

"This is not the culmination but the starting point. My goal is to win the world championship; that is the only goal of my career," Zhang said during an exclusive interview with the Global Times. "I want to prove that China can develop its own heavyweight champion."

Zhang said current boxing power­houses cultivate many competitive fighters, led by Europe and America, but China, even Asia, doesn't even have one heavyweight fighter on the world stage.

Names like Zou Shiming, Xiong Chaozhong of China, Choi Tseveenpurev of Mongolia, Hozumi Hasegawa, Takahiro Ao of Japan and Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines are popular among Asian boxing fans, but those fighters are not in boxing's glamour division.

"I want the world to know an Asian fighter can win a world title in the heavyweight division," Zhang said.

Punching starts

Born in 1981 in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, Zhang started boxing training at the age of 12 under the guidance of his father, a master of martial arts.

"I reached 180 centimeters tall when I was 12. Then my father introduced me to boxing," Zhang said.

After two months of training, Zhang became the municipal champion of Qingdao.

He went on to win the national junior boxing championship­ in two years, but he said those days were full of twists and turns.

"Injuries confined my progress. Those days were full of ups and downs. But I finished runner-up at the national senior event after four years of training," Zhang said.

Later Zhang joined the Chinese People's Armed Police Force as a boxing athlete when he was 18, and made the Chinese national boxing team berth two years later.

He then reached his peak of the amateur boxing phase by winning the gold medal of super heavyweight at the Ninth National Games for China Qianwei Sports Association, the sports governing body of the internal security force, in 2001 and claiming bronze at the super heavyweight tournament of the Busan Asian Games for China in 2002.

Zhang said his days in the Armed Police camp taught him a lot.

"Previously I also spent time at Beijing Sport University, but I don't think campus life suits me well," Zhang said. "My grandfather was a soldier, so I decided to join the armed police.

"It tells me how to be a real man and what tenacity means. It is the greatest gain in my life since I started practicing boxing."

Zhang (center) celebrates with mentor Evander Holyfield (right). Photo: Courtesy of Zhanqi Boxing Club

Renowned mentor

Zhang may not have made his name in world boxing, but he has a mentor who owns a global reputation.

Evander Holyfield, former Undisputed World Champion, is Zhang's current tutor.

"I met Evan more than 10 years ago, during a US-based training session when I was in the national boxing team," Zhang told the Global Times, "Besides his gold belts, he does things in a cautious and conscientious low-key fashion. That's why I chose him as my mentor."

Zhang officially took Holyfield as his mentor in February in Qingdao during a WBF event.

"Winning the world championship is just for a moment, but be a good man is a lifetime thing. In some ways being a good man is in common with being an eligible boxer," Zhang said.

"The first step of winning a world title is to be a good man. Be modest and hard-working, with the experience you learn in fighting, that is what can make a champion."

But Zhang remained cagey on what exactly Holyfield taught him in fighting tactics.

"Haha, it's a secret, people will see it during future bouts," Zhang said with smile on his face.

After a year of learning of boxing rules in 2011, Zhang joined the WBO the following year and won all his 16 games by knockout, which raised eyebrows about the section of his opponents.

"Critics aren't in the ring. I'm helpless about that, people differ on their own ideas. But there are leaves for flowers, there are losers for winners," Zhang said.

No regrets

He then contributed to his quick wins on the hard days in the national team and proper tactics before revealing his ultimate plan.

"I have 12 games in this single year. And in this summer, I will launch my challenge to a world title. I want to be the second Chinese to win a world title after Xiong," Zhang said.

Xiong won the WBC Minimum-weight Champion in 2012.

Zhang is reluctant to reveal under which organization he is going to challenge but said even if he fail to achieve his goal, there's no regret for himself.

"The road is still long but I'm going to make it easier. Even if I fail to win the title, the only thing I get is a progress but not a defeat," Zhang asserted.

Ukrainian heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko is the reigning heavyweight world champion as he holds the WBA/IBF/WBO belts. The WBC one is the only missing from a sweep of the major titles.

The WBC title, which Wladimir's brother Vitali Klitschko had given up in 2013 due to his focus on politics in his native Ukraine, was captured by Bermane Stiverne of Canada earlier in May after beating Chris Arreola.

Zhang will go on his campaign on May 31.
Newspaper headline: Boxer Zhang sets sights on world championship

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