Stakes high for Zhang showdown

2021-02-23 12:07:45

Only an emphatic win can fast-track Chinese fighter's world-title dreams It's no exaggeration to suggest Zhang Zhilei will be fighting for his boxing life when he climbs through the ropes to face fellow southpaw Jerry Forrest on Saturday night in Miami Gardens, Florida. Their 10-round heavyweight clash is the featured prelim to a title defense by Mexican WBC/WBA super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez against Turkey's Avni Yildirim at Hard Rock Stadium, and will be telecast live worldwide on DAZN. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound (1.98-meter, 118-kilogram) Zhang, from Zhoukou, Henan province, is returning to action following an impressive KO of Devin Vargas in November that raised his record to 22-0, with 17 stoppages. A victory over Forrest (26-4 20 KOs), who is five years younger than China's 37-year-old 2008 Olympic silver medalist, would put Zhang on the fast track to a title shot against unified world champion Anthony Joshua of Britain, who defeated him in the quarterfinals at the 2012 London Games. But the clock is ticking. Joshua already has Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Oleksandr Usyk on his radar. If those fights are made, the champ will have a full dance card for at least the next 18-24 months. Zhang needs to defeat Forrest in spectacular fashion in order to leapfrog any of them. "This is more than a crossroads fight for Zhang; it's a major step up in competition and the outcome will pretty much determine whether he gets in the conversation as a possible world-title challenger or starts looking for another way to earn a living," a DAZN source told China Daily on the weekend. "Either way, Zhang has to be more than good-he has to be great. The heavyweight division is the biggest stage in boxing, and this is his opportunity to show the whole world what he's got." It won't be easy. At 6-foot-1(1.85m) and 225 pounds (103kg), Forrest is both a slick boxer and a dangerous puncher who combines speed and power. He turned pro in 2012, winning seven of his first nine bouts, then reeling off 18 straight victories. Early in his boxing journey, Forrest got married and fathered three children. To make ends meet he had a career as a nuclear electrician, working for the US Navy on submarines and aircraft carriers for 10 years. In 2019 he made the decision to focus full-time on boxing and signed an exclusive promotional deal with DiBella Entertainment. "In Jerry I see a fighter with a lot of talent and potential. We're thrilled with his size, style and strength and feel he can be a big player in the heavyweight division," said CEO Lou DiBella. Forrest believes an impressive win on Saturday would go a long way toward fulfilling that prediction. "There are a lot of good fighters in the heavyweight division right now, but I believe that I train harder than any of them," he said on the weekend. "I'm an old-school gym rat. Like Muhammad Ali said, 'Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.' I love the craft of boxing and I have a calculated style, but I also have that killer instinct inside of me. I know that I can compete at the top level. "Zhang is a good fighter with great size and technique, but I'll be ready for this fight. COVID has made training difficult with many gyms shut down, but I've stayed in shape. I'm now up at my manager's gym in Ashburn, Virginia, and my trainers have been creating a game plan while bringing in sparring partners to match Zhang's size and style. I'm excited about this opportunity and am looking forward to ending Zhang's unbeaten streak." For his part, the Chinese brawler is looking for a springboard to another crack at Joshua. "I would love to fight AJ in China because of our amateur history," Zhang told boxingscene.com through an interpreter. "The venue is there. The Bird's Nest (National Stadium in Beijing) holds 100,000, so we have it all... and boxing in China is really growing. "I took a week off after my last fight, then got right back into the gym. Shaun George is a great trainer, he's very professional and dedicated. Terry and Tommy Lane, my advisers, are making things happen on their end and the whole team has made this camp great. "It was a good performance last time out, but we saw what I can do better and we've focused on that. We have also worked on becoming stronger so I will be prepared for Forrest." murraygreig@chinadaily.com.cn