GAME CHANGED: Boxing Has Broken Through In China, Courtesy Zhang Zhilei
Heavyweight Zhang Zhilei stopped Joe Joyce last Saturday in London, and that night his locker-room was filled with journalists asking about the win. Zhang, the 6-6 lefty from China, who makes New Jersey home, spent an hour and a half talking to every single journo.
Promoter Terry Lane graciously shared with NYFIGHTS some of the tidbits from fight week, fight night and the whole wondrous experience. “When we finally got in the van to go to the hotel, I remember hearing someone’s voice saying to Zhang, “Once you walk out those doors, nothing will be the same.”
Lane, who works with Zhang along with his younger brother Tommy, relayed that Zhang went up to his hotel room, and ALL of China was waking up to the news that he stopped 15-0 Joe Joyce. “I’m surprised his phone didn’t actually explode,” said Terry Lane, age 40, who has been dealing with the loss of his beloved pop Mills Lane on Dec. 6, 2022. “Zhang could not field the calls and messages, so he basically stayed awake all night doing interviews for back home. Our team was able to have a bit of champagne, but after no sleep, we really celebrated over the breakfast buffet.”
I told him that it was a pleasure seeing good guy Zhang and company get that W. “NYFIGHTS has been supportive of Zhang from the very beginning,” Terry said. “We can’t thank you enough!”
It’s been a spell. I’ve admired the Lane brothers grind, they’d have periodic shows in Reno, mostly, and they kept on hacking away, diligently, quietly. Yeah, it can feel fruitless when the work is put in but the progress doesn’t come as fast as one would hope. “It has been a long road with both Zhang and Meng Fanlong,” Terry said. “A lot of twists and turns and a lot of ups and downs. We began working with them about nine years ago, and at some point early, they were given some really bad advice from some really bad people and it nearly destroyed their careers. We re-connected with them in 2018 as they seriously needed some representation. Luckily, we were able to get things back on track.”
So, hardcore fight fans were happy to see two top of the heap heavies face off. I asked Terry about that…was Zhang v Joyce an easy fight to get done?
“The fight itself was pretty easy to make – I think that says a great deal about both Zhilei and Joyce. They both were so avoided, so why not put them both in the ring? It was throwback boxing, ya gotta love it! Despite being underdogs, we were very confident going into the fight. We did see things that made us feel even more confident during fight week. One was Joyce’s weight, he clearly was a lot lighter than his previous fight, which is not good for heavyweights. And the interviews he was doing in the lead-up suggested he may have been overlooking Zhang – which is a big mistake.”
The vibrancy of the fight scene in England spoke to Terry, he said. “Fight night was wild. It has been a dream of mine to work on a show in the UK because the fans are so great. The arena was packed. We were booed so loudly that it vibrated through my chest.”
As for the fight, plenty of folks watching half their breathe when the ref, Howard Foster, a Brit with an iffy rep over here, assessed Joyce, and his swollen eye, with the ring doc. He covered his mouth, and viewers wondered why. What tomfoolery was afoot?
“Regarding the referee, we did object to his assignment,” Terry Lane said. “I think he is a good guy and an experienced referee, but he has had some questionable stoppages – so that was a concern. We thought that he might jump in at at the shortest flurry from Joyce, but Foster was paying close attention to the eye, and he and the doctor did the right thing.” And this wouldn’t be boing if there were some WTF bumps on every road, right? “The judges, however, were outrageous,” Lane continued. “When we learned of their assignments, I was pretty pleased with them – and was flabbergasted to learn that one judge had us LOOSING the fight, and the other two had us up by ONE round only?! Zhang Zhilei won every single round. I really don’t even know what to say.”
Happily for that team, he doesn’t have to say more, because Zhang did what one has to do when coming onto the favorites’ home turf: remove the judges from the equation.
Pre fight, Terry said he was hopeful and optimistic that inroads would be made in China, where Zhang v Joe Joyce was made available on pay per view. I asked for an update on how that went.
“It was an enormous success,” Terry said. “We’re still gathering numbers from China. Our partners over there are thrilled, I think, and want to do more boxing, even if it’s not with Chinese fighters. We are already talking with them about how to structure things differently in a way that makes the most sense… Additionally, Zhang was No. 1 trending at some point on all of China’s social media platforms, and appearing on all major news outlets. He has always wanted boxing to break through in his home country – and thanks to him, it finally has.”
OK, so what might come next for Team Bang?
“The heavyweight division is kind of a mess right now, so we will have to see how things play out,” Terry said. “We do have a promotional deal with Frank Warren and co., and are looking at all options. But we are in a great position. We can do a show in China, we can sell tickets in New York, he’s now a draw in the UK, the Saudis love China… I mean, there are so many options. I have had some very interesting call in the past few days… but I think I should leave it at that!”