Has time run out for Zhilei Zhang?
Zhilei Zhang intends to “make a statement” upon his comeback but must take “a different approach” after narrowly clinging onto his unbeaten record, says his advisor Terry Lane.
Chinese heavyweight Zhang floored Jerry Forrest three times on Saturday night but was then forced to desperately survive to secure a draw which deflated the hope around him.
He has since been in hospital dealing with kidney issues, severe dehydration and has been diagnosed as anaemic leading to a crossroads in his mysterious career.
Zhang dominated the first three rounds against Forrest
“Knowing what I know now, I’m surprised he was able to get through the fight at all,” his advisor Lane told Sky Sports.
“It was apparent to us that this was not a poor performance – there was something else going on.
“He was just not the guy that we saw do 12 rounds in the gym with no problems. Our confidence level was so high two weeks ago.
“Everybody who saw him in the gym is scratching their heads.”
Zhang’s diet and weight will be revamped before he returns to the ring but, despite remaining undefeated for a 23rd fight, he may now be viewed differently by rival heavyweights.
“That’s fair,” admitted Lane. “Zhang has a thick skin. We are aware of the perception.
“He’s a gym fighter who can’t show up on the night? That’s a fair position to take. The only thing we can do is prove them wrong.
“That’s what we intend to do.
“We don’t want to make excuses. The only thing we can do is to perform.”
Zhang knocked Forrest down three times
Zhang is an Olympic silver medallist from Beijing 2008 before, four years later, he lost to eventual gold medal winner Anthony Joshua in London.
The potential marketability of a world-class Chinese heavyweight and the untapped market that he could entice had raised hope that Zhang could bring a major boxing match to his home country, potentially even against Joshua.
But suddenly he faces serious questions about his ability after failing to beat Forrest, an opponent who had recently lost to Jermaine Franklin and Carlos Takam.
“Everybody wants to fight Zhang now because they see him as a sitting duck,” Lane says.
“That’s fine, if it plays into our favour.
“To us? This is a setback. Whatever happened led to a point deduction, a headbutt, a cut, a draw.
“Every fighter experiences setbacks and this is ours. We will learn what happened and how to address it.”
Zhang was exhausted and cut at the end of the 10-round fight
The problem for Zhang is that he is 37 years old and still without a standout result on his CV.
The world heavyweight championships are set to be decided between Joshua and Tyson Fury and a host of threatening challengers are snapping at their heels, including Oleksandr Usyk and Joe Joyce with the WBO, and Filip Hrgovic and Michael Hunter with the IBF.
Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin’s rematch on March 27, live on Sky Sports Box Office, furthers the competition in boxing’s top division.
“Heavyweights historically have a longer shelf life,” Lane says about Zhang. “He feels like a young man, he says. He doesn’t believe this is an age issue.
Revisit Sky Sports’ experts’ criticism of Zhang from 2019
“But you can get old in one night in boxing. We’re aware of that.
“We have to take a different approach.
“We don’t want to take our time and rebuild. We want to make a statement.
“There are things that make sense that would be a step up, a step forwards.
“We would be open to a rematch, we would take a ‘step up’ fight.
“There is time. But we are realists – there isn’t a lot of time.”