LOS ANGELES —
Two Chinese boxers are getting ready to debut as professional heavyweight fighters in the United States. Olympic medalist Zhang Zhilei is training on the East Coast, while another Asian amateur, Taishan Dong, is preparing for his first big fight on the West Coast.
Jianjun Dong’s ring name is Taishan, after a famous Chinese mountain. At 127 kilograms and 211 centimeters tall, Taishan Dong is a mountain of a man. A top amateur fighter in Asia and former kick boxer, he’ll debut as a heavyweight boxer in San Francisco July 18.
The 26-year-old Dong says the United States is strong in sports, and because he hopes to move to a higher level, America offers many opportunities to reach his goal.
He may be one of the tallest boxers ever, and he is powerful, but still untested as a pro fighter.
As Dong hits punching pads held by his trainer, former heavyweight boxer John Bray, Bray said the Chinese fighter has potential.
“I think that he’s a young, eager heavyweight that’s very teachable. The heavyweight landscape is wide open, as you know, and he’s going to fare very well,” said Bray.
Dong is not the only up-and-coming Chinese heavyweight. Zhang Zhilei, who won a silver medal in boxing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will debut as a heavyweight pro in Nevada August 8. He is now training in New Jersey.
For both, there are cultural and language barriers. Taishan Dong speaks little English, but said he works around it.
He says he trained in sports since a young age in China. Verbal communication is a big barrier in the United States, but he can work with his trainer using body language. His trainer says both men “speak boxing.”
Dong has more than fighting on his mind. He’s the father of a 4-month-old daughter named Harper, who was born in Los Angeles. The fighter’s wife, Gege, is ringside as he trains in this suburban gym, and she says her husband is in good shape for his first pro fight. She also said he's relaxed and not worried.
Accomplished amateurs, Taishan Dong and Zhang Zhilei both hope to change the face of U.S. heavyweight boxing, which in the past has seen few Asian faces.