Tonight in Monaco, unbeaten Chinese heavyweight Zhilei Zhang returned to action after having had a full year out (due in large part to injury) and “Big Bang” gave the fans an exciting if largely one-sided fight. Taking on the never-stopped Andriy Rudenko of Ukraine, the towering southpaw had to go all ten rounds to get the win. Zhang hit his smaller foe with everything, to the head mostly, with right-left combos, yet had to battle for all 30-minutes.
In the end there was only one winner and 36 year old Zhang won by commanding scores of 99-91, 98-92 and 97-93. Zhang, a standout amateur who defeated Andy Ruiz and also faced Anthony Joshua, is now 21-0(16). Rudenko, who showed amazing resiliency and toughness, is now 32-5.
Zhang wanted to make a statement tonight, one that would show he is right in the mix in the “wide open” heavyweight division. The former Olympian might not have quite done that, failing as he did to get the KO or stoppage, but the giant showed once again how he is a force to be reckoned with. Pretty fast considering his size and weight, Zhang fought at a fast pace. It did seem at times, in the middle rounds, as though Zhang was gulping in air and feeling the pace, but “Big Bang” was in control throughout.
Nothing can be taken from Rudenko’s gameness, however. In possession of one heck of a sturdy chin (no wonder Rudenko has never been stopped), the Ukrainian took some hard and heavy blows over and over. Swollen up around the eye but still trying his best to get into the fight, even in the late rounds, Rudenko gave a 10 out of 10 effort.
So what next for Zhang? The Chinese star wants the big names but is he in a great position to get them? Dangerous but not in any mandatory position, Zhang may well be looked at as too much risk and not enough reward; a challenge the big names may choose to swerve while they can.
Let’s see if Zhang can stay busy and work himself into a mandatory slot. It would be interesting seeing Zhang take on a Ruiz, a Joshua or a Wilder; even if these fights seem no closer tonight than they were last year.