Words

The Yao Ming of Boxing

Fightland Blog

By Sascha Matuszak


Photo by Eric Williams

A giant Chinese boxer made a bit of a stir in the US last month, after knocking out his first real opponent at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. Calling Alex Rozman (2-7, 1KO) a real opponent is a bit of a stretch though, and just demonstrates how far pundits and promoters will go to hype up a Chinese fighter, and any heavyweight for that matter, who might step into the ring and puff some life back into a deflated division.

Dong Jianjun, or “Taishan” as he is known, bounced around the Asian fight circuit for a few years before finding his way to San Francisco’s Chinatown. He happened to walk into law attorney George Gallegos’ office to ask some legal questions, and the conversation turned to boxing. Gallegos put on his manager hat and got a hold of John Bray, a respected former pro who has trained some big names, including Tommy Morrison, Lance Whitaker and Robert Guerrero.


Dong “Taishan” Jianjun

Golden Boy saw the giant in action and signed him up, and now, a month after dispatching Rozman in the second round, Dong Taishan is the New Asian Hope. The 6’11 285lb Dong started out as a kickboxer, but that’s also a bit of a stretch, as most of his fighting was done for a shady Chinese gym, Shenghua International, that provides fighters to the Wulinfeng promotionwhere fighters go to danceand to whomever else has the cash to pay.

Shenghua’s boss, a man named Zou Guojun, once told Chinese media that Taishan would command no less than 200,000USD on the international fight circuit. The giant was rented out to the Inoki Genome Federation (IGF), Japanese legend Antonio Inoki’s promotion, for much less than that, and beat up a few guys there, including a 2013 fight with Bob Sapp.


Taishan versus Bob Sapp

Sapp, the punching bag of the east, is known for demanding outrageous perks at the last minute and delivering horrible performances, but the Asian circuit still loves him for what he did in K1. That victory put Taishan on someone’s map, but he soon sunk back underneath the Asia fight circuit waves, coming up every now and then on some defunct promotion’s card, like an MMA World League Event in Myanmar that never went down.

What Dong was up to from mid-2013 to the day he walked into Gallegos’ office is fuzzy, but at some point he cut his ties with Shenghua International and IGK, somehow obtained visas to the United States for himself and his family, and ended up in the Bay Area and no fighting career to speak of. He may have been working on his visa stuff when Gallegos met him. But none of that matters now, does it?

Right now, if you just read the papers, Dong is the next big thing, the Yao Ming of boxing, the elusive key to the Chinese market. He has tremendous power, and his size will bring him the notoriety that escaped two-time gold medalist Zou Shimin, a fighter known for his technique, kind of like a mosquito that packs a punch. Speaking of Zou, he'll be in Macao later this year, boxing at the Venetian.


Chinese boxer Zhang Zhilei

The Real Chinese Boxers

The Venetian is all about events. The recent UFC: Macao Fight Night is just a small part of what they do. Dana White told reporters during that event the Venetian “puts on one of the best events I have ever seen” and promised that the UFC would be back soon. In the meantime, Manny Pacquiao will return to the Venetian, where he fought in the “Clash in Cotai” last year, for “Clash in Cotai II” against Chris Algieri on November 23rd.

The November 2013 fight, in which Manny beat Brandon Rios, featured several up and coming Chinese boxers who have put in their dues. Chief among them was Zou Shimin. The Olympian dominated Juan Toscano en route to a unanimous decision, a win that demonstrated just how good of a boxer Zou is, but failed to wow the fans with big power punches and a menacing presence.


Manny Pacquiao and Chris Algieri

Zou fights for Top Rank in the US, and his stablemate IK Yang won his fight that night too, as did Rex Tso out of Hong Kong and Ng Kuok Kun out of Macao. IK Yang also just snatched the WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight belt on August 26th, with an eighth round KO of Thailand’s Sukkasem Kietyongyuth to a raucous crowd in Shanghai.

Dynasty Boxing, an outfit run by Dino Duva and Terry and Tommy Lane, has signed three Chinese boxers, including 2008 Olympic silver medalist Zhang Zhilei. I watched Zhang lose in the super-heavyweight bout to Italian Roberto Cammarelle, and the one thing I remember most is the look on his face after getting knocked out: the grimace of a superior fighter who just got caught. Now here he is competing in the heavyweight division as a pro.

These are the guys that are making a splash in China and making waves on the boxing circuit. The Cotai event is where Chinese boxers go to make names for themselves. I don’t want to count out a massive 6’11 gianthe supposedly knocks people out with jabsbut so far Dong Taishan is a gimmick and he has zero pull in China.

If the goal is to parade the big man around the US, and watch him knock out journeymen, then why not? But if the China market is the ultimate goal, look to Macao and Shanghai, not the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco.

 

 

Check out these related stories:

Zhang LiPeng and the Road Less Traveled

China's MMA Origins

Boxing for the State

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