Could This Be the Year of the Chinese Fighter?

By Kirby John Carney, June 6, 2024

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Chinese boxing heavyweight 'Big Bang' Zhang Zhilei, 41, KO'd American heavyweight Deontay Wilder. 

The Zhoukou native made relatively quick work of the 'Bronze Bomber' by brutally knocking him down in the 5th round, and Wilder was unable to get back to his feet to beat the 10 count of the referee. 

Zhang used his massive weight advantage over Wilder – more than 68 pounds – to bully him around the ring. 

Zhang, a southpaw fighter, landed many a right hook on Wilder, seldom letting his powerful right hand fly.

zhangentrance.jpegZhang Zhilei making his entrance. Image via @Turki_alalshikh/X

In the 5th round, a right hook from Zhang dazed Wilder, as the latter spun a full 180 degrees before turning to face a right hand from a sprinting Zhang that sent Deontay Wilder crashing to the canvas. 

Somehow, Wilder managed to get to his feet before the ten count, but the referee waved it off as Wilder was extremely shaky on his legs.


Zhilei Zhang lands a big right hand in the fifth round. Image via @Turki_alalshikh/X

With this victory, Zhilei Zhang scored the biggest win of his career and has positioned himself for another big fight on what he calls "his road to the champion".

He might soon face another potential title contender – Anthony Joshua. 

Following his defeat of Deontay Wilder (who has lost four of his last five bouts), Zhang Zhilei is currently ranked second in the heavyweight division by the WBO. 

Recently, Oleksandr Usyk became the undisputed world heavyweight champion and the first ever fighter to hold all four belts concurrently. 

The 37-year-old Ukrainian defeated Tyson Fury in Riyadh on May 19.

Zhang-Weili-Anthony-Joshua.jpgThere is some speculation that Zhang Zhilei could be eyeing an upcoming fight against Anthony Joshua. Image via @MichaelBensonn/X

2024 has been a good year for Chinese combat athletes, with UFC 300 featuring an all-Chinese co-main event for the UFC strawweight title, which saw Zhang Weili defeat Yan Xiaonan in a dominant fashion during a controversial Round One that many pundits and fans think should have been stopped in favor of Zhang Weili.


UFC Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili and 2023 WBO Interim World Heavyweight Champion Zhang Zhilei pictured dining together in October of last year. Screengrab via @张志磊boxing/Weibo

The UFC celebrated a big milestone for the premier mixed-martial arts fighting organization on April 13. 

Not only was it the three-hundredth pay-per-view marquee event, but it was also the first event to host an all-Chinese championship fight.

Weili is the first Chinese fighter – male or female – to win a UFC championship. 

However, Yan Xiaonan was the first female Chinese fighter signed to the UFC's roster. 

Zhang Weili's rise in the UFC was almost meteoric as she started with a five-fight win streak that earned her the strawweight title and 'Fight of the Year' back in 2020 against Hall of Famer, Joanna Jedrzejczyk

She then lost her title to her rival, Rose Namajunas, but won it back in November 2022. 

Zhang Weili switched up her blitzing kickboxing style for a more wrestling focused style, as she has masterfully learned the skills taught to her by Olympic gold-medalist Henry Cejudo – a former two-weight division champion in his own right.

Zhang Weili's grappling played to her advantage in UFC 300. Image via @ufc/X

It was a fight for the storybooks. 

Yan Xianonan was the better boxer with quicker hands, but it was Zhang Weili's superior wrestling skills that allowed her to dictate the pace and where the action took place in the fight. 

The end of the first round is where the fight got a little controversial. 

Zhang Weili had been dominating Yan Xiaonan and applied a rear-naked choke towards the end of the first round. 

Yan appeared out of it and as Zhang Weili pushed her off at the sound of the bell, Yan Xiaonan appeared limp and displayed a delayed response as she got to her feet.

Zhang Weili with a right hook. Image via @ufc/X

More controversy was stirred as a UFC cutman was heard over the microphone saying that he may use smelling salts, which is illegal and would have resulted in a disqualification. 

UFC commentator, Jon Anik quickly stated that the cutman didn't use smelling salts and used a brand of petroleum jelly. 

Later that day, a combat sports regulatory lawyer, Erik Magraken, disclosed in a tweet that the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) doesn't list smelling salts as something that is allowed to be in a fighter's corner for use during the fight.


Zhang Weili lands a kick to the head against Yan Xiaonan. Image via @ufc/X

Although many people online and UFC commentators believed Yan Xiaonan had been rendered unconscious by a chokehold, the bout went on as she went to her corner while looking a bit confused. 

Zhang Weili expressed that she, too, "really thought that she was out" at the UFC 300 post-fight press conference. 

"I didn't know when the bell rang how the referee was going to handle that, but she bounced back very quickly in the second round." 

The fight ultimately went to a unanimous decision, with most judges scoring the fight four rounds to one, in favor of Zhang Weili.


Zhang Weili being announced the victor at UFC 300. Image via @ufc/X

With this last victory, Zhang Weili now has the second-most title defences in her division; she is on a four-fight win streak and in her previous fight she achieved the largest striking differential in a women's title fight in UFC history. 

What's next for the reigning, defending and undisputed champion? 

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the card, Jessica Andrade (the woman who Zhang Weili defeated to win the title) picked up a split-decision victory against another top contender, Marina Rodriguez. 

Andrade said that she would like to have the title fight with Zhang Weili towards the end of the year, as there are no other contenders available for Zhang Weili. 

Hopefully, Zhang Weili can continue her winning streak and perhaps get another fight in before the end of the year.

[Cover image via @停手巴阿祖/Weibo]

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