Chinese amateur boxing star Zhang Zhilei is going pro, signing Monday with Dynasty Boxing, a new promotional outfit headed by longtime promoter Dino Duva and brothers Tommy and Terry Lane, the sons of Hall of Fame referee Mills Lane.
Zhang, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound southpaw, claimed the Olympic super heavyweight silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and bronze medals at the 2007 and 2009 world championships. Zhang also competed in the 2012 London Olympics, where he lost a decision to eventual gold medalist Anthony Joshua of Great Britain in the quarterfinals.
"I have a long way to go. I'm a freshman in professional boxing, and there will be a lot of things I have to learn," Zhang said in translated comments. "I will train hard and hope that me and our team work together to make this come true."
Zhang is expected to make his pro debut in May or June, either in China or the U.S. Duva has spent several years making regular trips from his New Jersey home to China as he cultivated a relationship with the Chinese Boxing Federation, which made Zhang's signing possible.
Duva said more Chinese signings will be announced in the coming weeks. For now, his focus is on Zhang.
"He's the most important heavyweight to come along since the Klitschko brothers, a special athlete and special person," Duva said. "We are positioned to be a dominant boxing company producing fighters from China."
Zhang, 30, is the second major Chinese amateur to sign with an American promotional company. Last year, Bob Arum's Top Rank signed three-time Olympic medalist (two golds) Zou Shiming, a flyweight and Zhang's Olympic teammate.
Zou's popularity in China is responsible for Top Rank's recent deal to put on a series of cards at the CotaiArena at the Venetian Macao in Macau.
"It's a sincere pleasure to get back into the promotion business, especially with these unique and special Chinese boxers being a major part of it," said Duva, who spent years working at the family company Main Events before a family feud sent him packing and he founded the now-defunct Duva Boxing. "Of course, we will be looking to promote other great boxers from across the country and world as we go forward. But our major focus right now will be developing the Chinese boxers and market.
"I can't think of a better way to kick it all off than with the announcement of the signing of this very special big guy, Zhang Zhilei. He has the whole package -- size, athleticism, good looks and great personality. And one other thing: He knows how to fight. He has more of a pro style than Olympic style. Mark my words, once boxing fans get a chance to see him, he will be the talk of the heavyweight division and all of boxing. I believe he is going to be the most important heavyweight to come along since [1996 Olympic gold medalist Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko] turned pro in 1996."
The Lane brothers said in a statement, "The Chinese boxers like Zhang Zhilei are trailblazers. There's no doubt that they will bring great pride to their country and provinces, and help bring big-time boxing to millions of people. We're also very excited to partner with Dino Duva on what we think will be an historic venture."
Zhang got involved in boxing at age 15 and said he watched many of the top heavyweights.
"I started to look at some of the greatest fighters in the world after I got involved with boxing," he said. "Boxing events are only broadcasted on the weekends on CCTV5 [in China]. But I never missed one show. I watched [Muhammad] Ali, [George] Foreman, [Mike] Tyson, [Evander] Holyfield, [Lennox] Lewis, [David] Tua and the Klitschko brothers. They are great fighters and I do like the way they fight. I hope that I can win a golden belt someday, too."