Dino Duva joins Chinese boxing market with heavyweight Zhang Zhilei


Photo by Scott Heavey-Getty Images

Zhang Zhilei, a Chinese silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, celebrates a victory at the 2012 London Games. Photo by Scott Heavey-Getty Images


NEW YORK CITY – Dino Duva knows his way around a heavyweight. During his career as a promoter and working with his father Lou, a Hall of Fame trainer, Duva has been associated with champions like Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer and Samuel Peter.

Duva knows his way around China as well, having traveled there as a consultant with the Chinese amateur boxing federation. He helped set up U.S. style training camps and work with some of the top Chinese amateurs after the Beijing Games in 2008 and before the London Games in 2012.

Duva wants to meld that knowledge with a new promotion company, Dynasty Boxing, which he has started in partnership with Tommy and Terry Lanes, the sons of referee Mills Lane. Duva introduced the first boxer he has signed, Zhang Zhilei, a Chinese silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, at a press conference in Manhattan on Monday afternoon.

“Boxing is the third most watched sport in China behind basketball and soccer,” Duva said. “Before 2008 it wasn’t even on the charts. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The next crew of guys is going to take it to the next level. I’m happy I’m starting with Zhilei, the heavyweight, because I think he’s a huge story. He’s a nice guy. Good looking guy. And he’s a good boxer.”

Duva believes he is hitting the Chinese boxing market at the right time. Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank signed flyweight Zou Shiming, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the Chinese team, last year and has done four shows in Macau, China with Shiming on the card.

“The market is huge. It’s the fastest growing sport in China,” Duva said. “It started building after the 2008 Games because the Chinese boxing team did so well. It was growing steadily in the three years after that. After the London Olympics when some of the athletes announced their intention to turn pro it took off. After Zou Shiming turned pro that’s when it really exploded. I’m happy he broke the ground by turning pro. He laid a lot of the ground work for us.”

Shiming and Zhilei were roommates during the Olympics and remain close friends. Zhilei said he and Shiming haven’t spoken extensively about turning pro.

“He told me that everything with being in the pros is different than in the amateurs,” Zhilei said through a translator.

At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Zhilei is indeed a super heavyweight. Duva said his style is well suited to professional boxing.

“I’d say he’s a boxer-puncher with good power,” Duva said. “He has nice footwork. When we were working with him in the amateur camps we thought he had a better pro style than amateur style.”

Zhilei said he doesn’t know what his amateur record is. He laughed when asked if he won more than he lost. He has faced some tough competition in the amateurs. He lost to Italy’s Roberto Cammarelle in the gold medal round in Beijing in 2008, winning the silver medal, and he lost a tough decision to Anthony Joshua of Britain in the quarterfinals at the London Games in 2012.

Duva got to know Zhilei, and other members of the Chinese team, during six training camps that he helped organize and conduct with the team beginning in 2009.  Those camps were conducted in the U.S. and in China. He waited for Zhilei to retire as an amateur and then had to go through several government channels in China before he could sign Zhilei to a contract. The entire process took over a year.

Zhilei will live and train in New Jersey. Duva said he is in the process of finding a trainer to work with the 31-year-old Zhilei. He has hooked him up with Mark Puttenvink, a strength and conditioning coach who worked with the New York Rangers and has worked with Yuri Foreman.

“I want to give him a solid month of strength and conditioning and a solid two months of boxing training. I want to make sure he’s totally ready before the first fight,” Duva said.

Zhilei could make his pro debut in May or June. Duva said he envisions Zhilei advancing through the heavyweight ranks and being in line for a title shot in a couple of years.

“I think heavyweights are different than boxers in lower weights,” Duva said. “They don’t have to fight as often. If he stays healthy, I think he could be ready after between 10 and 15 fights.”

It has been a whirlwind for Zhilei since he landed in New York this past Saturday. His wife and 3-year-old son are still in Henan, China.

“This is the turning point of my life,” Zhilei said. “Going from amateur to pro and moving here is going to change my life.”

It is heady stuff for the son of two government workers who took up boxing when he grew too tall and too heavy to compete in canoeing at age 13.

“I didn’t know anything about boxing,” Zhilei said. “But once I started going to the gym and training I fell in love with boxing.”