It's fair to say that we all entered 2019 expecting huge things from the Heavyweight division. We were expecting Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder to have their rematch, and we were expecting to see Anthony Joshua continue his rise to superstardom. It was hoped that we would end 2019 with a clear route to a 4-title unification bout, and would have a line of contenders for those belts.
Instead of getting what we had all hoped for, we instead got Deontay Wilder rematch Luis Ortiz and take out Dominic Breazeale, Tyson Fury fought two men who did little to improve his stature in the sport, before going off to Saudi Arabia for a WWE event, and Anthony Joshua lose to Andy Ruiz. We also saw various issues rear their head for leading contenders, with Joseph Parker suffering an injury, Jarrell Miller failing drug tests, Dillian Whyte having drug testing issues hanging over his head, and Kubrat Pulev famously kissing Jenny Sushe and getting his license suspended.
Essentially the year that had promised a lot for the Heavyweights ended up being one that had few highlights and a lot of disappointment.
Thankfully we will get some interesting Heavyweight bouts before the year is over, including a bout this coming week between an unbeaten Chinese fighter and a once beaten Russian.
The One to Watch?
Zhilei Zhang (20-0, 16) Vs Andriy Rudenko (32-4, 20)
November 30th (Saturday)
Unbeaten fringe Heavyweight contenders facing off with neither man really able to afford a loss. The match up looks interesting on paper and will either end Zhang's hopes of becoming the first Chinese Heavyweight to fight for a world title or put him right in the mix for a title fight. Stylistically it might not be a pretty fight but it is a significant one.
Unbeaten Chinese fight Zhang is a 36 year old who really is in the "now or never" stage of his career. He was tipped highly at the start of his career following an Olympic silver medal in 2008, but was 31 by the time he made his pro debut in 2014. Zhang's rise through the ranks has been awkward at times, and he's been out of the ring for 14 months, however he's is a big punching southpaw, with under-rated hand speed. As long as ring rust hasn't taken over he could put on a great performance here.
Rudenko on the other hand is a 36 year old Ukrainian fighter who had a reported who has proven to be teak tough, but has taken this bout on short notice, after Sergey Kuzmin was pulled due to injury. He's rugged and tough and despite being limited he comes to fight, and will still be coming forward after 12 rounds. We should see him testing Zhang's toughness and stamina.
What to expect?
We don't expect anything pretty here. We really don't see this being a particularly fun fight, with Rudenko being tough but not the sharpest and the ring rust of Zhang likely to slow him down. If this is a slow gruelling fight this could get very, very messy in the later stages. We do however expect it to be competitive, hard fought bout.
Rudenko will look to see out any early storm from Zhang, and try to break him down late. Zhang on the other hand will look to use his size, reach and hand speed to fight at range. Who ever manages to dictate the tempo will and distance will come out on top here, but we expect to see a lot of mess, where where Rudenko's proven 12 round gas tank might be the key, despite the fact he has taken this bout on very late notice.
The bad news?
Other than expecting this to be ultra-ugly, there's not much else that we'd consider "bad" here. The bout will however not have a fan filled atmosphere, with the bout taking place in a small casino in Monaco, where atmosphere has been notoriously bad. It's a small issue, but still an issue.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.