China’s most popular boxers

In the world of boxing, China is not known for the most part of the boxing history to be a powerhouse, despite having its beginnings in the 1920s when it was first fought on the streets of Shanghai and Guangzhou, which were the country’s premier port cities. 

Because of its violent and western nature, the xenophobic Mao banned the sport as he put China into isolation. 

Since its ban was lifted in 1986, the sport only made its mainstream consciousness in the new millennium, when they won at least a medal in the past five Olympic games, and subsequently came of age in Beijing, where they won a pair of golds that opened the gates. 

Here, we go and look at the most popular pugilist of the so-called Sleeping Giant that went awake.

Zhou Shiming 

The flyweight is no doubt the most popular Chinese boxer, and the country owes him a huge favor in making boxing a mainstream sport there. 

He first burst through to the amateur scene with his light-flyweight bronze in Athens in 2004, but his highlight came four years later at home in Beijing, and repeated it in 2012, capping off that aspect of his career where he included three AIBA World titles to his name. 

“The Fists of Gold” turned pro after London, and it was a memorable one considering it was brief (9-2, 2 KOs) as he won the vacant WBO flyweight belt in 2016 with a repeat unanimous decision win over Thailand’s Prasitsak Phaprom. 

Xu Can

A native of Fuzhou and a son of a baker, the featherweight had risen to the ranks to contend for the belts, and his aggressive style endeared to the fight fans as he was nicknamed “Monster” (18-3, 3 KOs) for his all-guns-blazing attitude from the opening bell. 

In 2019, Xu took down Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas to claim the World Boxing Association (WBA) title in a unanimous decision, making him the third Chinese boxing world champion, but after two defenses he conceded it to Leigh Wood after a last-round stoppage in 2021. 

Zhang Zhilei

Big Bang” is the heaviest in this list, and he lived up to his moniker owing to his impressive knockout rate on his stellar resume which solidifies his contender status in an already loaded heavyweight division.  

A late bloomer to the pros owing to his long amateur career that peaked with his super-heavyweight silver medal run in Beijing 2008, Zhang made up for lost time quite impressively, putting the likes of his former amateur rivals such as Anthony Joshua on notice. 

The southpaw lets his lethal left hand do the talking, as he had an impressive knockout rate (19 of his 24 wins), with only a draw to Jerry Forest the lone blemish to what has been already a superb record. At one point of his 22-fight winning streak, he racked up nine straight stoppages.

Zhang Xiyan

The lone female on this list, Zhang was the poster girl of Chinese boxing, long before Zou came. And together with Gao Lijun and Wang Yanan have blazed the trail for female Chinese fighters to carve a career on the ring by their world title-winning exploits, whether it was boxing or mixed-martial-arts. 

It’s such a shame that Women’s Boxing at the Olympics only came a full decade after her Women’s Amateur World Championship triumph as a bantamweight.  

However, that did not dampen her as she won a world title in 2006, outlasting Alicia Ashly as she gets the nod of all three judges to claim the WBC women’s lightweight belt in Chengdu. 

After her career ended in 2012, she became part of the Chinese national team, joining their fighters on their corners in the recent Olympics.

Xiong Zhao Zhong

It’s strange that women gave China their first-ever professional world titles faster than men, but that’s the case here as the former coal miner had to do. 

Nicknamed the Little Bear, Xiong Zhao Zhong made history in his hometown of Kunming in 2012, outpointing Mexico’s Javier Martínez Resendiz to claim the WBC strawweight belt. 

After losing the belt to Oswaldo Novoa two years later, Xiong had his next best shot by taking on Hekkie Buddler to the distance in Monaco only to came up short by the scorecards with the South African’s WBA and IBO belts on the line. 

Xiong retired in 2018 after being shut out by Knockout CP Freshmart on the scorecards that turned out to be his swansong, as he failed to take away the Thai’s WBA belt as a challenger.