Zhang Fangyong glances at a photograph of fellow boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr.
The retired US superstar could earn hundreds of millions of dollars from a bout, but China’s Zhang sometimes fights for nothing and supports himself by making deliveries on his scooter.
The 26-year-old bantamweight has recovered from losing three of his first four fights to improve his win-loss-draw record to 14-3-1, with three wins by knockout.
However, it is Zhang’s determination to pursue his career despite numerous obstacles that has won him the hearts of sports fans.
His story was part of a documentary titled Changing China, which charts the stoic battles of ordinary Chinese young people trying to get by.
Zhang, who grew up in rural poverty, earns so little from the sport that he has taken on an array of menial jobs to keep his boxing dream alive.
His job as a delivery driver, first in the city of Kunming and now in the capital Beijing, comes with its own challenges.
Zhang’s electric scooter — bought for 6,000 yuan (US$875) thanks to a small loan — was stolen while he was delivering a meal.
“I chased the person wildly for more than 2km, but I couldn’t catch up with him,” he said in an interview at Beijing’s M23 Boxing Club, home to WBA featherweight world champion Xu Can.
Once the adrenaline wore off, the helplessness of his situation came crashing down on him.
“Suddenly my scooter was stolen and I felt it really seemed that the world was very unfair to me,” said Zhang, who is back making deliveries with a replacement.
Zhang’s determination was forged during a tough childhood in a village several hours outside the southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing, China.
The nearest town was a hike down a mountain from Zhang’s home, where his mother raised pigs and chickens and sold eggs to keep the family afloat. His father worked away from the village.
Before this year, Zhang’s highest appearance fee for a fight was just 3,600 yuan — hence the need to juggle boxing with odd jobs.
Zhang said that he does not have the raw talent of someone like of Philippines boxing great Manny Pacquiao and that boxing — which was banned under Mao Zedong — is not yet developed enough in China to provide a reliable living.
What he lacks in talent Zhang makes up for in hand speed, heart, and a desire to make his family and supportive girlfriend proud.
“What we have to prove is my spirit, my willpower, and that while I might be lacking technically, I will improve,” said Zhang, whose goal is to become an Asian champion. “I’ve worked hard, I didn’t give in, and I’m here now in the best boxing club in China. This shows that as long as you are willing to work hard and believe, I can stand here, too.”
He looks once more at pictures on the gym wall of Mayweather, Pacquiao and champion compatriot Xu.
“Maybe one day my photographs will be posted there,” he said.
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