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Single-minded Meng determined to seize historic chance

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-21 09:03
Meng Fanlong celebrates a 2015 victory over Alberto Avina in California. Meng will bid to be crowned world champion against Artur Beterbiev next month in Quebec City, Canada. [ACTION IMAGES/REUTERS]

Meng Fanlong has finally nailed down his date with destiny.

After months of tough negotiations, the 32-year-old from Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, will challenge undefeated IBF and WBC light heavyweight world champion Artur Beterbiev on March 28 in Quebec City, Canada.

The Russia-born, Montreal-based Beterbiev has knocked out all 15 of his pro opponents, including a 10th-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1,14 KOs) in their title unification fight last October in Philadelphia.

Beterbiev floored Gvozdyk, who entered the bout as WBC champ, five times and landed 60 power shots to the body over the final two rounds to close the show.

A week before Beterbiev's triumph, Meng-aka 'Cold Blood'-raised his record to 16-0 with a second-round KO of Mexico's Gilberto Rubio in Hockessin, Delaware. The 6-foot-2 southpaw's 10th stoppage came in his first outing since becoming the IBF's No 1 contender by beating Germany's Adam Deines in Macao last June.

Deines, who went into that 12-round elimination bout with a record of 19-1-1, was heavily favored but Meng rebounded from a knockdown in the eighth round to win by scores of 117-109, 116-110 and 115-111.

Beating Deines made Meng the mandatory challenger for Beterbiev's IBF crown, but the Russian instead opted to meet Gvozdyk in a showdown to unify the title.

"I'm excited to get the chance to fight for two world championships,"Meng, who represented China at the 2012 London Olympics, told boxingscene.com.

"I am the first 'bigger' boxer from China, above featherweight, to get a world title shot.

"This is already making history, but I want more. I want to bring those belts to my country, where billions of people will be talking about it for generations."

Meng's promoter, Dino Duva of New Jersey-based Roc Nation Sports, said the stars are at last aligning for the Chinese brawler.

"Fanlong has worked really hard and earned his right to fight for these world titles," said Duva."When I first scouted him 10 years ago when he was on China's national team, I knew he was destined for greatness. He said he wanted to be a world champion and I promised to deliver him that opportunity.

"Beterbiev obviously is a very strong guy. He's a great puncher and if he hits you, he can hurt you... but I don't think he's unbeatable. He has some flaws and some technical weaknesses.

"I have always believed Fanlong has the technical skills to fight and beat anybody in the division, and now he's getting his chance to prove it."

Duva said he expects media to "seriously underrate" Meng, but the challenger won't be deterred.

"In most people's minds Beterbiev will be a heavy favorite," Duva said."But don't count Fanlong out. This kid knows how to fight. He's got a tough style. He's a tall, lanky southpaw who knows what he has to do. He's very confident. I think it's gonna be one hell of a fight."

ESPN will televise the bout live from Videotron Centre in Quebec City.

Meanwhile, Qingdao welterweight Dong Youli, who continued his assault on the WBO rankings with a unanimous decision over South Korea's Seo In-duk in January, could be in line for another shot at a top-10 contender as soon as this summer.

Coming off a loss to No 5-ranked WBO Africa champ Mikka Shonena (15-0, 5 KO) in Namibia last August, the 24-year-old Dong improved to 16-2-1 (9 KO) with an emphatic unanimous decision over Seo (15-2) for the vacant Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation crown.

Dong won the WBO Asia-Pacific title with an eighth-round stoppage of India's Pardeep Kharera in Chongqing in December 2018.

"I am super-prepared to continue training hard and I am looking forward to taking a big step upwards in the world rankings by beating a top-10 contender later this year," Dong said after the January victory.

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