This photo, taken on September 16, 2019, shows boxer and grocer Zhang Fangyong, who is in a boxing hall Beijing warms up in China – Zhang Fangyong takes a jealous look at a photo of boxing colleague Floyd "Money" Mayweather: The American has hundreds of millions of dollars to fight, but Zhang sometimes fights for nothing and supports himself by delivering with his Motorcycle takes. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP) / ABOUT AFP STORY: Box CHN Zhang, FEATURE by Peter STEBBINGS, with Kelly Wang
Zhang Fangyong takes a look at a photo of boxing colleague Floyd "Money" Mayweather.
The retired American superstar could make hundreds of millions of dollars from a fight, but Chinese Zhang sometimes does not fight for anything and supports himself by making deliveries on his motorcycle.
The 26-year-old bantamweight has recovered from three losses in the first four fights and has improved his win-loss record to 14-3-1, scoring three wins in the round of 16.
But it is Zhang's determination to continue his career despite numerous obstacles that have won him the hearts of Chinese sports fans and the admiration of the general public.
His story was part of a recently funded documentary by the Chinese government, "Changing China," which tracks the progress of the world's most populous country through the stoic struggles of ordinary youth trying to get through.
Good-natured Zhang, who grew up in rural poverty, earns so little from sports that he has taken on a number of simple jobs to keep his boxing dream alive.
He was a security guard, but was released after a few days because he was classified as too small. Previously, he also worked in a restaurant kitchen, moving house, and building.
His job as a delivery driver, first in the city of Kunming and now in the capital Beijing, poses its own challenges.
Zhang's electric scooter, which was bought for 6,000 yuan ($ 870) thanks to a small loan, was stolen when he delivered a meal.
"I followed people more than two kilometers, but I couldn't catch up with them," he said in an interview at the Beijing M23 Boxing Club, home of the WBA featherweight world champion, Xu Can.
"A delivery person always protects his food, no matter what happens," Zhang said, adding that he kept the food to go, even if he was chasing the thief.
"I did not give in"
When the adrenaline subsided, the helplessness of his situation fell on him.
"Suddenly my scooter was stolen and I felt that the world was very unfair to me," said Zhang, who is now back on the road with a replacement.
Zhang's determination was falsified several hours outside of the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing during a difficult childhood in a village.
The next town was a mountain hike from Zhang's home, where his mother raised pigs and chickens and sold eggs to keep the family afloat. His father worked outside the village.
Zhang started in martial arts, but his interest in boxing was sparked when he saw a documentary about the history of Filipino boxing with the great Manny Pacquiao.
But if he hoped one day to make a fortune with Pacquiao's rivals, he was wrong.
Before this year, Zhang's highest participation fee for a fight was only 3,600 yuan (US $ 520), so boxing was juggling with odd jobs.
Zhang admits that he does not have the raw talent of someone like Pacquiao and that boxing – which was banned under Mao Zedong – is not yet developed enough in China to ensure a reliable livelihood.
But what he lacks in talent, Zhang balances speed, heart and the desire to make his family and his supportive girlfriend proud.
"What we have to prove is my spirit, my willpower and that I will improve, even if I am not technically ready," said Zhang, whose goal is to become an Asian champion.
"I worked hard, did not give in and am now here in the best boxing club in China.
"That shows that I can stand here as long as you are willing to work hard and believe."
He looks at pictures on the gym wall of Mayweather, Pacquiao and compatriot Xu again. "Maybe one day my photos will also be published there."
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