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Meng: Winning world title would be just the tonic

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-09 09:24
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Meng Fanlong (left) goes on the attack during a victory over Adam Deines in Macao last June. Meng will take on IBF and WBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev on March 28. XINHUA

China's Meng Fanlong will earn $460,000 (3.2 million yuan) for his March 28 challenge against IBF and WBC light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev in Quebec City, Canada - but neither the money nor the titles are his main motivation.

Meng, a 32-year-old southpaw from Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, who represented China at the 2012 London Olympics, is hoping the fight will provide a much-needed morale boost for the nation, which is reeling under the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

"Parts of my country have been shut down for weeks," Meng told this week.

"My fellow citizens need something to help them escape from this very difficult time. I hope to bring some positivity, happiness and joy to them with this fight.

"I want to put pride in their hearts. My country needs me. We will get through this."

At 16-0 with 10 KOs, Meng has his work cut out against boxing's only current titleholder with a perfect KO percentage.

The 35-year-old Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs), a Russian who lives and trains in Montreal, unified the title by knocking out Ukraine's previously unbeaten Oleksandr Gvozdyck in October.

Meng won a lopsided unanimous decision over Germany's Adam Deines last June in Macao to become Beterbiev's mandatory challenger. In his last outing, on Oct 5 in the US, Meng stopped Mexico's Gilberto Rubio in two rounds.

"Fanlong is the best Chinese fighter in the world … and everyone will learn that on March 28," said his adviser, Tommy Lane. "This is a historic fight because he is the first Chinese boxer to fight for the world light heavyweight championship. And with what is going on with the coronavirus, this is a fight that can bring joy and positive energy to the Chinese people during this challenging time."

Meng's promoter, Dino Duva of New Jersey-based Roc Nation Sports, echoed that sentiment, adding: "Team Meng has waited a very long time for this opportunity, and it could not have come along at a more important time for Fanlong and his fellow countrymen.

"Artur Beterbiev is one of the best fighters in the world, and that's what will make this so special for Fanlong. I sincerely believe he will be victorious and make history for China. I cannot wait for March 28."

Beijing-based Longjoy Sports, which has a working relationship with Roc Nation, won the initial purse bid for the bout on Dec 30, offering $1.9 million to beat a $1.315 million bid from Las Vegas-based Top Rank.

After Longjoy defaulted on its bid last month, Top Rank took over the promotion and guaranteed Beterbiev 65 percent ($854,750) while Meng was guaranteed 35 percent ($460,250). The bout will be televised live on ESPN in Canada and the US.

Meanwhile, both fighters are saying the right things in the buildup - although Top Rank would probably like to see a little more animosity on both sides.

"I'm very much looking forward to defending my titles against Meng Fanlong in beautiful Quebec City and performing my best in front of my Canadian supporters," said Beterbiev, who represented Russia at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and launched his pro career after relocating to Montreal in 2013. He knocked out Germany's Enrico Koelling to win the IBF's vacant 175-pound title in November 2017 and has made three defenses.

"Artur is uniquely motivated to put on a show for his Canadian fans as he returns to his adopted country as the unified world champion," said Top Rank boss Bob Arum. "Like Beterbiev, Meng was a tremendous amateur who has fought for his country all over the world. He is not intimidated by being the challenger in foreign territory."

Meng is looking at March 28 as the start of the next phase of his career.

"I am truly honored to be fighting Beterbiev for the championship belts; I have worked very hard to earn the mandatory position and I plan on being the first Chinese light heavyweight champion in boxing history," he said.

"This is just the beginning."

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