For five years, Dynasty Boxing promoter Dino Duva has been traveling back and forth from his New Jersey home to China as he made inroads in that expanding marketplace.
There were numerous meetings with the Chinese Boxing Federation, followed by his promoting an event in New York last year that matched Chinese amateurs with American amateurs and, finally, the signing of Zhang Zhilei, the 2008 Chinese Olympic super heavyweight silver medalist.
In all, Duva said he made 16 round trips over those five years -- nearly 220,000 miles -- and now comes what he hopes will be what leads to the major payoff for his efforts: Zhang's professional debut Friday night in a four-rounder that will open the "Friday Night Fights" card (ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, 9 ET) at Churchill County Fairgrounds in Fallon, Nevada.
Nicknamed "Big Bang," the 6-foot-6, 245-pound southpaw will face Curtis Lee Tate (6-4, 6 KOs), 30, of Memphis. In the 10-round main event, junior middleweight contender Willie Nelson (22-1-1, 13 KOs), 27, of Youngstown, Ohio, will face Luis Grajeda (17-2-2, 13 KOs), 27, of Mexico.
"We've all been waiting a long time for this moment, for Zhilei's first pro fight," Duva said. "I've been waiting almost five years. This may very well be the first fight for a very historic boxer's career. His goal is to be the first Chinese world heavyweight champion. I feel he has the potential, but it's going to be a learning process that will take much hard work and dedication."
Zhang was a bronze medalist at the 2007 and 2009 world championships and also competed in the 2012 Olympics, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals, losing a decision to eventual gold medalist Anthony Joshua of England.
Zhang, who began boxing when he was 15, said he is ready for his debut and is looking forward to it.
"I've trained very hard for this fight. Everything has been going smoothly getting ready for this moment," he said through an interpreter. "I stick to the training schedule and stay disciplined.
"I'm extremely excited about my first professional fight. It's an important fight and I’m looking forward to it. As everybody knows, ESPN is the biggest sports TV network in the world with hundreds of millions of viewers. And 'Friday Night Fights' is an important part of ESPN shows. I never thought that my first fight would be broadcast on ESPN. I'm very thankful and will perform my best."