Taishan: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

By Robert Ecksel on February 27, 2015
Taishan: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” has lost its currency and relevance. (Gutknecht)

“I grew up in Gansu, in northwest China. I was in school until the age of 14 when I was selected to enter a special athletic school…”

Bigger is not always better, but few dispute that size matters.

In the Age of Klitschko, which continues with no end in sight, supersized heavyweights are no longer the exception, they’re the rule. Gone are the days of Jess Willard (6’6½”), Fred Fulton (6’6½”), Abe Simon (6’4”), and Primo Carnera (6’5½”), fighters who, despite their physical attributes, were no match for the all-time greats (i.e., Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis) who dominated their eras. But as the decades progressed, heavyweights have gotten bigger, with results that can best be described as mixed.

Muhammad Ali defeated Ernie Terrell (6’6”) in 1967. Mike Tyson defeated Tony Tucker (6’5”) in 1987. Evander Holyfield fought and lost the heavyweight crown to Riddick Bowe (6’5”) in 1992. But with the emergence of Lennox Lewis (6’5”), huge heavyweights became the new normal and the adage, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” lost not only its currency but its relevance.

The latest addition to the supersize heavyweight gallery is 26-year-old Taishan Dong. Seven feet tall and tipping the scales at 285 lbs., he resembles Nicolay Valuev (7’1”) in size, if not in skill. Taishan has towered over the two men he has faced as a pro, but he is a beginner. Unlike his predecessors in the sky-high heavyweight sweepstakes, he is in the embryonic stages of his development. Something may come of his adventure. Something may not. But he is still raw, a diamond in the rough, a work in progress, and it’s too early to tell if Taishan will have an impact in boxing, which he has been doing for all of a year, or if he fades as many others have before him.

“I grew up in Gansu, in northwest China,” Taishan told Boxing.com. “I was in school until the age of 14 when I was selected to enter a special athletic school. That’s how I entered my life in sport. The first sport I started out with was basketball. Then they began turning me over to different kinds of martial arts. I started to do Muay Thai and other fighting sports, and now it comes to the stage where I start my boxing.”

I asked Taishan if he could, given his familiarity with both “the art of eight limbs” and “the sweet science of bruising,” highlight some of the similarities and differences between the two sports.

“There are a number of differences between them,” he said. “But the main difference is boxing requires high speed, while Muay Thai is more about force, because I could use both my feet and hands while fighting.”

Size is often inherited. Large parents often have large children. I wondered whether Taishan’s parents were big, or if he was unusual in that regard.

“I’m the exceptional one in my whole family,” he said. “They are all regular size. I started to grow at the age of 10 and then I stopped by the age of 17. But the peak of my growth was between 15 and 16 when I grew to this height.”

Taishan’s real name is Jian Jun Dong. He embraced the pseudonym six years ago. When he was 20 he climbed to the top of Mount Tai (Taishan), the “Most Revered of the Five Sacred Mountains.” Since the time of the Han Dynasty, it has symbolized the Celestial Kingdom, in accordance with the Doctrine of the Five Elements, and has come to represent the emergence of Confucianism, Taoism, and the appearance of writing and literature in China.

The summit of Mount Tai is reached by climbing 6600 rough-hewn stone steps. It’s an arduous nine-kilometer trek that can take up to six hours. I asked Taishan about Mount Tai and why he found it so appealing.

“This mountain is a challenge for many young people and at the time I realized that very few people will be able to conquer the mountain. Most people would give up. Some would not even dare to take the challenge. But for me, I wanted to accomplish this task to show people that I am very exceptional and that I have a mind to accomplish what other people could not.”

Always looking for, but not always finding, the interconnectedness of all things, I asked Taishan if climbing Mount Tai in some way symbolizes his life’s journey, which includes leaving China, moving to the United States, taking up boxing at a late age, and pursuing his dream of becoming heavyweight champion.

“If you want to parallel both ideas,” he replied, “I can say yes, I agree. Becoming a heavyweight boxer is always my dream. I want to show my ability and talents to the world. At the same time, in a similar concept, when I look up to the Taishan in China, I will have the same kind of motivation that I want to be up there, to be special, and to conquer something many could not.”

Depending on how one defines “the next big thing,” Taishan Dong may or may not be the next big thing in boxing. He fights Friday night on Fox Sports 1 (10:30 PM ET/7:30 PM PT), the third fight in his fledgling pro career, and it will be a chance to see him in action.

“I will do my best,” Taishan told me. “I will perform all that I have learned in these past months from the training. And I will have the most exceptional punch, so that the audience and my fans will be astonished and will continue to support me. I want to thank them for their continuous support. I want to tell them that I am going to do my best and always want to say thanks to them.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Eric 10:36am, 03/01/2015

    Wonder why this guy didn’t try basketball like Yao Ming. The 7’6” Ming had tall parents, his father was 6’7” and his mother was 6’3”. This guy should be trying his luck on the basketball court before taking up something as risky as boxing. He has to have more potential than the 5’6” Manny Pacquiao. He might want to think about trying out for China’s Olympic volleyball team.

  2. Kid Blast 09:58am, 03/01/2015

    FrankinDallas, yes indeed. Northern Chinese are very tall and some are used by North Korea to be guards at the 38 Parallel buildings, Very scary looking dudes.

  3. Kid Blast 09:56am, 03/01/2015

    Eric, But Toro Moreno was different. He was from Argentina and was 7 feet tall.

  4. Tex Hassler 07:08pm, 02/28/2015

    It is far to early in his career to tell how good he is. This was a well written article Amigo!

  5. Eric 04:49pm, 02/28/2015

    Clarence….Yes, “Tarzan Mike” as he was known in the rasslin’ bidness is still kicking at 82.

  6. Clarence George 03:08pm, 02/28/2015

    Mike Lane is still with us, I believe.  I don’t think anyone else is from “The Harder They Fall,” except for the outstanding, and now ancient, Nehemiah Persoff.

  7. Eric 01:55pm, 02/28/2015

    @Kid Blast…Googled up Michael Lane aka Toro. He was a big’un at 6’8” and 275lbs. Usually someone’s listed height in wrestling (which was Lane’s former occupation) and Hollywood, always add an inch or three to someone’s real height.

  8. Clarence George 04:30am, 02/28/2015

    Pleasantly surprised that gutsy (in more ways than one) Roy McCrary went the distance.

  9. Beaujack, 09:50pm, 02/27/2015

    Last year I saw Taishan Dong’s older brother fight on Tv. His name was
    Ding Dong.

  10. FrankinDallas 09:49pm, 02/27/2015

    I lived in a 5th story walk up apartment in the Bronx….seemed like
    6600 steps some nights.

    Northern Chinese are very tall. I met many young men (and women) taller than I am in Beijing and I’m 6’2”. Some good NBA players came from N China.

  11. Kid Blast 09:36pm, 02/27/2015

    Toro Moreno was bigger than any of these pretenders.

  12. Clarence George 03:46pm, 02/27/2015

    I got the reference, Irish, never fear.

    And Judy Garland! 

    Speaking of which:  Leonard Nimoy died.  He appeared in a boxing movie, “Kid Monk Baroni.”

  13. Clarence George 03:42pm, 02/27/2015

    Irish:  His performance against Ed Fountain was abysmal, even though he won.  I think you’re right, that it’s at least partly McGirt’s fault, but I doubt that even Ray Arcel could do much better—Cojanu just doesn’t seem to have any boxing ability whatsoever.  Yeah, I think you have to place your “High Hopes” elsewhere.  Do you like that song, by the way?  Never did anything for me, gotta say.

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:41pm, 02/27/2015

    Clarence George-That should have been “high in the sky, apple pie hope” or some such….anyway I think you get my drift. Which reminds me….Sinatra boinked Marlene Dietrich….must have been nice being little piss ant Frankie!

  15. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:32pm, 02/27/2015

    Clarence George-It’s just that I had “pie in the sky, apple pie hopes” for Cojanu!

  16. Clarence George 03:25pm, 02/27/2015

    Eric:  The tallest boxer of them all was, I believe, Gogea Mitu, who finally topped out at an extraordinary 7’4” (7’6”, according to some sources).  One can only imagine Billy Taub’s reaction.

  17. Eric 03:08pm, 02/27/2015

    Irish…Thank you very much.
    Clarence…Just thought of a couple of other more recent guys. Mike White and Marcellus Brown. Both never made it that far but the 6’10” White wasn’t too bad, and the 7-footer, Marcellus Brown, had marginal skills. Some might have seen Tommy Morrison take out Brown in 3 rounds. I remember watching White fight Dick Ryan. White took the decision from Ryan, and Ryan was a pretty decent fighter.

  18. Clarence George 02:31pm, 02/27/2015

    Congrats, Robert, on having gotten up close and personal with Dong.  (Giggle!)  Sorry!  But I’ve never been known for my maturity.  Indeed, I would have found it irresistible to ask if he had a relative by the name of Won Hung Lo.  Admirable restraint on your part.

    Much too early to tell, but my guess is that Dong will prove to be little more than a novelty (though he comes across as an interesting fella), and not at all in the same league as Willard or Carnera.  Curious to see him against, say, Young Fury (6’3”), who’s showing promise, however nascent.  As for McCrary, he won’t make it past the second, if that.

    Anyway, I’m not a fan of this tendency toward ever-increasing height and weight among the heavies.  What’s next, robots?  There was a “Twilight Zone” episode like that, with Lee Marvin.

    Eric:  You forgot about Victorio Campolo (6’9½”), an Argentine born in Italy.  He won out against some tough competition, like Arturo Godoy, but twice lost to Carnera.

    Irish:  Cojanu is among the worst boxers I’ve ever seen.  He has exactly zero chance against Donovan Dennis, whom he’s fighting in April.  And Dennis will never be mistaken for Joe Louis.

  19. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:46pm, 02/27/2015

    Eric-Great comments!....Let’s hope that McGirt is doing a better job here than he’s doing with Cojanu!

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:44pm, 02/27/2015

    Give him a dozen fights….then put him in with Valuev who’s just got to come out of retirement for that one!

  21. Eric 11:02am, 02/27/2015

    Didn’t look that bad in the video provided, considering it was only his second boxing match ever and despite the other fighter taking an obvious dive. Well proportioned for a giant, not sloppy looking like Valuev. Usually huge guys have a problem with stamina, the heart having to pump all that blood in a seven footer has to work overtime, but if this guy is climbing mountains maybe his stamina won’t be too much of an issue. Of course being pushed by a fast moving heavyweight might cause the large guy to work at a brisker pace than he is accustomed. The human body has gradually adapted to producing QUALITY 6’6”-6’9” heavyweights, don’t know if it has evolved enough to guarantee the success of 7-footers. Fighters even bigger than Carnera & Willard were always around, Ray Impellettiere who was taller than Primo and even fought him, Jim Beattie who boxed back in the 60’s was 6’9” and I’m sure there have been others even taller or larger who fought at one time or another. Another knock against supersized heavyweights besides stamina, speed, agility, has always been that the really big fellows often lack the killer instinct of their smaller counterparts.

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