By Jack Tiernan: Heavyweight Zhilei Zhang has accepted the spot to face Filip Hrgovic in the IBF title eliminator to become the mandatory challenger to Oleksandr Usyk.
Dan Rafael reports that the 38-year-old two-time Chinese Olympian Zhang (23-0-1, 18 KOs) has agreed to face the unbeaten Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs) in the IBF title eliminator. The two still need to negotiate their fight, however.
Usually, Hrgovic is punching power on his shorter opponents, but in this case, his shots will be going in a straight line. Of course, that’s assuming Hrgovic won’t be hitting Zhang in the back of the head with rabbit punches all night. If you watch Hrgovic’s fights, he’s got a tendency to land rabbit shots.
The IBF previously asked these fighters to face Hrgovic:
- Luis Ortiz
- Joseph Parker
- Tony Yoka
- Joe Joyce
- Agit Kabayel
- Andy Ruiz Jr.
- Murat Gassiev
- Demsey McKean
In fairness to many of those fighters, they were injured and not ready to jump into the ring to face Hrgovic by April for the IBF title eliminator.
Zhang couldn’t afford to reject the fight
In Parker and Ruiz’s case, they’re popular enough fighters to where they don’t need to compete in a title eliminator for little money against Hrgovic.
They would have been doing Hrgovic a fair by fighting him because he would have gotten the chance to beat guys that are well known in the U.S and worldwide.
The downside of Zhang and Hrgovic battling in an IBF title eliminator is that the winner will need to wait until 2023 before getting a title shot against whoever holds the IBF title by that point.
Nevertheless, the chances of Zhang or Hrgovic being given title shot through the voluntary process were virtually nonexistent because they’re not popular enough to be worth fighting unless one of the champions was feeling desperately in need of a challenger.
It’s not surprising that #13 ranked IBF contender Zhang agreed to the fight with Hrgovic, given that his chances of ever earning a title shot after relatively low. At least by fighting Hrgovic, Zhang has a chance, as small as it is.
It’s good that someone finally has stepped up to take the fight against the 29-year-old Hrgovic because they need to get the IBF title eliminator out of the way. There’s been much of a fuss made out of a fight against the 6’6″ Hrgovic, making him out to be better than he is.
Hrgovic was a good amateur fighter, but he lost when facing the better heavyweights like Joe Joyce and Tony Yoka. His problem is he’s too robotic, and the better heavyweights took advantage of that flaw in his game to beat him.
Zhang took a lot of flak for his performance in his 10 round draw against journeyman slugger Jerry Forrest last February. He made Forrest look like a great heavyweight, and he isn’t. In that fight, Zhang labored in the later rounds and reportedly was severely dehydrated.
Hrgovic will be heavily favored
Hrgovic will easily take care of Zhang due to his superior power and knockout ability. If Zhang could punch and mobility, he’d give Hrgovic a run for his money because he’s not a great heavyweight by any means.
“Per source, Zhang Zhilei has accepted the position to negotiate an IBF heavyweight title eliminator vs. Filip Hrgovic for the right to become an Usyk mandatory challenger.
“Negotiations are underway. Demsey McKean rated ahead of Zhang, was also offered the chance but turned it down. #boxing,” said Dan Rafael on Twitter.
“Before Zhang accepted, those who had the opportunity to face Hrgovic in eliminator were Luis Ortiz, Joseph Parker, Tony Yoka, Joe Joyce, Agit Kabayel, Andy Ruiz, Murat Gassiev and Demsey McKean.
“If it goes to a purse bid (unlikely, given Matchroom is involved with both fighters), Hrgovic gets the better of a 60-40 split.”