By Jake Tiernan: WBO interim heavyweight champion Zhilei Zhang has put himself in the world title picture with his third round knockout victory over Joe Joyce last Saturday night. Now, the only question is when that will happen.
Zhang (26-1-1, KOs) has all the ingredients to become a world champion and a true superstar. However, with Tyson Fury holding the WBC title hostage, fighting non-boxers, and IBF/WBA/WBO champ Oleksandr Usyk expected to face his IBF mandatory Filip Hrgovic next, Zhang is going to be aced out until next year.
Zhang will have to stay busy fighting the best possible available & willing opponent for December and then see how things look in the title picture for the first quarter of 2024.
Options for Zhang to fight in December:
Andy Ruiz Jr.
Will Zhang get a title shot soon?
“I would hope there is. This guy put on a sensational performance. No one stops Joe Joyce. Joe Joyce has never been down as a pro or amateur. He flattened him with one shot, and the way he did it was spectacular,” said Tim Bradley to ProBox TV forum.
“He set this shot up from the opening bell, shooting the left hand downstairs, getting Joe to move left. Once he moved left, he set him up with this vicious right hook, catching him sleeping him. It was a great performance.
“I want to see more of this guy. I think he definitely can be a star. I love his character. He’s charismatic. ‘Big Bang,’ he said, ‘Chinese power.’ I like that. He sells himself extremely well. He’s a big guy with punching power,” said Bradley.
It’s safe to say that WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury won’t offer Zhang a title shot because it’s pretty clear that he’s on his way out the door, which is why he’s focusing on fighting MMA guys.
Fury will hold onto the WBC title for as long as possible without fighting anyone like Zhang because he could mess up the good thing he’s going with the Saudis showering him with money for his circus events.
“I just want to see more of him, and I hope that he’ll be ready for a title shot or get a title shot soon,” said Bradley about Zhang.
In a perfect world, Fury or Usyk would agree to fight Zhang in December, and he would have the chance to prove how good he is to the world. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. Fury will avoid Zhang, and that fight will never happen.
Zhilei could be avoided
“But as we know, boxing politics don’t always work like that,” said Chris Algieri. “Boxing is not a meritocracy. So we got to see what happens here from the business side because, honestly, if you don’t have to fight Zhilei Zhang, you’re not fighting Zhilei Zhang.”
Usyk would defend against Zhang, but only if the fight was ordered, and it hasn’t yet. He’s got to defend against his IBF mandatory Filip Hrgovic next.
“That’s a very dangerous man,” said Algieri about Zhang. “He is a two-fisted puncher, he has a high boxing IQ, and he’s a true super heavyweight. We’re looking at 280+, and the guy has that kind of IQ and power. He’s a very, very dangerous guy.
“I agree. He’s very marketable. I don’t know if people really know that yet. He’s got a great personality and a lot of charisma. He’s starting to come out of his shell a little bit in that way, and he can really fight.
“We’re seeing that these past two Joe Joyce fights have really been illuminating in terms of what we have in front of us with this 40-year-old Zhilei Zhang, who has the chance to historically be the first Chinese heavyweight, one of the southpaw heavyweights in history.”
The way that Zhang destroyed Joyce was impressive, as no one had ever knocked him like that. Zhang completely cleaned his clock, making it look easy.
“I think there are only six or seven of them at this point. So there’s a lot on the line here,” said Algieri. “Is he going to get a title shot? We’ll see. Tyson Fury is holding on to that [WBC] belt.
“He’s basically holding it ransom to go fight Francis Ngannou. You’ve got Usyk, but I believe he’s tied up with mandatories with Hrgovic.
“So the only thing that I think would really hurt Zhang would be to stay out of the ring. I think I think being active has been beneficial for him. I would love to see him again and even before the end of the year.
“That was a three-round blowout. He got hit with six punches, according to CompuBox. So he should still be fresh. I’m sure he’s going to stay in the gym. He has been for years now.
“Get him back in the ring at the end of the year, and then let’s see how things pan out looking for 2024. But if there’s anyone else that is that deserves a title shot more than him, show me who it is because this guy’s been doing it,” said Algieri.