Zhang Calls Out Joshua: “Let’s Get It” in China, Middle East, and Beyond

By Robbie Bannatyne - 12/25/2023 - Comments

Zhilei Zhang would like to fight Anthony Joshua next to “give him a good sleep” in front of millions of fans in China and worldwide.

Joshua & his promoter, Eddie Hearn, didn’t utter a peep about Zhang during the post-fight press conference last Saturday night following AJ’s victory over journeyman Otto Wallin in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Understandably, the only name that Hearn mentioned was Filip Hrgovic, a fighter that he co-promotes. That would be an in-house matchroom boxing fight if the 31-year-old Hrgovic were Joshua’s next opponent.

Factors preventing Zhang from getting Joshua fight

  • Size & power: The 6’6″ southpaw Zhang is big, powerful, and highly dangerous, and would walk Joshua down in the same way he did Joe Joyce to expose him and wreck his and Eddie Hearn’s ambitions for the lucrative mega-millions bout against Tyson Fury in 2024. All that money would be up in smoke if Zhang knocked Joshua to the galactic center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A. The dreams of the mega-payday against Fury will evaporate for Joshua & Hearn if Zhang destroys AJ.
  • Filip Hrgovic = safer option for Joshua. Hrgovic got knocked around the ring by Zhang last year in a fight that looked like he deserved to lose every round. Demsey McKean had Hrgovic badly hurt; Joshua & Hearn obviously view Hrgovic as an easy mark and a much safer option than mixing it with Zhang and winding up in the same boat as Joe Joyce.
  • Zhang’s previous success against Joshua: Zhilie came close to beating AJ in the 2012 Olympics in London. Joshua looked exhausted in the final round of that fight, and it’s possible he would have been knocked out if it had been a twelve-round contest.
  • No world title would be at stake: Joshua is belt-hungry right now, perhaps feeling he needs a title to validate him in the eyes of fans, who see him as a spent force mentally after losing three of his fights since 2019. Joshua’s win over the weak & soft-looking journeyman Otto Wallin last Saturday proved nothing to hardcore fans, who saw it as an example of AJ’s promoter Eddie Hearn pulling the wool over their eyes by feeding him a stiff to make him look like ‘He’s back.’ He’s not. This was just typical trickery with AJ being fed an awful opponent.

Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs) feels that he’s a better option for the former two-time heavyweight champion Joshua (27-3, 24 KOs) to fight next than #1 IBF Filip Hrgovic, as there would be greater fan interest in seeing Joshua-Zhang.

Hrgovic isn’t a commercial draw, says Zhang, and he has a bad habit of throwing rabbit punches to help him win his fights. Zhilei notes that the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Hrgovic used punches to the back of the head to win his fight last Saturday night against Mark De Mori and his previous one against Demsey McKean.

Joshua would wipe the deck with Hrgovic, as long as he didn’t get brained by a rabbit shot behind the head. Hrgovic looked poor against McKean and was far worse in his clash against Zhang in 2022. Hrgovic was hurt in both fights.

Zhang lost a controversial twelve round unanimous decision to Hrgovic last year in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in a fight that many boxing fans felt was a classic robbery, in which the younger A-side fighter, the one receiving the huge promotional push, was given an undeserving victory against an older fighter.

Joshua-Zhang: Makes more commercial sense

“I’d like to go after Joshua because he’s probably looking at [Filip] Hrgovic as a potential fight. But if you look at Hrgovic’s resume. He was gifted a win. He beat me to become the [IBF heavyweight] mandatory challenger, and he had two pretty low-level fights to stay busy because he’s so scared to lose that position,” said Zhilei Zhang to Fighthype, talking about wanting to face Anthony Joshua next.

Rabbit punching accusations 

“He [Hrgovic] fought Demsey McKean from Australia for twelve rounds. He kept hitting him in the back of the head, and right now, I can call Hrgovic a professional in hitting on the back of the head because in every fight in every round, he’s hitting the guy on the back of the head,” said Zhang about the rabbit punches that Hrgovic used to subdue De Mori and McKean.

What’s surprising is the referees who are working Hrgovic’s fights aren’t doing anything to police his rabbit punching. It’s weird.

Refs make a big deal about enforcing the low blow rule, as we saw in Oleksandr Usyk’s fight with Daniel Dubois, but they don’t do the same for the far more dangerous shots behind the head. Are referees incompetent, or do they just not care? It’s insane.

“You saw yesterday he knocked Mark De Mori out, but he kept hitting him in the back of the head, too,” said Zhang about the rabbit punches that Hrvovic repeatedly nailed the hapless 41-year-old De Mori with in his first round knockout last Saturday night.

Joshua vs. Zhang = bigger money fight

“So, that’s what he does. When you look at Joshua’s potential fight with Hrgovic, I just don’t think it makes that much commercial sense because if he [Joshua] comes to me, the whole of England will be watching, and the whole of China will be watching, and the whole Middle East. Everybody will be watching.”

What Zhang is failing to see is the rationale behind Hearn & Joshua wanting Hrgovic. Yeah, they obviously are well aware that the money would be better in a fight with Zhang, but they want to win.

Hrgovic is the soft job, provided AJ doesn’t get nailed in the back of the head with anything, and it’s the in-house Matchroom fight. It’s not a commercial draw, as Zhang points out, but it’s an utterly winnable one for Joshua to keep him on track for his cash-out fight against 35-year-old Tyson Fury next year.

Explosive potential

“Joshua’s past opponents are Usyk, southpaw, Otto Wallin, southpaw, and I think he’s really comfortable and really good at fighting southpaws, and I’m a southpaw,” said Zhang. “So, let’s get it. Credit to Parker [for beating Deontay Wilder], but I want to get Joshua next.

“It’s not only going to be fireworks. It’s going to be explosive. You’re going to see dynamite because we had history, and I want to make it right,” said Zhang when asked how a fight between him and Joshua plays out.

If the Joshua-Zhang fight does happen, AJ will likely be on his bike, using the same Wladimir-esque style that he employed for his rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr. in December 2019 by jabbing, moving in circles and clinching frequently whenever Zhang gets close.

Joshua will play it safe and stink up the joint, fighting safety first and counting on the judges to give him a decision.

“I know the fans want to see it, I know I want to do it, and I know deep down in Joshua’s heart, he wants to do it, too,” said Zhang. “So, Eddie [Hearn], send over the contract and let’s do it. Millions of people in China are looking forward to this, and millions in the world, too.:

Joshua clearly doesn’t want the rematch with Zhang because if he did, he would have fought him years ago. It’s obvious that Hearn doesn’t want any part of Zhang. In Hearn’s book, you can argue that Zhilei is one of the handful of unmentionables that he wants to protect Joshua from.

It’s business, and the only way Hearn can keep the gravy train dough coming in is by matching Joshua against beatable opposition, which he’s been doing steadily throughout his career, especially recently with his fights against Otto Wallin, Robert Helenius & Jermaine Franklin.

Zhang ready to put Joshua to sleep

“I’m aiming to give him a good sleep,” said Zhang on what he wants to do to Joshua.

“When you step up from cruiserweight to heavyweight, it’s not just putting on weight. There are a lot of things behind it. I definitely welcome him to the heavyweight family, and he’s going to see what the heavyweight power looks like,” said Zhang about former IBF cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia talking about moving up to heavyweight at some point.

“I would say Joshua. When I was watching his fight, I was really happy to see him come back that way,” said Zhilei when asked which heavyweight on the ‘Day of Reckoning’ card impressed him from last Saturday night in Riyadh.

Zhilei failed to mention that Joshua was matched against a stiff in his fight against Wallin last Saturday. When you’re matched against a textbook tomato can, anyone can look good. Wallin looked like he would have been food for the 333 lb Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller last Saturday night, and it would have been a more compelling fight than AJ’s play-it-safe, single-shot offensive display.

“I’d like to get busy and fight as much as possible because to me, age is just a number. I know my lifestyle. I have a great lifestyle. I do everything regularly,” said Zhang about his wanting to stay busy with his career. “I think the most important thing for me right now is to keep busy.

Open to other options

“Parker might be a good option. Right now, he’s hot, and everybody is looking at him like, ‘Wow, he’s really good,’ and he’s won a couple of fights recently,” said Zhang when asked who he’d like to fight if he can’t get Joshua next.

Parker’s management isn’t going to want to match him against Zhang because they obviously know his limitations and will be hoping to get a big payday fight offered to him against AJ, Francis Ngannous, or his buddy, Tyson Fury.

Zhang would ruin Parker, who is basically a bottom-ten-level heavyweight. If you put Parker in with Joe Joyce again, you’d see his level with him getting the living daylights beaten out of him again, like we saw last year.

“So, if I can’t get any of these guys, Joseph Parker would be a good option. You never know. Styles make fights. I beat Parker in the 2011 world championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, and that was a while ago. If he wants revenge, go ahead, come,” said Zhang about him being open to a fight with Parker if he’s game.

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