Chinese heavyweight to fight ‘angry Croatian warrior’?

Filip Hrgovic and Zhilei Zhang are in talks to put their undefeated records on the line in a fight with ramifications for the future heavyweight title picture.

The negotiations are for an eliminator fight to edge closer to the status of IBF mandatory challenger.

Oleksandr Usyk holds the IBF, WBA and WBO titles and is expected to defend them in a rematch with Anthony Joshua in 2022.

November 26, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Zhilei Zhang celebrates his win over Craig Lewis during their November 27, 2021 fight at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.
Image: Zhang, aged 38, is unbeaten in 24 fights

Hrgovic is ranked at No 2 by the IBF and his promoter Nisse Sauerland told Sky Sports: “We’ve gone through the IBF list twice.

“We have offered everyone in the top 10, then the top 10, the fight.

“No-one has taken it. No-one has stepped up.

Filip Hrgovic
Image: Filip Hrgovic is unbeaten in 14

“If Zhang is ready and willing? We will do that.

“We are ready for ‘Big Bang’ Zhang and he will meet a pent-up, angry Croatian warrior.

“People are ducking Hrgovic and won’t fight him.”

December 4, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Filip Hrgovic and Emir Ahmatovic during their December 4, 2021 bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.
Image: Filip Hrgovic floored Emir Ahmatovic in a third-round win

Zhang is ranked at No 12 by the IBF and his representative Terry Lane confirmed to Sky Sports that they are interested in fighting Hrgovic, and that talks were under way.

They have both secured quick-fire stoppage wins on consecutive weekends – Zhang dropped Craig Lewis twice in a second-round knockout, and Hrgovic floored Emir Ahmatovic three times in a third-round blitz on Saturday.

November 26, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Zhilei Zhang and Craig Lewis during their November 27, 2021 fight at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.
Image: Zhilei Zhang bludgeoned Craig Lewis in two rounds

A potential hurdle to their collision course is another heavyweight fight between Charles Martin and Luis Ortiz on New Year’s Day, which is also an IBF eliminator.

Martin is currently the governing body’s No 1 ranked contender so the future mandatory challenger is unclear.

The most recent mandated challenger by the IBF was Kubrat Pulev, who lost to Joshua in December 2020.

Luis Ortiz
Image: Luis Ortiz will fight Charles Martin on January 1

If Joshua decides to “step aside” from his rematch with Usyk then the heavyweight division would completely open up, freeing WBC champion Tyson Fury to fight the Ukrainian for the undisputed title.

“Usyk says that he can fight Fury next if the offer is right and if AJ allows to do so,” his promoter Alexander Krassyuk told Sky Sports.

Zhang’s representative said about Joshua: “There are rumours that, if he does [step aside], then perhaps a fight in China against Zhang would be of interest.”

Sky Sports Boxing schedule

Sunday December 12 – Top Rank in New York
Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Richard Commey
Jared Anderson vs Oleksandr Teslenko
Nico Ali Walsh

Sunday December 18 – Top Rank in Montreal
Artur Beterbiev vs Marcus Browne – IBF and WBC light-heavyweight titles

Saturday January 29 – BOXXER in Cardiff
Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams
Claressa Shields vs Ema Kozin – IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles

Saturday February 19 – BOXXER in Manchester – Sky Sports Box Office
Amir Khan vs Kell Brook

Saturday February 26 – Top Rank in Glasgow
Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall – undisputed super-lightweight titles

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