Towering Chinese heavyweight Zhilei Zhang had himself a very strong 2023, with those two stoppage wins over Joe Joyce, the second fight seeing “Big Bang” lay Joyce out with a one-punch KO of the Year candidate. But Zhang wanted more this year. In speaking with Mail Sport, the 40 year old southpaw said he was in negotiations to fight Francis Ngannou on the huge December 23rd card in Saudi Arabia that will now be topped by Anthony Joshua-Otto Wallin and Deontay Wilder-Joseph Parker.
Zhang says his team got a “not interested” response from the former UFC heavyweight champ who shocked the boxing world with his close, controversial split decision loss to Tyson Fury in October. Zhang, though, added how he feels “something big is coming” as far as his ring career, with Zhang stating how a massive fight in China is very probable for him next year.
“There were originally talks to have me fight Ngannou [on December 23] and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s a walk in the park for me, I’ll take it.’ But Ngannou didn’t want to do it,” Zhang said. “And then it’s what you see. The big names started to come in like Joshua filling the card. And that’s what happened. I believe everyone is busy with their schedule but I’m someone that whoever you put in front of me, I’ll fight. It’s up to [my] team. I think it’s coming [a big fight in China] in 2024, people will see something like that. People behind the scenes are working very hard and I believe in 2024 we will see a high level world title fight. Everyone is invited. I have a strong feeling that something big is coming and I want everyone to stay tuned.”
So, if Zhang does get “something big,” and a “high level world title fight” next year, who could his dance partner be? We for sure would love to see Zhang rumble with Ngannou but, according to Zhang, Ngannou isn’t interested. And that fight if it happened wouldn’t be a world title fight anyway. As we know Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are said to be gearing up for two fights against one another, so that will likely take up all or most of 2024. In terms of big names heavyweights Zhang could face, that leaves Joshua and Wilder, but the word there is the two will likely face each other (in a WBC eliminator according to Mauricio Sulaiman) providing they both win on December 23. Does Zhang run the very real risk of being frozen out, or being left on the outside looking in? As Zhang said himself, all the top heavyweights are busy. At age 40, Zhang, 26-1-1(21) doesn’t figure to have too long left at elite level, so he does need that massive fight either next year or not too much later.
It’s a shame Ngannou didn’t want to fight Zhang, that battle of giants could have been a real spectacle!