Zhilei Zhang = The Heavyweight Fighter Of 2023

09/26/2023 - By James Slater - Comments

With zero meaningful heavyweight fights scheduled for the remainder of the year, it’s clear a 40 year old man-mountain from China will be looked at as the heavyweight fighter of 2023 when the dong comes to signal the New Year. Zhilei Zhang, AKA “Big Bang” is the man, the power-punching southpaw having given us an Upset of the Year contender with his April stoppage win over Joe Joyce, and with Zhang having given us a KO of the Year candidate with his one-punch icing of the same guy.

In one of the worst heavyweight years on record, a year that saw WBC champion (and for most people, the best big man on the planet today) Tyson Fury fight ZERO times (don’t fool yourself and count his upcoming cash-grab of an event with raw boxing novice Francis Ngannou, please), and with unified WBA/IBF/WBO ruler Oleksandr Usyk fighting just once, this against an undeserving Daniel Dubois, it’s been left to Zhang (and Joyce) to give the fans some heavyweight action worth watching.

And Zhang, who has fought twice inside five months and has won both times, this making him the most active heavyweight this year as far as taking a risk (Anthony Joshua has also boxed two times, inside a four month spell, but I think it’s fair to say Zhang faced better, more dangerous opposition than AJ did), now wants the big fights. The super fights. But who of the current top-four – Fury, Usyk, Deontay Wilder, Joshua – will fight Zhang in 2024?

Usyk looks set to fight his IBF mandatory next, this being Filip Hrgovic (the only man to have beaten Zhang, this via controversial decision). Wilder has gone missing, with his only scheduled sighting to be via a TV show the former WBC champ has reportedly signed up for. Fury says he is only interested in massive paydays, not fights against top contenders. And Joshua, the last we heard, was still trying to fight Wilder, with that one looking distinctly unlikely now, at least in the opinion of most fans you speak with.

Andy Ruiz has also vanished, and aside from a couple of unbeaten but still unproven heavyweight hopes in Jared Anderson and Frank Sanchez, and maybe Arslanbek Makhmudov, that’s about it as far as the current heavyweight top-10 goes. Will any of these guys fight Zhang? If not, what can the 40 year old, he-wants-the-best-but-hasn’t-got-time-on-his-side giant, do?

There are a number of potentially great fights that COULD be made, such as Zhang-Fury, Zhang-Joshua, Zhang-Wilder. While although it may take a long time for it to happen, Zhang has earned a shot at Usyk’s WBO belt. Fans are sick of being denied the big heavyweight fights. Zhilei Zhang wants to give them to us.

Fury? He would get a massive payday if he fought Zhang in China, where “Big Bang” pulls in many millions of TV fans. Joshua? He beat Zhang at the 2012 Olympics, so why wouldn’t AJ want to go to China to face Zhang in a highly lucrative rematch? Wilder? If he doesn’t get the Joshua fight (and again, it looks highly unlikely that he will at this point) and if Wilder still has a genuine desire to fight, what about him and his power against Zhang and his bombs?

All great fights on paper, and Zhang, the closest thing we seem to have today to an old-school, I’ll fight anyone heavyweight, would take either one.

We can only hope one of the elite guys agrees to give Zhang, and us, a heavyweight fight worth paying to see.

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