The avoided Croatian Heavyweight star Filip Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs) spoke at the press conference in Saudi Arabia as he comes up against China’s undefeated Zhilei Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KOs) in a Final Eliminator for the IBF Heavyweight World Title.
The fight has been a long time coming, having fallen through for multiple reasons, but everyone is excited as both fighters look ahead to Saturday. No one is more excited than ‘El Animal’, who knows he can take this opportunity to steal the headlines and announce his arrival as heir to the heavyweight throne.
“It’s great to be a part of this huge event, I’ve been waiting for this fight for almost two years,” said Hrgovic. “Like you said, we’ve been through a whole list where a lot of fighters didn’t want to fight with me, and I’m glad we’ve found someone who wants it. Thanks to Zhang and his team.”
Zhang acts as a true gatekeeper for title contention, and someone a future champion must overcome to get their opportunity to sit at the throne of the heavyweight division. A difficult southpaw, with power in his hands, and someone who shares the confidence of his Croatian opponent having never tasted defeat in his professional career.
It is the confidence in his conditioning that Hrgovic believes will separate these two fighters. A mutual respect has been apparent throughout from both camps, but he believes Zhang will struggle to maintain the pace that will be put on him.
“We are both big guys, we are both big punchers,” said Hrgovic. “The thing is that he’s dangerous over a few rounds, whereas I am dangerous over the whole fight. I’m dangerous for 12 rounds, that is the difference.”
He continued, “I am going to be the co-main event alongside all these ex-champions and contenders, it is a really big honour for me. I’m thankful for the opportunity, and you’re not going to regret it. We will produce an incredible fight.”
CONDITIONING IS KING AS ‘EL ANIMAL’ PREDICTS IBF WORLD TITLE ELIMINATOR WIN
Avoided Croatian Heavyweight star Filip Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs) meets China’s undefeated Zhilei Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KOs) in a Final Eliminator for the IBF Heavyweight World Title. The rivals were originally set to clash on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez vs. Dmitry Bivol in May but will now do battle on the Red Sea.
Hrgovic sits at No.3 in the IBF rankings and the big-hitting giant has been hunting a dance partner for a showdown to name the mandatory challenger for the title held by Ukraine’s Usyk. The 30-year-old Olympic bronze medallist has cut a lethal swathe through the pro ranks to sit in a prime position for a deserved shot at the big prize, ending all but two of his fights inside the distance, and not going past the fifth round in his last seven outings.
I respect a fighter like Zhilei Zhang, especially as there were plenty of others who could have fought me and didn’t. The respect stays outside the ring, and it’ll be business as usual for me when I step in there and look to do what I do best; put people away,” said Hrgovic.
“There’s a huge amount at stake in this fight. I’m a fighter who belongs at the top of this division, and there’ll be no doubt about this when Zhang is dealt with and I go on to beat whoever it is out of Usyk or Joshua.”
He continued,” I’m entering my prime, and now is the perfect time to be putting myself up against the top fighters in this division. I will become the heavyweight champion of the world.”
A host of Heavyweights were offered the clash with ‘El Animal’, but not until it came to No.15 ranked Zhang was a dance partner found, with the lofty Chinese star accepting the challenge. The 39-year-old has been circling for a major showdown, and ‘Big Bang’ gets his wish against Hrgovic with the two KO artist promising to leave it all in the ring with the stakes so high.
“I’m looking forward to August 20,” said Zhang. “My team and I have been grinding every hour of every day for this fight. Hrgovic is going to be the toughest opponent in my professional career. A victory will secure me the IBF mandatory challenger position, which is why this fight is so important to me. I will be in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
Wasserman’s Head of Global Boxing, Kalle Sauerland, said, “Filip’s opportunity to fight for a belt has always been an inevitability. If not for a personal loss in his life, he would already be confirmed as next in line to go on and begin ruling this heavyweight division.”
“The cream always rises to the top, and if you look at the targeted opponents who didn’t want to step into the ring with an animal like Hrgovic, there’s plenty of people who obviously agree that’s the level he belongs at,” he said.
“Zhang was man enough to step up in the end, but whether it would have been Zhang, or any other heavyweight within the top 15 of this division, the outcome will always be the same. AJ and Oleksandr have a big fight ahead of them, but make no mistake that their toughest fight is yet to come.”
ZHANG “BIG BANG” ZHILEI ARRIVES IN SAUDI ARABIA
Undefeated heavyweight Zhang “Big Bang” Zhilei (24-0-1, 19 KOs) has touched down in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia a few days early to prepare for his IBF heavyweight title eliminator against Croatia’s Filip Hrgović (14-0, 12 KOs). The fight is set for August 20th, and the winner will become the IBF’s number one heavyweight contender.
“I’m happy to be in Saudi Arabia. This is a business trip for me. I had the best training camp of my career. I wanted to come early and adjust to the time difference. I am ready for next Saturday.”
Zhang vs. Hrgovic was originally supposed to take place on May 7th in Las Vegas. However, Hrgovic’s father passed away after a long illness just a few weeks before the fight, causing Filip to withdraw from the bout. After completing a long training camp in the spring, Zhang did opt to fight a different opponent. He handed the tough veteran, Scott Alexander, his first KO loss by placing a perfectly-timed left hand on the button in the first round. Alexander was knocked cold. The footage of the KO was viewed tens of millions of times on Chinese social media, elevating Zhang’s celebrity status in his home country.
Prior to the rescheduling of the title eliminator, several top heavyweights shied away from fighting the young Croatian who is ranked number three. Zhang, who was ranked thirteen, had publicly stated that he wanted the fight against Hrgović several times. As each heavyweight “contender” passed on fighting Filip Hrgović, Zhang jumped at the chance when his name was called.
“I still don’t understand why other contenders turned down this fight. I want to be the best, and for that, you have to beat the best. This is my pathway to becoming heavyweight champion of the world.”
Zhang vs. Hrgović is the co-feature bout underneath the unified heavyweight championship rematch – Oleksandr Usyk versus Anthony Joshua – August 20th at Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Check local listings for broadcast details.