The long-awaited IBF world heavyweight title eliminator pitting Filip Hrgovic vs Zhilei Zhang will finally take place in Jedda, Saudi Arabia on Saturday August 20.
The pair had been due to lock horns on the Canelo Alvarez vs Dmitry Bivol card in Las Vegas back on May 7. But Hrgovic was forced to pull out after the death of his father.
Now though the unbeaten Croat (14-0 with 12 wins inside distance) is back, and likely to start a warm favourite to hand a first pro defeat to the Chinese giant Zhang (24-0-1 with 19 inside distance). The bout will take place on the undercard of the eagerly-awaited Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua 2 world heavyweight title showdown.
Long wait over for Hrgovic
Hrgovic is currently number 3 in the IBF heavyweight rankings, and has been waiting for a long time to meet somebody in this IBF eliminator. Now the winner will be the mandatory challenger for the title currently held by Usyk.
He said: “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.”
“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.
“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.”
The 39-year-old Zhang meanwhile knows time is not on his side as he seeks a world title shot, admitting: “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.”
‘Mundo’ faces French ace
The Usyk vs Joshua 2 undercard will also feature Liverpool’s Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KOs) returning to the scene of his finest moment where he stopped British rival George Groves in seven rounds at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in September 2018 to be crowned the WBA Super-Middleweight World Champion and the winner of the World Boxing Super Series Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Now campaigning at Light-Heavyweight where he is ranked as the No.1 contender with the WBC, ‘Mundo’ will face France’s reigning European Champion and No.2 ranked WBC 175lbs contender Mathieu Bauderlique (21-1, 12 KOs) in a Final Eliminator for the World Title currently held by Artur Beterbiev.
“The last time I was in Jeddah I was crowned the best Super-Middleweight in the world, so I have fond memories of the place,” said Smith. “The whole experience was great, and the fans really got behind me, so I’m really looking forward to returning next month. I won’t come away this time as a World Champion, but this is a tough fight on a great card and one which should set up a challenge at the number 1 in the Light-Heavyweight division.”