Zhilei Zhang backed to become world’s No 1 heavyweight as he faces Filip Hrgovic in IBF eliminator

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Zhilei Zhang is itching for a world title opportunity and believes he will make that dream a reality by beating Filip Hrgovic in Saturday night’s IBF eliminator.

The heavyweight behemoths face off in Saudi Arabia with a view to snatching the spotlight from Anthony Joshua’s headline rematch against Oleksandr Usyk, the winner of which one of them looks set to face.

Zhang, who lost to eventual gold-medallist Joshua in the quarter-finals of the 2012 London Olympics, enters the fight unbeaten at 24-0-1 (19 KOs) in his professional career.

Advisor Terry Lane told Sky Sports he believes the 39-year-old can emerge as the No 1 heavyweight in the world.

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Image: Hrgovic and Zhang face off ahead of Saturday’s fight

“Overall, we think Zhang is the stronger and superior fighter,” said Lane, regarding the fight against Hrgovic. “I don’t want to go into details, but we think the fight is in our favour.”

It awaits as an intriguing sub-plot in the pursuit of the heavyweight division’s belt-donning front-runners, both knowing victory will move them up to mandatory status.

Should he win Zhang has no desire to wait around, although it is uncertain as to when he could enforce a long-awaited title shot.

“Unfortunately, this is out of our control,” added Lane. “Zhang very much wants to fight for the title. We will do everything possible to make that happen as quickly as possible.”

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Hrgovic has questioned the fitness levels of Zhang, claiming, unlike his opponent, he is dangerous for the whole 12 rounds

Hrgovic is No 3 in the IBF rankings and also arrives undefeated with a record of 14-0 (12 KOs), although he has not fought since December 2021 when he stopped Emir Ahmatovic in round three.

The Olympic bronze medallist has faced issues locking down a willing dance partner in recent months and had been due to face Zhang on the Canelo Alvarez-Dmitry Bivol card in May before the fight was pushed back following the loss of Hrgovic’s father.

“We went through the whole list, a lot of fighters didn’t want to fight with me and I’m glad that we found one who wants that,” said Hrgovic in his press conference. “Thanks to Zhang and his team, I think we’ll make a great fight.

“We’re both big guys, we’re both big punchers, I think he is a really dangerous guy but he lasts for a few rounds. I’m dangerous for all the fight, I’m dangerous for 12 rounds, that’s the difference.”

Image: Zhang knocked out Scott Alexander in the first round in May

Zhang has, meanwhile, promised another showcase of ‘Chinese power’ as he vowed to do his country proud in the biggest fight of his career.

He said: “Being here is a privilege for me, of course this fight is important, it’s an IBF eliminator, winning this fight would mean I can directly step up to face the winner of Usyk-Joshua and it means a lot in China and the sport of boxing in China.

“For my last fight, 60 million people in China tuned in to watch that, I believe we’ll make more history this time, I’m expecting 100 million, I have 1.4billion people behind me and supporting me, let’s make it happen. I’m fighting for my country.”

Hrgovic: I’ll fight everyone

Speaking to Sky Sports last week, Hrgovic insisted the “best years of my career” were ahead of him.

Beyond Zhang, there is no shortage of possibilities.

“I want to fight all the best fighters of this era,” he said . “I want to fight everyone, starting with guys like (Martin) Bakole or (Joe) Joyce, or Frank Sanchez, and then Joshua, Wilder, Usyk. I want to fight them all, of course.

“I really like all the hard fights, I hope they will happen in the next five years.”

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Watch Joshua’s full public workout ahead of his rematch with Usyk

Joseph Parker is due to fight Joe Joyce later this year, the winner of that contest awaiting as another prospective target.

“Of course, that’s a great fight and facing the winner will be great,” he said. “I think all of us prospects, you have a few who are considered the best like Fury, Usyk, Joshua, but all the rest of us we need to fight each other to get the best to get the chance to fight for a world title.

“There are a lot of prospects and good fighters, we need to fight each other. A lot of people look to avoid hard fights and get a big pay-day and that’s it. I would like to fight all these good guys.”

Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch against Oleksandr Usyk is on Saturday August 20, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Book Usyk vs Joshua 2 now!

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