New York, NY, USA (September 26, 2023) - Zhilei 'Big Bang' Zhang, the top heavyweight contender with a record of 26-1-1 (21), is poised for a world title shot and is eyeing WBA, WBO, and IBF champion Oleksandr Usyk, whose record stands at 21-0 (14), as a likely target. Zhang is the mandatory for Usyk's WBO title belt.
Zhang, a Chinese southpaw, recently delivered an earth-shaking performance in his rematch with Joe 'Juggernaut' Joyce, knocking him out with a powerful right hook in the third round at Wembley Arena in London, UK.
This victory solidified Zhang's position as the leading contender in the WBO, with a potential clash against Usyk on the horizon. Usyk, aged 36, is expected to defend his belts against IBF mandatory challenger Filip Hrgovic 16-0, (13 KOs) next, but negotiations for a showdown with WBC champion Tyson Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs) appear to be ongoing. Zhang is now solidly within the Top 4 Heavyweights in the world and his profile in China is skyrocketing.
Zhang's co-manager, Terry Lane, emphasized that they are eager for significant fights moving forward. While they would welcome a bout against WBC Champion Tyson Fury, but they are not willing to wait indefinitely.
"We would love to fight Fury, but I do believe they are trying to make Fury vs. Usyk next," Lane told Sky Sports. "We've got to see in a few weeks if they make that fight. If not, we're not going to sit back and wait. There's other names like [Deontay] Wilder out there, so it's just really hard to say, but I do think after last night, there's Usyk, Fury, and Zhilei, and then everyone else [in the heavyweight division]."
At 40 years old, Zhang is keen to face high-profile opponents, and Lane mentioned Deontay Wilder as a potential adversary. They are open to exploring different opportunities in the heavyweight division.
In the rematch against Joyce, Zhang employed a strategic change by targeting the body with a left hook before delivering the decisive right hook over the top. This adjustment played a significant role in securing the victory. Zhang appeared at ease and in full control leading up to the knockout.
Lane revealed their pre-fight strategy, saying, "We were going to bring down the guard [of Joyce]. We knew he was going to move to his left. We had spies on him in Las Vegas. We knew that was all they were working on."
One element that took them by surprise was Joyce's weight, as he entered the bout at 281 pounds, significantly heavier than his previous fight at 256 pounds. Despite the added weight, Zhang's team remained prepared for all scenarios and ultimately secured the victory.
Chinese May Fund Joshua vs. Zhilei Fight?
The topic of a potential fight between Anthony Joshua (26-3, 23 KO) and Zhang Zhilei (26-1-1, 21 KO) is making headlines again. This comes several years after Anthony Joshua, then holding three heavyweight titles, was first considered a potential opponent for Zhang Zhilei.
Why is this topic resurfacing now? It might be because Chinese boxing enthusiasts have regained interest in their 40-year-old compatriot, Zhang Zhilei, especially after his impressive victories over Joe Joyce.
In 2008, Zhang won a silver medal in the super heavyweight division at the Olympics. Four years later, in London, he faced Joshua in the quarter-finals and lost to the man who would become the champion. Joshua won that bout with a score of 15-11. Will there be a rematch more than eleven years later?
Eddie Hearn, Joshua's long-time promoter, commented on the potential matchup: "We've always considered such a fight as a massive event in China. Unfortunately, when Zhang fought for our group, there was no interest from the Chinese government in such a bout. However, things may have changed now. After his two wins against Joe Joyce, the Chinese government might be more favorable towards the idea of this fight. We are considering this fight for December, and Joshua wouldn't have any problem fighting in China. AJ would feel very comfortable, having defeated Zhilei once before. I also believe that Joshua would comfortably beat him. Neither I nor AJ have any reservations about sitting down and discussing such a fight for December in China."
It seems the potential rematch between Anthony Joshua and Zhang Zhilei is generating considerable interest and could become a reality, with Chinese funding potentially playing a significant role.