The hunt to secure the next opponent for Filip Hrgovic isn’t quite complete.
A purse bid hearing has been scheduled by the IBF for the ordered heavyweight title eliminator between Croatia’s Hrgovic and China’s Zhilei Zhang. The call comes one week after the pair of hulking, unbeaten heavyweights were instructed to enter talks which failed to produce a reached deal to move forward with the fight.
“On February 7, 2022, the IBF ordered Filip Hrgovic and Zhilei Zhang to begin negotiations for the IBF Heavyweight Eliminator For #1 (ranking),” IBF president Daryl Peoples informed all sanctioning body-registered promoters via official letter, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “An agreement could not be reached and a purse bid was requested by (Wasserman Boxing) promoter Chris Meyer.”
The purse bid is scheduled to take place February 24 at IBF headquarters in Springfield, New Jersey. It will be open to all IBF-registered promoters, who are required to submit a $5,000 nonrefundable participation fee along with a “check, money order or bank wire representing 10% of the total amount of the bid.
“Within 5 business days following the purse bid procedure, the winning promoter must move forward another payment to (the IBF) representing 10% of the bid, for a total of 20% of the total amount bid.”
Hrgovic (14-0, 12KOs—who is co-promoted by Wasserman Boxing and Matchroom Boxing— is entitled to the favorable end of a 60/40 purse split as the higher-ranked challenger. The winner will be named the IBF mandatory challenger to IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO champ Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13KOs), who presently awaits a fight date for his contractually bound rematch with former two-time unified titlist Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22KOs).
Zhang (23-0-1, 18KOs) was one of just two heavyweights to accept an invitation from the IBF to enter talks with Hrgovic, with seven other ranked contenders declining the offer due to injury, scheduling conflicts or other reasons.
The only other heavyweight to entertain the idea of next facing Hrgovic was Paris’ Tony Yoka (11-0, 9KOs), the 2016 Olympic Gold medalist who owned amateur wins over Hrgovic in the 2015 World Amateur Championships and the semifinal round of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Yoka was removed from the mix, however, after Martin Bakole appealed the move in successfully arguing that he was owed a fight with the unbeaten Frenchman.
Yoka and Bakole were due to fight January 15, with the event postponed due to Covid restrictions. Their fight has been rescheduled for May 14 in Paris.
The fight date for Hrgovic-Zhang is expected to be revealed shortly after the results of the February 24 purse bid hearing. Of course, Hrgovic has been here before—co-promoter Matchroom Boxing (who also promotes Zhang) won promotional rights for an IBF ordered Hrgovic-Michael Hunter II title eliminator last year. The fight fell through when Hunter opted to move in a different direction. Just two fights have followed for Hrgovic in that time, scoring a pair of third-round knockouts over unbeaten but obscure opposition.
The 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist toyed with Montenegro’s Marko Radonjic, scoring five knockdowns in nine minutes of ring time last September in Klagenfurt, Austria. Less than three months later came his latest win, needing just 6:40 to rid himself of Germany-based Serbian heavyweight Emir Ahmatovic last December in Las Vegas. The win extended Hrgovic’s current seven-fight knockout streak, while having yet to be extended past eight rounds.
Zhang—a two-time Olympian (2008 Beijing, 2012 London) who took home the Bronze in 2008 Beijing—emerged as the unlikely next foe for Hrgovic, a fight he has sought since the pandemic. Zhang and Hrgovic were both on the same November 2020 DAZN card in Hollywood, Florida, both openly discussing the possibility of facing one another under such circumstances.
It’s been a slow road to get them in the ring, though the day draws nearer. Zhang has since fought to a draw with Jerry Forrest in their February 2021 thriller in Miami and scored a second-round knockout of Craig Lewis last November at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York City. Both bouts as well as his appearance on the November 2020 DAZN show all came as part of a co-promotional agreement with Matchroom Boxing.
Zhang’s patience paid off, wading through nine other heavyweights ranked above him who were unable or unwilling to next face Hrgovic.
Luis Ortiz (33-2, 28KOs), Joe Joyce (13-0, 12KOs) and Murat Gassiev (28-1, 21KOs) all cited injuries in declining to enter talks with Hrgovic. Former heavyweight titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22KOs) informed the sanctioning body that he will require more recovery time before returning to the ring, thus leaving him ineligible.
New Zealand’s Joseph Parker passed on the opportunity, citing a desire to pursue more lucrative offers—including a desired rematch with Ruiz who he outpointed to win the vacant WBO heavyweight title in December 2016. Parker lost the belt in a March 2018 unification bout with Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22KOs), who is ranked number four by the IBF but who is contractually bound to a rematch with reigning WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO titlist Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13KOs).
Germany’s Agit Kabayel (21-0, 13KOs) removed himself from the mix as he awaits a rescheduled date for his long-ago planned showdown with record-tying former cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck. Australia’s Demsey McKean, who was one spot above Zhang in the IBF heavyweight ratings removed himself from the mix for similar reasons. The 6’6” Aussie southpaw is already scheduled to face Argentina’s Ariel Esteban Bracamonte as part of a February 27 DAZN undercard supporting WBO cruiserweight titlist Lawrence Okokie in a title defense versus Poland’s Michal Cieslak.
The winner of the proposed Hrgovic-Zhang title eliminator will become one of three mandatory challengers in waiting for the forthcoming rematch between Usyk and Joshua. Joyce is the current WBO mandatory, while Trevor Bryan (22-0, 15KOs) holds a secondary version of the WBA title which he is required to next defend versus England’s Daniel Dubois (17-1, 16KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox