Filip Hrgovic has finally secured that long sought next step to challenging for the heavyweight crown.
An ordered IBF heavyweight title eliminator between Hrgovic and Zhilei Zhang has landed in the hands of Matchroom Boxing and Wasserman Boxing, Hrgovic’s co-promoters who secured promotional rights through a purse bid hearing held Thursday at IBF headquarters in Springfield, New Jersey. The session produces closure to a months-long search for Hrgovic’s next opponent.
Matchroom and Wasserman submitted a joint bid of $650,000, significantly outpacing the next highest bid of $410,000 from Probox Promotions. Croatia’s Hrgovic is entitled to 60% ($390,000) of the winning bid as the higher ranked contender. The remaining 40% ($260,000) will go to Zhang, a two-time Olympian and 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist for China. Matchroom/Wasserman submitted a 10% deposit with its winning amount per purse bid terms and will have to submit another 10% deposit within five business days to validate the terms of the purse bid hearing.
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).
Hrgovic (14-0, 12KOs) has been on the hunt for more than a year to secure a willing participant for a title eliminator. The 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist for Croatia saw an ordered fight with second-generation heavyweight Michael Hunter II makes its way to a purse bid, which was won by Matchroom Boxing—Hrgovic’s co-promoter along with Wasserman Boxing. Hunter was not motivated by the financial terms of the fight, opting to take his career 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 hulking 6’6” heavyweight 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 take out 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 (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 bizarre development saw Zhang emerge as the unlikely next foe for Hrgovic, given his placement at number 13 in the IBF heavyweight rankings for 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.
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