Zhilei Zhang is having his moment.
The formerly unsung Chinese heavyweight contender delivered the performance of his career last Saturday night at Copper Box Arena in London, forcing a stoppage of Joe “The Juggernaut” Joyce in six rounds. The referee in charge of the contest deemed Joyce’s swollen right eye unfit for battle.
The win has propelled Zhang into a different stratosphere and helped redeem a disputed decision loss in his last fight to Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic.
Terry Lane, one of Zhang’s managers, doesn’t think any of the elite heavyweights are enamored with the idea of facing the southpaw Zhang, whose straight lefts were the story in his fight with Joyce. Lane listed a slew of heavyweights who turned down offers to fight Zhang and insisted that only Oleksandr Usyk, the WBO, WBA, IBF champion, and Tyson Fury, the WBC titlist, would be up for the task of fighting Zhang.
“This is what we expected,” Lane told Sky Sports. “I believe Zhilei is the best heavyweight in the world. Anybody who thinks otherwise, I don't think they are really paying attention.
“Is there a heavyweight who's got a better resume in the last 12 months? He beat Hrgovic but didn't get his hand raised. He just walked through Joe Joyce, which we knew would happen.
“He's been turned down by Anthony Joshua, [Derek] Chisora and [Dillian] Whyte. They won't touch him, so they're out of the equation. He would physically injure and end the career of Deontay Wilder. No-one can make a fight with him, so what does that leave? [Oleksandr] Usyk and Tyson Fury.”
An Usyk or Fury fight would require enormous legwork to happen. Usyk has mandatory duties with Daniel Dubois and Hrgovic.
Although Joyce has rights to a contractual rematch with Zhang, it is not clear if he will exercise it immediately. In the event that he does not, that could pave a way for Zhang to fight Fury, who is backed by the same promoter as Joyce in Queensberry, which has options on Zhang.
A Queensberry representative has stated that there is still the possibility that Fury could defend his title this summer, so Zhang could be an option.
“I know the whole sanctioning body scramble is a mess right now," Lane said. "No one knows how to decipher, no one knows what's going to happen, but those are two fights that are the toughest fights, but they are the ones we want and they are the biggest fights.
"We want to talk with [Queensberry C.E.O] George [Warren] and make that happen. Our future plans are to be future world champion."
Sean Nam is the author of the forthcoming book Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.