Home Boxing News Filip Hrgovic survives to become IBF mandatory challenger for the heavyweight title

Filip Hrgovic survives to become IBF mandatory challenger for the heavyweight title

Hrgovic-Zhang
Filip Hrgovic (left) and Zhilei Zhang. Photo credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

Filip ‘El Animal’ Hrgovic 15-0 (12) survived a stern test from Zhilei ‘Big Bang’ Zhang 24-1 (19) to become the mandatory challenger to the IBF heavyweight title.

Boxing on the undercard of the rematch between unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk 20-0 (13 and Anthony Joshua 24-3 (22) at King Abdullah Sport City in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday night, Hrgovic overcame a first-round knockdown to secure a unanimous decision victory by scores of 115-112 twice and 114-113.

Hrgovic started off well, looking sharp from the opening as he threw out varied jabs to the head and body of Zhang. He was comfortably in the driver’s seat until southpaw Zhang clipped him with a right hook that sent him to the canvas.

Hrgovic continued with purpose following promising moments in the early stages. He continued to hunt down opportunities to the body and head with combination punching punch until an ugly clash of heads in the third round saw blood spill from the top of the Croatian’s head. After the intervention of the doctor to check the gash, action was resumed with Zhang taking advantage of his slightly jaded opponent to land some shots of his own.

A similar pattern continued with Hrgovic providing the greater output yet always cautious of the power possessed by Zhang. A reminder of such strength in the fifth and sixth rounds as Hrgovic had to reset himself and take control of the fight once again. Round seven highlighted the elite level of Hrgovic’s ability, with scything right-hands complimented by good combinations with either fist.

As the two heavyweights entered the latter stages of the fight, the greatest adversary became the moisture on the canvas, with time being stopped to try and manage the slippery nature of the ring. The end of the ninth dished out another reminder that, for all the activity of Hrgovic, Zhang still possessed a genuine threat as a vicious uppercut had the Croatian happy to hear the bell.

Hrgovic showed his warrior spirit in the championship rounds, as he continued to shake off the blood and fatigue to continue to wear down the exhausted Zhang.

Speaking to broadcaster DAZN post-fight, Hrgovic said: “That was for my father who passed away a few months ago. He was a special man. Yes (he has been on my mind), but my beautiful wife, Marinela, was with me in my training camp in Houston and was able to give me energy.

“Yes, it was a very close fight, I was losing the fight, but in the later rounds I pushed myself and gave everything. I landed some huge shots and the last six rounds he was just standing there. The knockdown, I wasn’t hurt at all. I slipped on his feet and lost my balance.

“He surprised me, he’s better than I had thought he was.”