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Hrgovic edges Zhang in punishing eliminator

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Hrgovic edges Zhang in punishing eliminator

Picture By Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing

Hrgovic edges Zhang in punishing eliminator

Heavyweight contender Filip Hrgovic pulled out a close decision victory over Zhang Zhilei in a grinding, grueling and punishing final elimination bout on Saturday at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Hrgovic won the IBF title eliminator 115-112, 115-112 and 114-113 to earn a mandatory shot at the winner of the Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua rematch for the unified title in the main event.

“It was a very close fight. I was losing the fight but in the later rounds I pushed myself and gave everything and gave him some huge shots,” Hrgovic said. “Last six rounds he was just standing there.”

It was essentially a battle of Hrgovic’s potent right hand versus the southpaw Zhang’s hard left as they battled in a fight that was scheduled for May 7 on the Canelo Alvarez-Dmitry Bivol undercard in Las Vegas but postponed when Hrgovic withdrew due to the death of his father in the weeks before the bout.

“This was for my father. He was a special man,” Hrgovic said.

Hrgovic appeared to be in control in the first round until the final seconds when Zhang caught him with a sweeping right hook partially behind the head that was called a knockdown.

“The knockdown I wasn’t hurt at all,” Hrgovic said. “I lost balance but I wasn’t hurt at all. But to be honest, he surprised me. He is better than I thought he is. He gave me a tough fight. It was a really close fight but I think I won.”

Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs), 30, of Croatia, now trained by Ronnie Shields in Houston, came back strong in the second round and rocked Zhang with a right hand. In the third, he suffered a bloody cut on the left side of his forehead/hairline from an accidental head butt.

They both had their moments in a very rough, tough fight.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Filip Hrgovic vs Zhilei Zhang, Final Eliminator for the IBF Heavyweight World Title.
20 August 2022
Picture By Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing

Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs), 39, a southpaw from China, whose face was marked up by the fourth round, closed the fifth round by doing damage as he landed multiple heavy shots that clearly trouble Hrgovic, but the round ended before Zhang could close the show.

He had a dominant sixth round, sending Hrgovic reeling as he landed many hard shots. Hrgovic looked like he was done but he came back strong in the seventh round as he landed a hard right hand early and seemed to find a second wind.

Zhang landed a heavy left hand in the opening seconds of the eighth round but walked through and returned fire with his own heavy right in what had become a grueling fight. Later in the round, he rocked Zhang again with a right hand.As the ninth round was ending, Zhang caught an unprotected Hrgovic with two hard left hands that seemed to hurt him but again the round ended before he could follow up.

Zhang had Hrgovic in trouble again in the 11th round after landing clean straight left hand and in the 12th Hrgovic came back and nailed Zhang with a right hand early in the round, which Zhang acknowledged with a nod.

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Since 2000, award-winning reporter Dan Rafael has covered boxing full time and been ringside for thousands of fights, first for five years at USA Today and then for 15 years at ESPN, where he wrote and appeared on various television, radio and streaming programs. In 2013, Dan was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America with the Nat Fleischer award for career excellence in boxing journalism. Dan brings his great insight to the Big Fight Weekend site, podcast and more!

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