Heavyweight and light heavyweight title eliminators will highlight the undercard of the rematch between unified heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk and former two-time titlist Anthony Joshua on Aug. 20 at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Matchroom Boxing announced the bouts on Tuesday with the co-feature being the rescheduled IBF heavyweight title elimination fight between Filip Hrgovic and Zhang Zhilei, which Fight Freaks Unite reported last week would be on the card, and a WBC final light heavyweight eliminator between Callum Smith and Mathieu Bauderlique.
“I respect a fighter like Zhilei Zhang, especially as there were plenty of others who could have fought me and didn’t,” Hrgovic said. “The respect stays outside the ring, and it’ll be business as usual for me when I step in there and look to do what I do best — put people away.”
Zhang accepted the eliminator after several others ranked ahead of him in the IBF rankings turned down a fight with Hrgovic or were unavailable, including Luis Ortiz, Joseph Parker, Tony Yoka, Joe Joyce, Agit Kabayel, Andy Ruiz Jr., Murat Gassiev and Demsey McKean. The winner will be one of the mandatory challengers for the Usyk-Joshua II winner.
“There’s a huge amount at stake in this fight. I’m a fighter who belongs at the top of this division, and there’ll be no doubt about this when Zhang is dealt with and I go on to beat (the Usyk-Joshua winner),” Hrgovic said. “I’m entering my prime, and now is the perfect time to be putting myself up against the top fighters in this division. I will become the heavyweight champion of the world.”
Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs), 30, of Croatia, and Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KOs), 39, a southpaw from China, were scheduled to fight on May 7 on the Canelo Alvarez-Dmitry Bivol undercard in Las Vegas but the fight was postponed when Hrgovic withdrew due to the death of his father.
“My team and I have been grinding every hour of every day for this fight,” Zhang said. “Hrgovic is going to be the toughest opponent in my professional career. A victory will secure me the IBF mandatory challenger position, which is why this fight is so important to me. I will be in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
Former super middleweight champion Smith (28-1, 20 KOs), 32, of England, will face European champion Bauderlique (21-1, 12 KOs), 33, a southpaw from France, for the right to become a mandatory challenger for unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev.
Smith, who made his light heavyweight debut in his last fight with a massive second-round knockout of Lenin Castillo in September, will return to the site of his biggest victory. It was at the same venue where he knocked out countryman George Groves in the seventh round to win the WBA super middleweight title and vacant Ring magazine title in the final of the World Boxing Super Series in September 2018.
“The last time I was in Jeddah I was crowned the best super middleweight in the world, so I have fond memories of the place,” Smith said. “The whole experience was great, and the fans really got behind me, so I’m really looking forward to returning next month. I won’t come away this time as a world champion, but this is a tough fight on a great card and one which should set up a challenge at the No. 1 in the division.”
Among the other fights made official:
Junior featherweight Ramla Ali (6-0, 1 KO), 32, a Somalia native fighting out of England, will face Crystal Garcia Nova (10-2, 10 KOs), 22, of the Dominican Republic, in an eight-rounder that will make history as the first women’s boxing match in Saudi Arabia.
Cruiserweight Badou Jack (26-3-3, 16 KOs), 38, of Las Vegas, a former super middleweight and light heavyweight titlist, meets Richie Rivera (21-0, 16 KOs), 31, of Hartford, Connecticut, in a 10-rounder.
Former cruiserweight title challenger Andrew Tabiti (19-1, 15 KOs), 32, of Las Vegas, squares off with Miami-based Suriname native Tyrone Spong (14-0, 13 KOs), 36, in an eight-round heavyweight bout.